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Unintended consequences of Essendon supplements scandal take Bombers closer to an AFL flag

The Great Depression of the 1930s caused significant suffering for millions of people around the world. But one of the often-forgotten consequences was that life expectancy increased by more than six years, largely because people had less money to spend on alcohol, tobacco or overly indulgent amounts of food.

The suffering endured because of the Depression  was very different to the pain experienced by the Essendon Football Club over the past five years. However, watching the Bombers obliterate Port Adelaide on Saturday night, it's clear that the hardship shouldered by many at that club has also bought some unintended benefits that leaves them comfortably in the top eight and perhaps much closer to a premiership than they would be if they had never employed Stephen Dank.

That's not to suggest for a second that Essendon would feel anything but a deep regret for what transpired. The 'real world' costs of players being concerned about their own health, or the health of their kids, the loss of players such as Paddy Ryder, Angus Monfries and Stewart Crameri, plus the draft sanctions and commercial costs, were enormous. Big enough that many thought Essendon as a club would be crippled for a decade. However, fast forward to today and there looks to be plenty of blue sky.

While the addition of No.1 draft pick Andrew McGrath and coach John Worsfold are among the most visual benefits that Essendon have received, there have been other, less obvious advantages that seem to be assisting with the team's climb up the ladder.

The first of those was the freedom that Essendon had to develop and experiment with their list last year without worrying about losing games. Having so many of their best team banned for 12 months meant expectations for their on-field performance were probably the lowest of any club since the AFL competition was formed. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Orazio Fantasia are two players who would have made it anyway, but whose development was fast-tracked through the exposure and responsibility they gained from playing senior football last year.

That responsibility didn't just benefit players yet to establish themselves in the team. The leadership of players like Zach Merrett and Joe Daniher is miles ahead of where it would have been if all the major decisions last year were being made by Jobe Watson, Dyson Heppell and the rest of the existing leaders. It usually takes players until the second half of their careers to develop a broader view of the club and its needs, and usually extensive opportunities for players to lead don't open up until the halfway point in their careers. For Merrett and Daniher, this growth has occurred earlier than it would have if they weren't thrust into the deep end in 2016.

Development of players is one integral component to successful teams, as is closeness and a genuine care for each other. The main ingredients for building bonds are either hardship or success and time. Usually in the AFL system, hardship is caused by underperformance and followed by significant list turnover, preventing the ingredient of time to do its work.

However, Essendon's unique struggles, as well as the senior management and coach's impressive ability to stay galvanised, has meant that this group may have created a bond through the adversity they've faced that's hard to break.

While the team's improvement can't be ignored, there's still plenty of hard work to do before they're being spoken about as serious contenders. Commercially, there will be a lot of ground to make up before they're back as a powerhouse club.

In today's game, finances (and the ability to spend on the football department) are linked to on-field success. But if Darcy Parish decides to take the same level of ownership over the football club as Merrett has over the past couple of years, if Aaron Francis learns how to run, and if list manager Adrian Dodoro finds another couple of players like Fantasia with draft picks in the mid 50s, they'll soon enter conversations around the competition as a club where players should no longer book overseas trips for late September.


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