These are strange times to follow Essendon but new AFLW team can buoy fans

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You don’t have to look far to find a frustrated Essendon fan in Melbourne/Narrm right now, myself included. Mention the club’s name at the pub and you’re bound to get a reception of either pity, frustration or anguish. Hyped before the season started, the men’s side have had a dismal run of 2022 so far and are now cemented in the bottom four on the ladder, having notched just two wins from nine games.

Essendon greats are weighing in. Matthew Lloyd says “they are being walked all over” while Tim Watson claims the players are “on notice”. And it is looking like getting worse before it gets better as the Bombers face top eight opponents Richmond, Carlton and St Kilda in the coming weeks, and then a showdown with a dangerous-looking Port Adelaide currently placed 10th.

Related: Essendon bring heat in AFL Anzac Day clash but still lack polish | Jonathan Horn

In this sense, it is a trying time to wear the Dons scarf. Skipper Dyson Heppell confirmed on Monday night when fronting the media to say, “we absolutely [are] hurting inside and disappointed”. As a member, I can tell you the heartbreak and exasperation is real. It’s even now at the point where the ‘Essendon haven’t won a final in how many years?’ jokes from supporters of rival clubs have abated, as many look on with genuine sympathy for the red and black fanbase.

However, when I think about Essendon, there is also excitement and hope in my chest. That’s why I dispute the AFL media’s chief correspondent Damian Barrett’s claim this week on AFL Daily that: “I’m not seeing anything positive out of this club at the moment”. Because for the many who have waited their entire lives to see a women’s team run out in the club’s famous red sash at the highest level, something positive is just mere months away from becoming a reality.

Each week, news drops of the latest signings for the AFLW team the Bombers are building. It’s all looking very hopeful, as the club pinches fan favourites from rivals, such as Carlton’s Georgia Gee and Maddy Prespakis, Western Bulldog Bonnie Toogood, Fremantle’s Steph Cain and Collingwood’s Sophie Alexander.

Adding to this optimism is the current Essendon VFLW team, who are already guaranteed a finals berth and currently sit undefeated at the top of the table with a mammoth percentage of 415.3. These Bombers have been winning games by around 40+ points each week – except for a recent tie with Hawthorn and another with St Kilda earlier in the season – and they thrashed Collingwood by 73 points in the Anzac Day round, the same weekend the men’s team lost by 11 points.

Many of the players in this VFLW squad will be part of the Essendon AFLW team, including co-captain Georgia Nanscawen, Joanna Doonan, Danielle Marshall, Jordan Zanchetta and Federica Frew. It’s hard to watch “Freds” bag goal after goal on the weekend and not daydream about what that is going to look like at AFLW level.

So it is a strange time to be an Essendon supporter. The heartbreak and disappointment tied to the men’s season mixes with the excitement and anticipation for the women’s team, who are looking like causing a real stir in the competition come August.

Within my sports community, fans are every bit as invested in AFLW as much as AFLM. It means many are offering each other a shoulder after a 60-point loss to the men’s team on a Saturday night and then sharing a knowing nod on Sunday morning when the women’s team win by around the same margin.

While Twitter is loudly asking, “What’s going on over at The Hangar?” and bemoaning the slump the men have found themselves in again, the same question is being asked about the women’s program, only with a polar opposite tone.

This conflict of emotions tied to the same club is something my father can relate to. His Adelaide fandom has seen him sighing loudly watching the men’s team these last few years. And yet whenever he’s asked about the Crows, he proudly boasts they’ve won three out of the five AFLW premierships so far. My mum, a St George supporter in the NRL, has done the same, cheering for the Dragons’ NRLW side as the men in the Red V continue to disappoint, on and off field.

I guess that’s what being a true supporter is all about: the highs and lows, even if they’re happening at the same time. So to any disheartened Bombers supporters who just want to see a convincing Essendon win, I recommend heading down to see the VFL women play. When it comes to the football club’s future, there’s something brilliant being built there.

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