Essendon Bombers AFL coach Brad Scott reveals ‘pretty low place’ achieved by Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti

The departure of cult hero and Livewire AFL forward Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti from Essendon was as shocking as it was devastating.

For Bombers fans, certainly – but the competition in general was poorer for not having him in their ranks, given the excitement he caused and the stunning way he played the game.

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Though the star spanned a period of months from August 2021 to his final retirement from the game in May 2022, McDonald-Tipungwuti, who retired from the game aged just 29, was still stunned, shocking fans.

And his absence from the Bombers attack line was felt strongly, not least by former coach Ben Rutten, who sensationally lost his job coaching a side calling for more talent in their attacking side.

Bombers fans then rejoiced when the 126-game star announced his return to the AFL last November, balking at competing offers to return to the Hangar, where it all began for him as a 22-year-old recruit of mature age.

Essendon’s new manager Brad Scott – two-time manager of the provisional finalists North Melbourne – has his expectations low but his hopes high for the McDonald-Tipungwuti.

“The top priority is for Anthony to get back to enjoying his football and his life,” Scott said in an exclusive interview with Bombers great and 7NEWS Melbourne contributor Tim Watson.

“He was in a pretty low place not long ago. My priority was if he wanted to play football it was from my point of view and I think it was really important for Essendon Football Club that he played with Essendon.

Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti returns in 2023 in red and black. Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos/AFL photos via Getty Images

“It would have been a small blow to our club if a player of his standing and stature had returned to football at another club.

“The main priority was getting him back, (the) second priority was getting him to enjoy his football and enjoy life and then the third priority was getting him ready to play AFL football.”

Given his time outside of the elite environment of a professional AFL club, McDonald-Tipungwuti still has some catching up to do to get in shape for AFL footy, Scott says – but he has no chance of a Round 1 return.

“Whether he plays early or needs some time, we’ll be patient with that,” Scott said.

“He has a good chance (to play in Round 1) – he played a game simulation, he was involved in all of that. He had a lot of continuity through his sessions.

“We put together a training program that suits him. It’s not exactly the same as every other player, but that’s true for a fair amount of our players (whom we think customized programs are better for).

“So the big test comes for him – whether he can do that over a longer period of time. If we could shorten the fifteen minutes to eight minutes, he would definitely play Round 1.

“But one thing is obvious, when he gets his hands on the foot, he’s as good as he’s ever been in that regard. We just have to get him fit enough to do that for 120 minutes.”

Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti is on his way to full fitness again. Credit: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

While McDonald-Tipungwuti’s return to the top may not be immediate, it is inevitable. And when he returns, his partnership with fellow X Factor Jake Stringer will be just as crucial to the fate of the bombers as any other combination on the ground.

Stringer had an interrupted but ultimately underwhelming 2022 season — especially compared to what is arguably his career-best 2021 — but in 2023 he will look to rediscover the form that helped lead the Bombers to a Finals less than two years ago .

“He had severe groin pain late last year,” Scott told 7NEWS.

“Everyone knows the impact Jake can have on games in a very short amount of time but he’s a strong, powerful and impactful athlete and it’s very difficult to do that when you’re in pain and he’s played a lot over the past year.

“So our priority was to take things back for Jake and build his strength in the right areas so he can come back to full power and full strength. Our philosophy was if that puts him back on his conditioning for lap 1 and the first few laps then we’ll live with that.”

Scott will be looking to become the first Essendon manager to win a final since Kevin Sheedy in 2004 – the longest active drought of any club in the AFL.

He says he understands fans’ lack of patience but preaches for more.

“I think that (sense of impatience) is everywhere and it can be there to different degrees at different clubs. But ultimately, at any club, people just want to win every game they play,” Scott said.

“David Barham as President, from the board and executives down, it was really clear that this is a restart of our club and it’s going to take a little time, but internally we’re really hungry and so impatient. We want to get that going, but we accept that it will take time.”

Jake Stringer will be crucial for Brad Scott’s Bombers in 2023. Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos/AFL photos via Getty Images

He says they have the talent for it, and it’s not just in their high-end draft picks.

“There’s a lot of ability… but when a player has only been at the club for over 12 months it’s irrelevant where he’s taken in the draft,” Scott said.

“We have a few players here who were drafted into the midseason draft and into the SSP (Pre-Season Supplemental Selection Period) who, if I hadn’t known, I would have thought were top talent on our list.

“But there is still work to be done to get them to where they will be consistent AFL players. There are insights, but the consistency of them is what we’re looking for.”

After spending three years with the AFL, the last two of which were spent as general manager of football operations with a particular focus on the health of the game, Scott told 7NEWS he has a “much greater awareness” of the role of the Trainers must play in the look of the game.

“Coaching, almost by definition, you’re very single-minded and have a narrow focus on what your goals are,” he said.

“My responsibility to Essendon Football Club is to build a world-class football program where players can fulfill their potential and if we do that we’re really confident we can win some games along the way. That’s a coach’s job, but I have a greater awareness and understanding of how important the look of the game is to the overall health of the game at all levels.

“The way the game looks is very important and will always frustrate fans in the short term because one thing I’ve learned from the AFL is that all the fans want you to leave the game alone and not change the rules. except usually that they don’t like. And everyone has one – everyone has a rule they don’t like.”

Brad Scott wants to lead Essendon to their first final victory since 2004. Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos/AFL photos via Getty Images

Scott spent 10 years at the helm of North Melbourne, during which time the Kangaroos found success but never ultimate.

The 46-year-old says he’s a better coach the second time around.

“Nothing beats experience,” Scott said.

“When I started as a 33-year-old coach I had some fantastic mentors – I was exposed to Leigh Matthews for over a decade, I was exposed to Mick Malthouse who taught me everything to see football differently. And I thought I had some experience and I was ready.

“Thirteen years later, I realize I didn’t even know what I didn’t know then. The second time around I have a much better understanding of what we need to do in the short term and there isn’t nearly as much guesswork as there was probably 13 years ago.”

Richmond great in hospital after suffering a heart attack.

Richmond great in hospital after suffering a heart attack. Essendon Bombers AFL coach Brad Scott reveals ‘pretty low place’ achieved by Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti

James Brien

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