THEY say strange things happen in football.
And the punters are clearly falling for Essendon’s swathe of top up players, with 250 punters with online bookmaker sportsbet.com.au backing the Bombers to win the AFL premiership.
Should that happen, those punters would share in a remarkable $2.25 million pay out, with the club’s odds shredded from $501 into $251.
Despite the rampant turmoil that saw 12 current Bombers rubbed out for the season after the long running supplements sage, the Bombers have moved quickly to top up their list.
And Sportsbet has also moved quickly, cutting the Bombers’ odds to make the top eight from $51 into $33, with more bets placed on Essendon to make the top eight than all of the other 17 clubs combined.
The top up players have been a solid who is who of retired players and blokes who maybe just need a change of scenery after not quite making the grade at their former clubs.
Given licence to sign 10 players, the Bombers have already nailed down seven, with the latest addition being former Richmond defender Matt Dea.
Dea only managed 31 games for the Tigers over his six year stint, but always showed plenty of talent and is coming off winning their best and fairest in the VFL.
Former Geelong goal sneak Mathew Stokes has also come to terms with the club, with ex-Brisbane Lion James Polkinghorne also set to sign up.
The Bombers signed former Melbourne big man Mark Jamar as their ruck coach, but that could prove convenient, with the club offering him a deal to join its ruck division on the field.
The word out of the True Value Solar Centre is that Ryan Crowley is absolutely training the house down after being handed a lifeline following being cut by the Fremantle Dockers on the back of a 12 month suspension for his own prohibited drug incident.
And he is a big fan of the Dons’ young bucks.
Crowley was the Bombers’s first top up signing after the Court of Arbitration handed down its ruling that the Essendon 34 must spend a year out of the game.
“They’ve got some really talented young mids, some guys you wouldn’t have even seen yet,” Crowley said.
“(Darcy) Parish, (Jayden) Laverde, (Zach and Jackson) Merrett – I was really impressed on day one.
“They were like little sponges soaking everything up and hopefully that helps them.”
Crowley, 31, played 188 games as one of the best taggers in the game with the Dockers, but he doesn’t see his opportunity at the Dons as a one and done deal.
“I’m going to go over there and train my heart out and hopefully earn the respect of the boys there,” he said.
“If you’re playing good footy I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t extend.
“All I was looking for this year was a foot in the door somewhere and just back myself in and back my training habits in and obviously my performances on game day.
“I’ve never been as eager to get out there.
“I’ve missed footy so much over the last year.”
Crowley will be the man charged with stopping the opposition’s best midfielder, week in, week out.
“As taxing and as hard as that tagging role is, if that’s what John (Worsfold) wants me to do each week, it’s an amazing feeling to be able to pit yourself against one of the genuine stars of the competition,” he said.
“I kind of consider myself to be more of a ‘trier’ than a skilled player.
“To be able to play against these guys that have won Brownlow medals and just been genuine stars – it’s a really cool thing, I’m really looking forward to it.”
Former Geelong superstar James Kelly has also signed up, as has ex Hawk Jonathan Simpkin.
The Bombers have until March 15 to sign at least three more players – all expected to be key position top ups.
The Bombers defence has been shredded by the retirement of Dustin Fletcher and the suspensions of Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley and Tayte Pears.
A pair of VFL players in Michael Hartley and Mitch Brown, along with Dea and former Saint James Gwilt are set to form a nucleus that pales in comparison to the men that they replace.
While there is plenty of love for the Bombers, the same could not be said for Carlton.
Despite the Bombers being $1.25 for the least wins in 2016, the Blues are the clear punters’ pick at $5, with more than 75 per cent of the money at Sportsbet coming for them to win the spoon.
“Even with 12 of its best players sitting out the entire 2016 season, punters prefer Essendon over the Blues in almost every market,” the bookie’s Ben Bulmer said.
“Essendon has picked up a number of handy recruits to cover for the loss of its stars with punters confident this will translate to wins in 2016.”
2016 AFL flag market
Hawthorn Hawks ($4.25)
West Coast Eagles ($5)
Sydney Swans ($8.50)
Fremantle Dockers ($9)
Geelong Cats ($9)
Port Adelaide Power ($9)
Richmond Tigers ($14)
North Melbourne Kangaroos ($17)
Collingwood Magpies ($21)
Western Bulldogs ($21)
Adelaide Crows ($26)
Greater Western Sydney Giants ($41)
Gold Coast Suns ($67)
Melbourne Demons ($151)
St Kilda Saints ($151)
Brisbane Lions ($251)
Carlton Blues ($501)
Essendon Bombers ($501)
Odds provided by WilliamHill.com.au
2016 AFL least wins wooden spoon markets
Essendon Bombers ($1.25)
Carlton Blues ($5)
Brisbane Lions ($10)
Melbourne Demons ($18)
St Kilda Saints ($26)
Greater Western Sydney Giants ($101)
Collingwood Magpies ($101)
Adelaide Crows ($101)
Gold Coast Suns ($101)
Western Bulldogs ($101)
Port Adelaide Power ($101)
North Melbourne Kangaroos ($101)
Fremantle Dockers ($126)
Richmond Tigers ($151)
Geelong Cats ($251)
Hawthorn Hawks ($251)
Sydney Swans ($251)
West Coast Eagles ($251)
Odds provided by Sportsbet.com.au