A great stirring is occurring.
After many years in a state of suspended animation, the race to become the single most successful club in VFL/AFL history is experiencing its first meaningful twitches.
Having enjoyed bumper trade periods this post-season, Essendon’s and Carlton’s road maps towards their next premierships have become as vivid as they have been at any time this century.
The Bombers and Blues each boast 16 flags and have shared top spot on the premiership ladder for a long time.
But it has been slim pickings for the weakened superpowers of yesteryear with Carlton having not tasted the ultimate success since 1995. Next season their premiership drought will balloon to a club record-equalling 23 years.
In 2018, Essendon will not have won a flag for 18 years, which will equal the second longest drought in their history.
The Bombers have now gone the longest of any club without winning a final (13 years) after Richmond’s incredible September this year.
Sure, the two clubs and their supporters maintain a healthy dislike for each other, but it has become largely irrelevant in the context of the AFL.
In recent years, Essendon and Carlton have resembled a couple of hobos fighting each other in the corner of a dingy bar room with none of the other patrons paying any attention to them.
Their past six meetings have failed to attract a crowd of more than 60,000. Eleven of their previous 16 did.
But is all of that about to change?
Having returned to the finals this year for the first time since the doping scandal crippled them for four seasons, Essendon’s transformation from pariah to destination club has been dramatic.
Already boasting one of the most exciting young lists in the competition, the Bombers have now added to the mix talented trio Devon Smith, Adam Saad and Jake Stringer.
Given the Bombers already have a swag of senior regulars who are 24 or under in Joe Daniher, Zach Merrett, Orazio Fantasia, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Andrew McGrath, Darcy Parish, Conor McKenna, James Stewart and Marty Gleeson, the additions of Smith, Saad and Stringer to that age bracket are daring the Essendon faithful to dream.
Add established stars Michael Hurley, Cale Hooker, David Zaharakis, Dyson Heppell and Brendon Goddard and the Bombers could be quite formidable for the next few years.
While Essendon have aggressively attacked the trade period to fast-track their development, Carlton have taken a more long-term approach with the national draft their major avenue to potential success.
The Bombers have also drafted well in recent years, but the Blues have made the draft their number one priority, which is a far cry from how they behaved historically in their pursuit of premierships. It has taken a very long time, but Carlton have finally come to terms with 21st century list management.
Patrick Cripps (pick 13), Charlie Curnow (12), Jacob Weitering (one), Sam Petrevski-Seton (six), Jack Silvagni (53), Zac Fisher (27), Tom Williamson (61), David Cunningham (23) and Harry McKay (10) form the basis of what the Blues hope will usher in their next golden era.
After shrewd trading this last week, with veteran Bryce Gibbs joining Adelaide, Carlton also have picks three, 10 and 30 at this year’s draft as well as two second-round picks in what is deemed to be a “super draft” next year.
The recruitment of young stars Sam Docherty (Brisbane Lions), Lachie Plowman (GWS), Caleb Marchbank (GWS), Matt Kennedy (GWS), Darcy Lang (Geelong) and Jarrod Pickett (GWS) from other clubs in recent years has further bolstered their youth policy.
It has been a long time since the Essendon-Carlton rivalry captured the wider public’s imagination, but it appears things are going to heat up significantly in the next few years as both clubs gradually improve to the point where the coveted, and unprecedented, 17th premiership is back in reach for both of them.