Essendon coach John Worsfold says the new-look Bombers deserve to be recognised as frontrunners for a return to the AFL finals.
The Bombers have welcomed back ten players, including stars Jobe Watson and Dyson Heppell, from drug bans that kept them sidelined for all of the past season.
Add to that this year’s No.1 draft pick Andy McGrath, a mercurial key forward with massive potential in Joe Daniher and a young midfield star coming off a breakout year in Zach Merrett, and Worsfold has plenty to smile about.
Much of the preseason hype has centred on other top-eight hopefuls but Worsfold is confident the Bombers can bounce back strongly from their bottom-placed finish this year.
“(Finals) has to be realistic,” Worsfold said on Tuesday.
“We’re one of (ten) clubs that didn’t play finals last year that want to play finals this year. We think we deserve as much recognition as one of the teams that want to challenge for that top eight as Collingwood, Richmond, Melbourne, Carlton or Fremantle.”
As an experienced hand at the helm of a Bombers side decimated by their long-running supplements saga, Worsfold faced little scrutiny when the team managed just three wins in 2016.
That certainly won’t be the case in Worsfold’s second year at Essendon, and he wouldn’t want it any other way.
“I love (pressure),” Worsfold said.
“I’d rather have that than people saying ‘ah well, you’re going to be last again’. That’s not a good position to be in.
“The better your squad becomes, the more expectation there is, and as coaches, we should be thriving on that.”
A key priority for the Bombers over the offseason is improving their firepower.
Essendon were dead last in scoring last season, averaging just 65.31 points per game, compared to Adelaide’s competition-leading 112.86.
Worsfold is hoping the addition of James Stewart from Greater Western Sydney, the return of swingmen Cale Hooker and Michael Hurley and the continued development of Orazio Fantasia will give Daniher plenty of help.
“It’s certainly an area we have to improve on. We’ve struggled to kick scores over the last few years,” Worsfold said.
“There’s been a massive amount of expectation on (Daniher) as a rookie but he’s not a rookie anymore. He’s now developed to the point where we know how well he can impact and he’s got that support around him now.
“It’s okay having talent there (but) if you don’t get it in there quick, it plays into the opposition’s hands. We want to move the ball a lot more cleanly through the midfield and from the back half to get it inside 50 quick.”