While 2016 may have been a dreaded year for many Bombers supporters — it may well be the season that was key to the club’s next premiership tilt.
With so many key figures missing, youngsters were given an opportunity to perform on a more consistent basis at the elite level.
Darcy Parish wrote in an exclusive column that his experiences in 2016 were vital to his growth.
And defender Martin Gleeson was another one of those players who excelled in the difficult circumstances under newly-appointed coach, John Worsfold.
“It was a tough year but I felt there was more opportunities on game day and during the week because you got more time with the coaches to fast track your development,” Gleeson told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“We had Woosha in his first year as well with a new game plan, but with that we probably learned quicker than we would have because we had that extra bit of time.”
In 2017, the 22-year-old has continued in the Essendon defence — playing 15 games while producing career-best form in the second half of the season.
And he believes that he has bridged the gap between his best and worst as his consistency has grown.
“I’m in my fifth season now and I’m fully aware of what is required to perform at the level and what is needed for us to perform as a team,” he said.
“In the back half of this year I think I’ve been consistent. I go out and try to perform the way the team wants me to but also play to my strengths. In the back line, I always try and read the ball well and run off a bit.”
Gleeson’s intercept marking has become one of the highlights of his game, with his performance against St Kilda — 19 disposals and 10 marks — a showcase of his talents.
The developing defender took three contested marks that night, and says that area of his game is something the Essendon defensive group prides themselves on.
“The way we play as defenders, we try to not let each other be one-on-one too many times — it’s all about getting over and helping each other out,” the former North Ballarat Rebel explained.
“Whether it’s a mark or a spoil it’s something we definitely work on.”
James Kelly, who announced his retirement earlier this week, has formed part of that defensive group over the past two seasons, playing a vital role in providing composure in the back half.
The 33-year-old’s mind is something that Gleeson and the Essendon defenders have tried to tap in to.
“He has got a wealth of knowledge playing in three flags down at Geelong,” he explained.
“In particular, he has helped me out a lot whether it be out on the ground or during the week.”
Now with Kelly set to depart the game at season’s end, Gleeson says he is looking to pursue a leadership position in the defensive half from 2018.
“Losing ‘Kell’ next year will be a bit different but that is something I definitely see as another opportunity to step up and take a little bit more of a leadership role.”
But just like any other player in the competition, Essendon’s No. 8 has big things in mind.
“As a team, we want to play finals and have success together. I want to be an integral part and cement my spot for many years.”