Matthew Lloyd's serve for Essendon Bombers players ahead of AFL season

As Essendon draws alarmingly close to a 20-year AFL finals drought, club great Matthew Lloyd needs to see one key change.

Matthew Lloyd is pictured left, with Essendon players celebrating on the right.
Essendon Bombers great Matthew Lloyd says the club simply cannot make further excuses if they dish up another lacklustre AFL campaign in 2023. Pictures: Getty Images

Essendon champion Matthew Lloyd says it's time for Bombers players to accept there are no more excuses for their failure to break into the AFL top eight over the fast few seasons, as the club prepares for its first outing under new head coach Brad Scott. Lloyd, who played in Essendon's last final back in 2004, said it was time for fans to start seeing results after off-field upheaval over the last 12 months.

Bombers fans have become increasingly impatient as the club draws alarmingly close to a 20-year finals drought - and Lloyd could arguably be counted among them after a telling message to the club ahead of round one. Improving the mental strength of players was something Lloyd considered a priority, declaring his hopes of witnessing a 'nastier' brand of football in 2023.

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Despite showing signs of form under the eventually sacked Ben Rutten last season, the Bombers were too frequently a non-factor in the physical contest. The reputation culminated in Sydney Swans star Luke Parker directly mocking Bombers midfielder Dylan Shiel after a missed tackle when they played last season.

The general lack of response from a physical standpoint left Lloyd fuming at the time, despite the Bombers exacting some satisfying revenge on the Swans in a rematch later in the season. Speaking on 3AW ahead of the season, Lloyd said there was no room for excuses from now on.

"It's time to stop blaming others. It's time for the players to take control of their club and go: 'You know what, we haven't been tough enough, we haven't been mentally tough enough, strong enough, on field'," Lloyd argued.

"I remember how strong I was on the Dylan Shiel moment last year because they got walked all over. You can't do that. Your pride should say: 'We just can't accept being walked all over'.

"A tougher, nastier brand I am hoping we see from the Bombers this year."

Bombers implored to play 'nastier' footy in 2022

A miserable campaign for the Bombers in 2022 saw them finish well outside finals contention with a 7-15 record, ultimately leading to the sacking of Rutten. But even that became a controversy, with the club making a meal of dismissing the coach as the embarked on a hasty and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to lure Alastair Clarkson as coach.

Bombers vice-captain Andrew McGrath implored fans to 'stick the course' after the club's 35-point pre-season loss to St Kilda. However, like Lloyd, former Brisbane Lions star Jonathan Brown was far from bullish about Essendon's chances.

“The last couple of years I’ve often looked at Essendon and thought ‘they look a bit soft’. So I look around their group – who are their leaders, who are their ruthless players?” Brown questioned on Fox Footy.

“Yes they are young, I think they’ve got some good young talent there, but I want to see more than just these outside-type players. I want to see some players start to stand up and stand for something at that great football club.”

Essendon's season starts on March 19 against Hawthorn at the MCG. While the likes of Lloyd and Brown remained unconvinced by Essendon's list, former Hawks star Jordan Lewis tipped them to sneak into the top eight.

Zach Merrett is set to captain Essendon in 2023, taking over from club veteran Dyson Heppell. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)
Zach Merrett is set to captain Essendon in 2023, taking over from club veteran Dyson Heppell. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

After being involved in the Bombers' coaching search last year, Lewis said the club hadn't been focused on developing players over previous seasons. Regardless, he was still optimistic the Bombers could push for a finals spot.

“I think they may scrape into the eight and I know that’s a bold prediction," Lewis said. "But I just think with the talent they’ve got and the coaches that have come in, and sort of reshaped them. I think they might scrape into the eight, which would be a surprise I know that, but it wouldn’t be beyond them.”

with AAP

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