Analysis Essendon Football Club - An Observation Analysis (NB: Long Post)

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dave10

Club Legend
Apr 26, 2004
2,117
1,182
Melbourne
AFL Club
Essendon
A 25 year member provides an observational view of the Essendon Football Club. NB: A Detailed Situational Analysis!

Background & Culture

Essendon is currently rebuilding after the fallout from the 2012 supplements saga. This historical event followed an ultimately unsuccessful 5 years rebuilding following the conclusion of the Kevin Sheedy era. This period 2008-2012 was always going to be challenging for Essendon as it sought to launch a new identity under the guidance of David Evans, Ian Robson and Matthew Knights.

In my view, a chain of events started in the final years of the Sheedy era. In the years after the 2000 premiership, the Essendon leadership declared EFC needed to accept a rebuild was required and the Club needed to offload premiership players to create room in its salary cap. Beyond the specifics of the salary cap and impact on the playing list, this decision marked the symbolic moment that gave rise to a new culture at Essendon in my opinion. A culture of acceptance, a club willing to accept no success for a period. I contend that Essendon hasn’t recovered from this key historical transitional period in its history.

The Club would go through a period of malaise on and off field that led the Essendon Board to establish a new direction by recruiting Mark Thompson and James Hird to herald a new direction for the Club in 2011. My recollection at the time was that the Essendon board believed Essendon had lost its commercial sharpness and believed recruiting Ian Robson from Hawthorn would serve to address this off field malaise. The intent and direction were very sound, the execution of the “whatever it takes” culture clearly fell short of expectations.

The period between 2012-2016 was very challenging for the Club on all fronts. Highly successful efforts were taken to look after the emotional welfare of its staff and players whilst at the same time, fruitful efforts were made in retaining most of its playing list as rival clubs and player managers circled. The Clubs inner sanctum necessarily needed to close ranks to support each other through the enormous toll of the saga. This was a traumatic period for all Essendon stakeholders.

However, there’s always a silver lining. Between 2013-6 we saw the birth of highly promising careers as Tipungwuti, Fantasia, Daniher, Merrett, Langford, Laverde and McKenna among others, provided Essendon supporters a glimmer of hope for a rosy future.

Moreover, I believe the Supplements period gave rise to unintended consequences that would still influence the Clubs performances today. Essendon now appears a club that has lost its ruthlessness, its hardness and its voice as an industry leader. It has softened on many levels, become more complicit, less risk averse, lost its boldness and ability to take risks in a new era of conservative management amid stricter governance. Its on field leaders are no doubt great guys but don’t appear from afar to be genuine leaders that drive the highest of standards and accountability. Consequently, its week to week performances have become chronically inconsistent, its performances still lack chemistry and connection whilst many players are not realising their potential and developing at an acceptable rate.

Symbolic of these challenges is a recent defence of Conor Mc Kenna’s return from finger surgery by our Senior Coach, John Worsfold In a piece by “Yahoo! Sport” on 18/07/20. John noted we had to “assume he was 100% fit, he did a fitness test”. Further, we should consider Conor’s efforts to “come out of quarantine periods then get back to play and perform for us and then have surgery three or four days out from a game and still get out there and crack in for us is a credit to him”. In my view, I perceived this as publicly accepting mediocrity. Conor wasn’t 100% fit to play, he twice played whilst appearing less than 100% confident in his hands (finger) fitness. With hindsight I was disappointed the Club didn’t reinforce the highest standards and there was no apparent accountability for his inability to play to his potential, at least in the public domain of course. I see this as representative of elements of the Essendon culture. Whilst recognising this is a delicate situation for Essendon and Conor, Essendon publicly accepted the situation of a player who appeared unfit two weeks running and therefore to me compromising on field standards and accountability.

I believe Essendon’s modern culture is influencing many operating areas of the club and is detracting from on-field performance. I believe culture needs to be sharpened to elevate performances on field, below I outline my thoughts across several operating areas.

  • List Management & Rebuilding the List
Contrary to mixed opinion in the football community, I don’t believe EFC’s list management is at the centre of its ongoing on-field challenges. That’s not to say its list management outcomes are the best in the AFL.

The Essendon list management team needed to rebuild list post the 2012 era with some enormous challenges not faced in the history of the AFL. In both 2013 & 2014, EFC was penalised and lost it’s 1st & 2nd round draft picks from both national drafts. Not only did this cost the club ability to regenerate its youth stocks, it also meant it was unable to trade to improve its list based on fixing noted gaps. Essendon was effectively unable to participate in trading over successive off seasons as player managers were reluctant to risk sending their players to Essendon. This effectively halted the Hird / Thompson rebuild which culminated in an Elimination Final lost to North Melbourne in 2014. Post this loss, Essendon would lose Paddy Ryder to Port Adelaide, Michael Hibberd to Melbourne & Stewart Crameri to the Western Bulldogs. It part ways with Jake Carlisle who requested a trade out. Then its captain, Jobe Watson had his career sadly cut short at the end of 2017 due to the mental and physical scars. Essendon lost its spiritual leader and dominant inside midfielder prematurely.

In January 2016 Essendon lost the majority of senior list to penalties. The Club was required to invest enormous resources to retain as many senior players as possible, despite pressure from other clubs and player managers to encourage its players to seek a fresh start elsewhere.

Between 2013 - 2016, list management team was forced to think laterally to rebuild the list. On the flip side, it can be argued this period gave Essendon prized early picks in 2015/6 to commence this rebuild. It also had the benefit of recruiting Father/Son in Joe Daniher in 2012.

A) Drafting

In 2013 it used its 26th pick overall to recruit Zach Merrett. It then used pick 55 to secure Orazio Fantasia. It would then take Patrick Ambrose as a Rookie. The latter two players have had injury interrupted careers. All three players should be expected to have had long and successful careers at Essendon. At this point, I believe only Merrett at this stage looks highly likely to deliver on this expectation. Why is this? I will expand on this separately.

In 2014, it recruited Kyle Langford and Jayden Laverde with its two picks. Both players show obvious talent but have been beset by different challenges. Langford, a half forward is grappling with being moulded into a midfielder whilst Laverde has had an interrupted career with injury. Both players should have successful careers based on talent, but talent only takes you so far.

Essendon also won a competitive race to recruit Conor McKenna from County Tyrone, Ireland. A gifted forward, he has become an important player for the club, his ball use and ability to take the game on with Adam Saad have resulted in an asset the club currently enjoys. Whether he stays at Essendon or in Australia is unknown. However, at a time when Essendon had few draft picks, this left field selection has proven a masterstroke.

In 2015 EFC received and traded for high end picks Darcy Parish (5) and traded Jake Carlisle to St Kilda for pick 6 which it used to recruit Aaron Francis. It would believe it had secured a key position player (Jake Carlisle exit) and a highly rated inside midfielder to counter perceived weaknesses in these areas. I will deal with these two players development shortly. It then recruited Mason Redman at pick 30. Initially played at half forward where he showed promise, Mason’s career was also held back by injury for a couple of years. He has now been moulded into a defender and is starting to emerge. Anthony McDonald Tipungwuti was recruited as a Rookie and upgraded to the Senior List in 2016 after losing its players to sanctions. Another inspired decision by the Essendon List Management team.

In 2016 Essendon recruited Andy McGrath at pick 1. Andy may not prove to be the best in his class however he is tracking well to become a 200 - game midfielder and possible captain of the club. He’s intelligent, carries himself well and appears to set high standards for himself. A leader in waiting. His next phase of development requires him to be more composed with ball in hand and become more damaging with his disposal. At this point, Essendon would believe it had recruited two highly rated midfielders in 2015/6 (Parish & McGrath) holding the club in good stead.

At pick 22, Essendon then picked Jordan Ridley. If my memory serves me correctly, it was reported prior to that draft that Dodoro had his eye on Tim English to fill an obvious void in the ruck with the exit of Paddy Ryder. However, the bulldogs got in and recruited English at pick 15. Jordan Ridley is developing quickly and is now realising his potential as a highly reliable and effective intercept mark, good decision maker and very reliable user. I watched his first VFL game in 2017 at Windy Hill and he had 17 possessions across half back and made almost every possession count. I left Windy Hill that day confident we had a player.

Sam Draper was the other notable player that year, picked as a Rookie having arrived with a Soccer pedigree. I have watched his development over the last 2 years in the reserves almost every week and feel very confident in what we have recruited in Sam. He’s strong and physical, has a good leap and is strong overhead. He has demonstrated his ability to go forward as a genuine forward target. Importantly, he has a bit of swagger! What he did in his debut match against Brisbane at Metricon Stadium to me is what I’ve seen him do in recent years at Windy Hill. He’s a promising ruckman.

In 2017, Essendon picked Brandon Zerk – Thatcher at pick 66. Like Ridley and Draper, I have been impressed with BZT’s development the last 2 years in the reserves. He’s agile, athletic, uses the ball well, strong overhead, excellent at ground level and has that ability to usually get an arm in to spoil his opponent. Not that dissimilar in some ways to a very young Dustin Fletcher. He’s very slight, needs to develop physically however I believe will emerge a very successful full back for Essendon with continued natural development. A great get by Dodoro.

In 2018 Essendon used its number 38 selection on Irving Mosquito. To me he’s a younger equivalent of AMT. He’s clever, enormously talented, tackles well for his size and takes the game on. He finds the ball and has natural goal sense. However, he’s only young and will take time to develop physically. Irving needs to be given an opportunity to play senior football in 2020 so he can work on his game with experience under his belt over the 2021 pre - season. Essendon also recruited Brayden Ham at pick 72. Whilst small and slight, he’s shown some signs of a future on a wing. Brayden will take time to develop however there’s something there from what I can see.

At the end of 2019 it appeared Joe Daniher’s career was at the crossroads. Therefore, Essendon recruited Harry Jones at pick 30 in the 2019 National Draft as a key forward. Watching him against the Eagles in Perth in February, I saw signs of good athleticism, a player who competes well, is good at ground level and can take a strong mark. I loved the incident during the 2020 pre - season where Harry knocked over Jake Stringer during a simulation drill at training, got up and played on unaffected. Irrespective of where Daniher ends up, hopefully we have found another key forward option. Along with the inside midfield area, this is an area of the ground where Essendon is lacking depth. The other notable selection at pick 63 was Lachlan Johnson.

B) - Player Trading

At the start of 2016, EFC found itself at its lowest point in its history. It lost the bulk of its playing list to suspensions and it was relegated to the bottom of the ladder. Essendon was on the front page of newspapers for all the wrong reasons almost every day. It had to work hard to connect and retain members, sponsors, stakeholders and players. It faced an enormous challenge to rebuild from the ashes. In January, it was at rock bottom. Supporters were in despair, sponsors brands (and Essendon’s) were trashed and Essendon were a laughing stock. However, there were some rays of hope. It was investing millions into building one of the most advanced training facilities in Australian sport and had a passionate and devoted fanbase. Its management skilfully maintained open and honest dialogue with key stakeholders ensuring it retained valuable members and sponsors. It was an enormous achievement to securing over 57,000 members in 2016! Essendon managed this period heroically.

However, possibly by necessity, it appeared to become increasingly complicit and was reluctant to engage in robust debate or challenge the higher authority. It had its own issues to focus on! Essendon held onto the ANZAC Day match and secured a blockbuster home match to celebrate its ‘comeback story’ in round 1, 2017 against Hawthorn at the MCG. Essendon celebrated an historic win before over 78,000 of its members and supporters. It was also able to secure the #1 draft pick at the 2016 National draft despite widespread public criticism of the leagues decision.

So, we had a Club rising from the ashes. This despite a prevailing view that Essendon could be at the bottom of the ladder for 5-10 years, such was the toll of lost draft picks, suspensions and players supposedly wanting out of the club. Essendon faced and uncertain future. The Essendon leadership had an unenviable task. After everything the Essendon faithful had been through since 2012, did Essendon have the luxury of another 5-10 years of ‘pain’ to rebuild its list and club from the ground up? Could Essendon sustain a long rebuild knowing it was $10M in debt? Did the club make the right decision to complement its draft strategy by giving away prized draft selections to trade in talent from other clubs in 2017-8?

At the end of 2017, Essendon recruited All Australian Jake Stringer (forward / midfielder), Devon Smith (forward / midfielder) and Adam Saad (half back). Whether these selections prove to be the right decisions is subject to debate from those that preferred an organic rebuild. Whether the realisation of Adrian Dodoro’s ambitions in these players potential is realised is again subject to their ability to avoid ongoing injury which in both Stringer and Smith’s case have caused missed pre-seasons & large blocks of games. I believe a fit Jake Stringer could be a highly impactful midfielder as much as a match winning forward. Adam Saad has become a quality player, possible All Australian. I don’t question these decisions and believe a fit Essendon list is capable of winning finals in 2020. However, this assertion is predicated on Essendon getting the entire club pulling in the right direction and delivering in all operating areas, including strengthening its performance culture to optimise on field results. If it can’t, the dream won’t be delivered to its faithful.

In 2018 Essendon secured Dylan Shiel from GWS. A highly talented midfielder to strengthen the Essendon midfield and compliment the likes of Heppell, Zach Merrett, Darcy Parish, Jake Stringer and Andy McGrath. Dylan is yet to realise his full potential at Essendon. Unfortunately, Essendon hasn’t been able to establish a settled midfield due to injury which has held back Dylan’s ability to develop chemistry with his teammates. Essendon will be hoping for further improvement in line with its improved injury situation in the coming year or so.

  • Player Development / Injury Management / Game Plan
Reviewing Essendon’s list and assessing its quality comes with mixed views. Have Essendon traded away precious draft picks to secure trades from other clubs that simply are not delivering to expectation? Has this strategy, as opposed to an organic list build strategy (Eg: Western Bulldogs) been a success or a failure? Has Essendon created a team of “champions” rather than organically building a champion team? To what extent has Essendon’s previous injury management, training standards and modern culture detracted from the teams on field performance? How much impact is match day tactics, developing game plan, perceived deficiencies in on field leadership and chemistry impacted overall performance?

I believe Essendon has recognised failings in its football program across injury management and performance conditioning with the recruitment of new Head of Strength & Conditioning in Sean Murphy. Sean now operates alongside David Rundle as the newly appointed Head of Medical Services in a clear sign the Club needed to address shortcomings in this operating area. It recruited highly regarded Assistant Coach Blake Caracella from Richmond to address its game plan and ball movement and appointed coach in waiting Ben Rutten to Senior Coach to replace John Worsfold. Ben has been working hard on the defensive structure over the last 12 months and with the appointment of Caracella, bolsters the Clubs effort to improve its game plan and ball movement. In a positive sign, it appears it has its soft tissue injuries under control with the obvious question mark still hovering over Joe Daniher and Orazio Fantasia.

Apart from the overarching Club culture, Player development represents my ongoing concern. I have reservations about the pace of development and the development focus areas on several young players, many of whom are highly talented players recruited with high picks. Below my thoughts and observations on some of these players.

Aaron Francis – In his first two years in the reserves, we saw an obvious talent. Powerful, physical, a strong intercept mark, a potential key forward or back. At times moving into the middle and showing a powerful ability to break open a pack with power and strength. He dominated games with his intercept marking. Since 2019, his development has slowed. He has struggled to find a regular position in the backline at senior level. He has had his challenges off field which may complicate his progress. However, so far he hasn’t come on as quickly as some would have liked. He has showed glimpses in the seniors. A match against the Power late in 2018 again reminded us of his obvious talents with high marking on display. His performances are inconsistent, at times lack physicality and his match intensity wavers. Against the Lions at Metricon, there were some notable ‘efforts’ that were below AFL standard. Where do the club see his ideal position? How is the club currently developing Aaron Francis? To me, it appears Aaron needs clarify in his mind where he sees his football moving forward. A year ago, I had similar reservations about Jordan Ridley, yet he has come on in 2020 on the back of a great pre-season. Jacob Weitering a similar story at Carlton last year / this year. Hopefully Aaron’s best is yet to come, he’s talented and still young. Maybe I am being harsh on Aaron!

Darcy Parish – Recruited as an inside midfielder. Had a promising 2016 in a year when there was time and space on the field due to the clubs lower rung status. 2017 was an indifferent year, made promising with his arguably best afield for Essendon in the final against the Swans. Since then we have seen Parish play most of his football at half forward with limited minutes in the midfield until injury arose throughout 2020. On occasions, he has been dropped to the 2nds where I have seen him dominate in the 2nds with 30+ possession in each case. When he goes back he dominates reserves matches. 2020 was hoped to be the year he becomes a more full-time midfielder. Why is he still being played outside the centre square most of the time? Will he realise his potential as a quality inside midfielder? Will he continue to improve his disposal which is required to be an A grade midfielder. He is notably slight, yet talented and hopefully the club develops his talent into a 200 - game player in the middle. Time is on his side, he has the capability to be a great midfielder.

Zach Merrett – Has struggled to adapt to his new role it would seem from afar. He hasn’t been the same player since 2018. Zach was clearly surprised by his leadership demotion which appears to have impacted his confidence. At times he struggles when tagged and can certainly improve on his disposal, especially entering the forward line. We desperately need to see Zach return to the player we know we have.

Brandon Zerk- Thatcher – How do we develop the clubs likely future full back when it has Cale Hooker and Michael Hurley the preferred experienced defenders? At 32, Hooker is the clubs best current full back and it’s difficult to mount a case to not play he and Hurley in defence when thinking solely about the club’s prospects in 2020. However what about 2021-5? I don’t believe Hooker, or possibly Hurley will play in an Essendon premiership. I don’t believe Essendon will play finals in 2020 thanks largely to its injury toll. Therefore, how does Essendon fast track its future by developing its backline in 2020? BZT, Ridley, Francis, Saad & possibly Marty Gleeson and Patrick Ambrose need to play as much senior football as possible whilst balancing their individual development in and out of the senior team. Or does Essendon have surplus needs in defence and consider trading one of these players at seasons end to bolster its position in the draft, or trade for an experienced midfielder or forward?

Kyle Langford - Hasn’t quite lived up to his potential as he continues to find his ideal position in the side. However, there are promising signs and Kyle does have obvious talent. Is he a half forward? Is he a midfielder? Will his talents as a half forward be wasted in an effort to turn him into a midfielder? He finds the ball, doesn’t rush his disposals and usually distributes the ball effectively to a player on his favoured side. However, I question whether he is physical and touch enough to be a genuine inside midfielder. He needs to be stronger in the clinches and a better tackler. He needs to become more physical if he’s to become a strong inside midfielder.

Jayden Laverde - Has been cruelly impacted by chronic injury. He was experiencing his best preseason leading into 2020 until COVID ended preseason in March. A tough competitor, aggressive tackler, often ‘stays up’ when tackled, Jayden could be a strong inside midfielder and half forward. Until his latest injury, Jayden was showing his true potential. He was having 2-3 shots at goal at half forward and becoming increasingly damaging in a forward line lacking quality supply from the midfield. We hope he realises his obvious potential from here.

James Stewart – I thought Stewart got the monkey off his back when he drilled the match winner against Richmond in the Reserves Semi Final at Port Melbourne in 2018. He delivered on the ‘big stage’ after the siren to win Essendon the match. In doing so he put behind him poor set shot kicking that had marred his matches previously. Then the following year, I watched James Stewart play round 1 in the reserves, his first game back from a niggly groin injury that interrupted his pre-season of 2018/9. In the first half he took 4 contested marks at CHF and kicked 4 goals from memory. With Daniher also injured with his chronic condition, James Stewart was clunking them from everywhere and kicking goals. Stewart was on track for a senior recall the following week. Then after half time, Stewart emerged from the Essendon changerooms at Frankston with ice on his groin. He told me at the time, “nothing much mate, it will be all good”. He wouldn’t play another game that year. Now injury free, with 2 scratch matches under his belt, James Stewart is again nearing a recall. He told me a month ago he was feeling the best he’d felt in 12 months. I hope we see a continuation of the development I saw in Stewart late in 2018 and into 2019 as 2020 continues…

Where to From Here?

I will make the important assumption that Essendon has made material gains in the areas of injury management, match day coaching, tactics, game plan and player development that will have a direct benefit to on field performance over the next 3-5 years. That the players collectively build the necessary synergy and chemistry, improve ball movement and connectively between the midfielders and forward line etc.

I believe the backline is strong for the next era. Hooker and Hurley will eventually make way for BZT and Aaron Francis to compliment a backline containing Mason Redman, Adam Saad, Jordan Ridley, Patrick Ambrose and others. It needs to retain Conor McKenna to secure this back 6 for the years ahead. Arguably it needs to find one taller defensive type and Ambrose may or may not be this player. Overall the backline is in sound shape.

The midfield has a core group of developing young players with experienced types. McGrath & Parish need to realise their potential to become 200 game players and secure the clubs prospects moving forward. Shiel and Merrett need additional support by way of bigger ball winning players to compliment the midfield group further. A Heath Hocking type maybe! Do they need to make a tough call by trading away a surplus need in defence to secure a critical need in the midfield? Will Kyle Langford develop into the larger bodied midfield the club needs? Or will Jayden Laverde potentially be this player? I still see a fit Jake Stringer playing more time impacting at the centre clearances and ruck stoppages. We can only pray for another great preseason for Jake Stringer. We are relying on Sam Draper’s talented and we have high hopes for our future ruck stocks in Sam. If Draper can develop into the club’s best ruckman since Ryder, Essendon will be more effective and proactive at stoppages, addressing a perceived deficiency.

The forward line needs more depth. I will assume Joe Daniher wont’ play out a successful career at Essendon. This is a major hole in Essendon’s hopes. That leaves James Stewart, Shaun McKernan and young Harry Jones as key forward prospects (with Draper role playing).

Summary

Most of the components are in place for a successful period at Essendon, although retaining Joe Daniher is crucial to this belief. Player development represents an area of ongoing concern. The playing list is reasonably talented but not playing enough due to injury and continuity associated with COVID-19. As a result, we are not seeing the team playing and improving together, training and implementing its game plan to its optimum or building chemistry and gelling as a team. Essendon appears to have lots of strong parts however doesn’t yet display the sum of these parts. In time we hope our luck turns and the results will come.

However, culture is most important in brining all facets of the Club together for success. This takes time to build and for Essendon represents an enormous task given its recent history. A more ruthless, sharper edged, more accountability and higher professional standards across every area is required. And whilst building culture takes time, I don’t believe as a Club we’re there yet.
 

Kakkle

Brownlow Medallist
Jun 2, 2012
14,240
22,614
Melbourne/Los Angeles
AFL Club
Essendon
Other Teams
Los Angeles Dodgers
The list is made up of players who are simply content being career players. Finals and a flag would be nice, but if they don't come, thats ok, these guys are content with being AFL footballers and the amenities that comes with it. I get it, but unless there's a player driven change, whatever this level we've been at for 15 odd years will continue.
 

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JayJ20

Brownlow Medallist
Aug 28, 2016
12,055
16,733
AFL Club
Essendon
A 25 year member provides an observational view of the Essendon Football Club. NB: A Detailed Situational Analysis!

Background & Culture

Essendon is currently rebuilding after the fallout from the 2012 supplements saga. This historical event followed an ultimately unsuccessful 5 years rebuilding following the conclusion of the Kevin Sheedy era. This period 2008-2012 was always going to be challenging for Essendon as it sought to launch a new identity under the guidance of David Evans, Ian Robson and Matthew Knights.

In my view, a chain of events started in the final years of the Sheedy era. In the years after the 2000 premiership, the Essendon leadership declared EFC needed to accept a rebuild was required and the Club needed to offload premiership players to create room in its salary cap. Beyond the specifics of the salary cap and impact on the playing list, this decision marked the symbolic moment that gave rise to a new culture at Essendon in my opinion. A culture of acceptance, a club willing to accept no success for a period. I contend that Essendon hasn’t recovered from this key historical transitional period in its history.

The Club would go through a period of malaise on and off field that led the Essendon Board to establish a new direction by recruiting Mark Thompson and James Hird to herald a new direction for the Club in 2011. My recollection at the time was that the Essendon board believed Essendon had lost its commercial sharpness and believed recruiting Ian Robson from Hawthorn would serve to address this off field malaise. The intent and direction were very sound, the execution of the “whatever it takes” culture clearly fell short of expectations.

The period between 2012-2016 was very challenging for the Club on all fronts. Highly successful efforts were taken to look after the emotional welfare of its staff and players whilst at the same time, fruitful efforts were made in retaining most of its playing list as rival clubs and player managers circled. The Clubs inner sanctum necessarily needed to close ranks to support each other through the enormous toll of the saga. This was a traumatic period for all Essendon stakeholders.

However, there’s always a silver lining. Between 2013-6 we saw the birth of highly promising careers as Tipungwuti, Fantasia, Daniher, Merrett, Langford, Laverde and McKenna among others, provided Essendon supporters a glimmer of hope for a rosy future.

Moreover, I believe the Supplements period gave rise to unintended consequences that would still influence the Clubs performances today. Essendon now appears a club that has lost its ruthlessness, its hardness and its voice as an industry leader. It has softened on many levels, become more complicit, less risk averse, lost its boldness and ability to take risks in a new era of conservative management amid stricter governance. Its on field leaders are no doubt great guys but don’t appear from afar to be genuine leaders that drive the highest of standards and accountability. Consequently, its week to week performances have become chronically inconsistent, its performances still lack chemistry and connection whilst many players are not realising their potential and developing at an acceptable rate.

Symbolic of these challenges is a recent defence of Conor Mc Kenna’s return from finger surgery by our Senior Coach, John Worsfold In a piece by “Yahoo! Sport” on 18/07/20. John noted we had to “assume he was 100% fit, he did a fitness test”. Further, we should consider Conor’s efforts to “come out of quarantine periods then get back to play and perform for us and then have surgery three or four days out from a game and still get out there and crack in for us is a credit to him”. In my view, I perceived this as publicly accepting mediocrity. Conor wasn’t 100% fit to play, he twice played whilst appearing less than 100% confident in his hands (finger) fitness. With hindsight I was disappointed the Club didn’t reinforce the highest standards and there was no apparent accountability for his inability to play to his potential, at least in the public domain of course. I see this as representative of elements of the Essendon culture. Whilst recognising this is a delicate situation for Essendon and Conor, Essendon publicly accepted the situation of a player who appeared unfit two weeks running and therefore to me compromising on field standards and accountability.

I believe Essendon’s modern culture is influencing many operating areas of the club and is detracting from on-field performance. I believe culture needs to be sharpened to elevate performances on field, below I outline my thoughts across several operating areas.

  • List Management & Rebuilding the List
Contrary to mixed opinion in the football community, I don’t believe EFC’s list management is at the centre of its ongoing on-field challenges. That’s not to say its list management outcomes are the best in the AFL.

The Essendon list management team needed to rebuild list post the 2012 era with some enormous challenges not faced in the history of the AFL. In both 2013 & 2014, EFC was penalised and lost it’s 1st & 2nd round draft picks from both national drafts. Not only did this cost the club ability to regenerate its youth stocks, it also meant it was unable to trade to improve its list based on fixing noted gaps. Essendon was effectively unable to participate in trading over successive off seasons as player managers were reluctant to risk sending their players to Essendon. This effectively halted the Hird / Thompson rebuild which culminated in an Elimination Final lost to North Melbourne in 2014. Post this loss, Essendon would lose Paddy Ryder to Port Adelaide, Michael Hibberd to Melbourne & Stewart Crameri to the Western Bulldogs. It part ways with Jake Carlisle who requested a trade out. Then its captain, Jobe Watson had his career sadly cut short at the end of 2017 due to the mental and physical scars. Essendon lost its spiritual leader and dominant inside midfielder prematurely.

In January 2016 Essendon lost the majority of senior list to penalties. The Club was required to invest enormous resources to retain as many senior players as possible, despite pressure from other clubs and player managers to encourage its players to seek a fresh start elsewhere.

Between 2013 - 2016, list management team was forced to think laterally to rebuild the list. On the flip side, it can be argued this period gave Essendon prized early picks in 2015/6 to commence this rebuild. It also had the benefit of recruiting Father/Son in Joe Daniher in 2012.

A) Drafting

In 2013 it used its 26th pick overall to recruit Zach Merrett. It then used pick 55 to secure Orazio Fantasia. It would then take Patrick Ambrose as a Rookie. The latter two players have had injury interrupted careers. All three players should be expected to have had long and successful careers at Essendon. At this point, I believe only Merrett at this stage looks highly likely to deliver on this expectation. Why is this? I will expand on this separately.

In 2014, it recruited Kyle Langford and Jayden Laverde with its two picks. Both players show obvious talent but have been beset by different challenges. Langford, a half forward is grappling with being moulded into a midfielder whilst Laverde has had an interrupted career with injury. Both players should have successful careers based on talent, but talent only takes you so far.

Essendon also won a competitive race to recruit Conor McKenna from County Tyrone, Ireland. A gifted forward, he has become an important player for the club, his ball use and ability to take the game on with Adam Saad have resulted in an asset the club currently enjoys. Whether he stays at Essendon or in Australia is unknown. However, at a time when Essendon had few draft picks, this left field selection has proven a masterstroke.

In 2015 EFC received and traded for high end picks Darcy Parish (5) and traded Jake Carlisle to St Kilda for pick 6 which it used to recruit Aaron Francis. It would believe it had secured a key position player (Jake Carlisle exit) and a highly rated inside midfielder to counter perceived weaknesses in these areas. I will deal with these two players development shortly. It then recruited Mason Redman at pick 30. Initially played at half forward where he showed promise, Mason’s career was also held back by injury for a couple of years. He has now been moulded into a defender and is starting to emerge. Anthony McDonald Tipungwuti was recruited as a Rookie and upgraded to the Senior List in 2016 after losing its players to sanctions. Another inspired decision by the Essendon List Management team.

In 2016 Essendon recruited Andy McGrath at pick 1. Andy may not prove to be the best in his class however he is tracking well to become a 200 - game midfielder and possible captain of the club. He’s intelligent, carries himself well and appears to set high standards for himself. A leader in waiting. His next phase of development requires him to be more composed with ball in hand and become more damaging with his disposal. At this point, Essendon would believe it had recruited two highly rated midfielders in 2015/6 (Parish & McGrath) holding the club in good stead.

At pick 22, Essendon then picked Jordan Ridley. If my memory serves me correctly, it was reported prior to that draft that Dodoro had his eye on Tim English to fill an obvious void in the ruck with the exit of Paddy Ryder. However, the bulldogs got in and recruited English at pick 15. Jordan Ridley is developing quickly and is now realising his potential as a highly reliable and effective intercept mark, good decision maker and very reliable user. I watched his first VFL game in 2017 at Windy Hill and he had 17 possessions across half back and made almost every possession count. I left Windy Hill that day confident we had a player.

Sam Draper was the other notable player that year, picked as a Rookie having arrived with a Soccer pedigree. I have watched his development over the last 2 years in the reserves almost every week and feel very confident in what we have recruited in Sam. He’s strong and physical, has a good leap and is strong overhead. He has demonstrated his ability to go forward as a genuine forward target. Importantly, he has a bit of swagger! What he did in his debut match against Brisbane at Metricon Stadium to me is what I’ve seen him do in recent years at Windy Hill. He’s a promising ruckman.

In 2017, Essendon picked Brandon Zerk – Thatcher at pick 66. Like Ridley and Draper, I have been impressed with BZT’s development the last 2 years in the reserves. He’s agile, athletic, uses the ball well, strong overhead, excellent at ground level and has that ability to usually get an arm in to spoil his opponent. Not that dissimilar in some ways to a very young Dustin Fletcher. He’s very slight, needs to develop physically however I believe will emerge a very successful full back for Essendon with continued natural development. A great get by Dodoro.

In 2018 Essendon used its number 38 selection on Irving Mosquito. To me he’s a younger equivalent of AMT. He’s clever, enormously talented, tackles well for his size and takes the game on. He finds the ball and has natural goal sense. However, he’s only young and will take time to develop physically. Irving needs to be given an opportunity to play senior football in 2020 so he can work on his game with experience under his belt over the 2021 pre - season. Essendon also recruited Brayden Ham at pick 72. Whilst small and slight, he’s shown some signs of a future on a wing. Brayden will take time to develop however there’s something there from what I can see.

At the end of 2019 it appeared Joe Daniher’s career was at the crossroads. Therefore, Essendon recruited Harry Jones at pick 30 in the 2019 National Draft as a key forward. Watching him against the Eagles in Perth in February, I saw signs of good athleticism, a player who competes well, is good at ground level and can take a strong mark. I loved the incident during the 2020 pre - season where Harry knocked over Jake Stringer during a simulation drill at training, got up and played on unaffected. Irrespective of where Daniher ends up, hopefully we have found another key forward option. Along with the inside midfield area, this is an area of the ground where Essendon is lacking depth. The other notable selection at pick 63 was Lachlan Johnson.

B) - Player Trading

At the start of 2016, EFC found itself at its lowest point in its history. It lost the bulk of its playing list to suspensions and it was relegated to the bottom of the ladder. Essendon was on the front page of newspapers for all the wrong reasons almost every day. It had to work hard to connect and retain members, sponsors, stakeholders and players. It faced an enormous challenge to rebuild from the ashes. In January, it was at rock bottom. Supporters were in despair, sponsors brands (and Essendon’s) were trashed and Essendon were a laughing stock. However, there were some rays of hope. It was investing millions into building one of the most advanced training facilities in Australian sport and had a passionate and devoted fanbase. Its management skilfully maintained open and honest dialogue with key stakeholders ensuring it retained valuable members and sponsors. It was an enormous achievement to securing over 57,000 members in 2016! Essendon managed this period heroically.

However, possibly by necessity, it appeared to become increasingly complicit and was reluctant to engage in robust debate or challenge the higher authority. It had its own issues to focus on! Essendon held onto the ANZAC Day match and secured a blockbuster home match to celebrate its ‘comeback story’ in round 1, 2017 against Hawthorn at the MCG. Essendon celebrated an historic win before over 78,000 of its members and supporters. It was also able to secure the #1 draft pick at the 2016 National draft despite widespread public criticism of the leagues decision.

So, we had a Club rising from the ashes. This despite a prevailing view that Essendon could be at the bottom of the ladder for 5-10 years, such was the toll of lost draft picks, suspensions and players supposedly wanting out of the club. Essendon faced and uncertain future. The Essendon leadership had an unenviable task. After everything the Essendon faithful had been through since 2012, did Essendon have the luxury of another 5-10 years of ‘pain’ to rebuild its list and club from the ground up? Could Essendon sustain a long rebuild knowing it was $10M in debt? Did the club make the right decision to complement its draft strategy by giving away prized draft selections to trade in talent from other clubs in 2017-8?

At the end of 2017, Essendon recruited All Australian Jake Stringer (forward / midfielder), Devon Smith (forward / midfielder) and Adam Saad (half back). Whether these selections prove to be the right decisions is subject to debate from those that preferred an organic rebuild. Whether the realisation of Adrian Dodoro’s ambitions in these players potential is realised is again subject to their ability to avoid ongoing injury which in both Stringer and Smith’s case have caused missed pre-seasons & large blocks of games. I believe a fit Jake Stringer could be a highly impactful midfielder as much as a match winning forward. Adam Saad has become a quality player, possible All Australian. I don’t question these decisions and believe a fit Essendon list is capable of winning finals in 2020. However, this assertion is predicated on Essendon getting the entire club pulling in the right direction and delivering in all operating areas, including strengthening its performance culture to optimise on field results. If it can’t, the dream won’t be delivered to its faithful.

In 2018 Essendon secured Dylan Shiel from GWS. A highly talented midfielder to strengthen the Essendon midfield and compliment the likes of Heppell, Zach Merrett, Darcy Parish, Jake Stringer and Andy McGrath. Dylan is yet to realise his full potential at Essendon. Unfortunately, Essendon hasn’t been able to establish a settled midfield due to injury which has held back Dylan’s ability to develop chemistry with his teammates. Essendon will be hoping for further improvement in line with its improved injury situation in the coming year or so.

  • Player Development / Injury Management / Game Plan
Reviewing Essendon’s list and assessing its quality comes with mixed views. Have Essendon traded away precious draft picks to secure trades from other clubs that simply are not delivering to expectation? Has this strategy, as opposed to an organic list build strategy (Eg: Western Bulldogs) been a success or a failure? Has Essendon created a team of “champions” rather than organically building a champion team? To what extent has Essendon’s previous injury management, training standards and modern culture detracted from the teams on field performance? How much impact is match day tactics, developing game plan, perceived deficiencies in on field leadership and chemistry impacted overall performance?

I believe Essendon has recognised failings in its football program across injury management and performance conditioning with the recruitment of new Head of Strength & Conditioning in Sean Murphy. Sean now operates alongside David Rundle as the newly appointed Head of Medical Services in a clear sign the Club needed to address shortcomings in this operating area. It recruited highly regarded Assistant Coach Blake Caracella from Richmond to address its game plan and ball movement and appointed coach in waiting Ben Rutten to Senior Coach to replace John Worsfold. Ben has been working hard on the defensive structure over the last 12 months and with the appointment of Caracella, bolsters the Clubs effort to improve its game plan and ball movement. In a positive sign, it appears it has its soft tissue injuries under control with the obvious question mark still hovering over Joe Daniher and Orazio Fantasia.

Apart from the overarching Club culture, Player development represents my ongoing concern. I have reservations about the pace of development and the development focus areas on several young players, many of whom are highly talented players recruited with high picks. Below my thoughts and observations on some of these players.

Aaron Francis – In his first two years in the reserves, we saw an obvious talent. Powerful, physical, a strong intercept mark, a potential key forward or back. At times moving into the middle and showing a powerful ability to break open a pack with power and strength. He dominated games with his intercept marking. Since 2019, his development has slowed. He has struggled to find a regular position in the backline at senior level. He has had his challenges off field which may complicate his progress. However, so far he hasn’t come on as quickly as some would have liked. He has showed glimpses in the seniors. A match against the Power late in 2018 again reminded us of his obvious talents with high marking on display. His performances are inconsistent, at times lack physicality and his match intensity wavers. Against the Lions at Metricon, there were some notable ‘efforts’ that were below AFL standard. Where do the club see his ideal position? How is the club currently developing Aaron Francis? To me, it appears Aaron needs clarify in his mind where he sees his football moving forward. A year ago, I had similar reservations about Jordan Ridley, yet he has come on in 2020 on the back of a great pre-season. Jacob Weitering a similar story at Carlton last year / this year. Hopefully Aaron’s best is yet to come, he’s talented and still young. Maybe I am being harsh on Aaron!

Darcy Parish – Recruited as an inside midfielder. Had a promising 2016 in a year when there was time and space on the field due to the clubs lower rung status. 2017 was an indifferent year, made promising with his arguably best afield for Essendon in the final against the Swans. Since then we have seen Parish play most of his football at half forward with limited minutes in the midfield until injury arose throughout 2020. On occasions, he has been dropped to the 2nds where I have seen him dominate in the 2nds with 30+ possession in each case. When he goes back he dominates reserves matches. 2020 was hoped to be the year he becomes a more full-time midfielder. Why is he still being played outside the centre square most of the time? Will he realise his potential as a quality inside midfielder? Will he continue to improve his disposal which is required to be an A grade midfielder. He is notably slight, yet talented and hopefully the club develops his talent into a 200 - game player in the middle. Time is on his side, he has the capability to be a great midfielder.

Zach Merrett – Has struggled to adapt to his new role it would seem from afar. He hasn’t been the same player since 2018. Zach was clearly surprised by his leadership demotion which appears to have impacted his confidence. At times he struggles when tagged and can certainly improve on his disposal, especially entering the forward line. We desperately need to see Zach return to the player we know we have.

Brandon Zerk- Thatcher – How do we develop the clubs likely future full back when it has Cale Hooker and Michael Hurley the preferred experienced defenders? At 32, Hooker is the clubs best current full back and it’s difficult to mount a case to not play he and Hurley in defence when thinking solely about the club’s prospects in 2020. However what about 2021-5? I don’t believe Hooker, or possibly Hurley will play in an Essendon premiership. I don’t believe Essendon will play finals in 2020 thanks largely to its injury toll. Therefore, how does Essendon fast track its future by developing its backline in 2020? BZT, Ridley, Francis, Saad & possibly Marty Gleeson and Patrick Ambrose need to play as much senior football as possible whilst balancing their individual development in and out of the senior team. Or does Essendon have surplus needs in defence and consider trading one of these players at seasons end to bolster its position in the draft, or trade for an experienced midfielder or forward?

Kyle Langford - Hasn’t quite lived up to his potential as he continues to find his ideal position in the side. However, there are promising signs and Kyle does have obvious talent. Is he a half forward? Is he a midfielder? Will his talents as a half forward be wasted in an effort to turn him into a midfielder? He finds the ball, doesn’t rush his disposals and usually distributes the ball effectively to a player on his favoured side. However, I question whether he is physical and touch enough to be a genuine inside midfielder. He needs to be stronger in the clinches and a better tackler. He needs to become more physical if he’s to become a strong inside midfielder.

Jayden Laverde - Has been cruelly impacted by chronic injury. He was experiencing his best preseason leading into 2020 until COVID ended preseason in March. A tough competitor, aggressive tackler, often ‘stays up’ when tackled, Jayden could be a strong inside midfielder and half forward. Until his latest injury, Jayden was showing his true potential. He was having 2-3 shots at goal at half forward and becoming increasingly damaging in a forward line lacking quality supply from the midfield. We hope he realises his obvious potential from here.

James Stewart – I thought Stewart got the monkey off his back when he drilled the match winner against Richmond in the Reserves Semi Final at Port Melbourne in 2018. He delivered on the ‘big stage’ after the siren to win Essendon the match. In doing so he put behind him poor set shot kicking that had marred his matches previously. Then the following year, I watched James Stewart play round 1 in the reserves, his first game back from a niggly groin injury that interrupted his pre-season of 2018/9. In the first half he took 4 contested marks at CHF and kicked 4 goals from memory. With Daniher also injured with his chronic condition, James Stewart was clunking them from everywhere and kicking goals. Stewart was on track for a senior recall the following week. Then after half time, Stewart emerged from the Essendon changerooms at Frankston with ice on his groin. He told me at the time, “nothing much mate, it will be all good”. He wouldn’t play another game that year. Now injury free, with 2 scratch matches under his belt, James Stewart is again nearing a recall. He told me a month ago he was feeling the best he’d felt in 12 months. I hope we see a continuation of the development I saw in Stewart late in 2018 and into 2019 as 2020 continues…

Where to From Here?

I will make the important assumption that Essendon has made material gains in the areas of injury management, match day coaching, tactics, game plan and player development that will have a direct benefit to on field performance over the next 3-5 years. That the players collectively build the necessary synergy and chemistry, improve ball movement and connectively between the midfielders and forward line etc.

I believe the backline is strong for the next era. Hooker and Hurley will eventually make way for BZT and Aaron Francis to compliment a backline containing Mason Redman, Adam Saad, Jordan Ridley, Patrick Ambrose and others. It needs to retain Conor McKenna to secure this back 6 for the years ahead. Arguably it needs to find one taller defensive type and Ambrose may or may not be this player. Overall the backline is in sound shape.

The midfield has a core group of developing young players with experienced types. McGrath & Parish need to realise their potential to become 200 game players and secure the clubs prospects moving forward. Shiel and Merrett need additional support by way of bigger ball winning players to compliment the midfield group further. A Heath Hocking type maybe! Do they need to make a tough call by trading away a surplus need in defence to secure a critical need in the midfield? Will Kyle Langford develop into the larger bodied midfield the club needs? Or will Jayden Laverde potentially be this player? I still see a fit Jake Stringer playing more time impacting at the centre clearances and ruck stoppages. We can only pray for another great preseason for Jake Stringer. We are relying on Sam Draper’s talented and we have high hopes for our future ruck stocks in Sam. If Draper can develop into the club’s best ruckman since Ryder, Essendon will be more effective and proactive at stoppages, addressing a perceived deficiency.

The forward line needs more depth. I will assume Joe Daniher wont’ play out a successful career at Essendon. This is a major hole in Essendon’s hopes. That leaves James Stewart, Shaun McKernan and young Harry Jones as key forward prospects (with Draper role playing).

Summary

Most of the components are in place for a successful period at Essendon, although retaining Joe Daniher is crucial to this belief. Player development represents an area of ongoing concern. The playing list is reasonably talented but not playing enough due to injury and continuity associated with COVID-19. As a result, we are not seeing the team playing and improving together, training and implementing its game plan to its optimum or building chemistry and gelling as a team. Essendon appears to have lots of strong parts however doesn’t yet display the sum of these parts. In time we hope our luck turns and the results will come.

However, culture is most important in brining all facets of the Club together for success. This takes time to build and for Essendon represents an enormous task given its recent history. A more ruthless, sharper edged, more accountability and higher professional standards across every area is required. And whilst building culture takes time, I don’t believe as a Club we’re there yet.
Nice summary. Excellent post. I'll also add our inability to develop natural midfielders. I think we've properly developed only McGrath, Merrett and Heppell as mids.

We should have taken Dylan Clarke's development more seriously. We're also currently doing that to Hibberd as well. It's the biggest development problem we have.
 

Yoda_

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The list is made up of players who are simply content being career players. Finals and a flag would be nice, but if they don't come, thats ok, these guys are content with being AFL footballers and the amenities that comes with it. I get it, but unless there's a player driven change, whatever this level we've been at for 15 odd years will continue.
To be fair, the OP touches on it. The club is a nice club. It’s happy and merry with very little in the way of a mean streak.

It’s easy to understand why after the ASAGA bullshit but the club is monotonous while this continues.

The players are the accountability of this. No grunt. No prick in them. lol
The best teams have that mean streak in them


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

Kyptastic

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A good read, thanks for posting that.

I don't think much will change at the club until the last of the ASADA players are off the list. We rightly wanted to repay the faith and loyalty they showed as they had every right to leave and find other clubs, but they mostly stuck fat. The club probably now feels that they owe them a shot at a flag and has recruited accordingly. Not until they're all gone (maybe not Heppell) can the club be honest with itself about where it's at.

The other thing is the injuries that have killed us. If the 2017 forward line could have stayed on the park to reap the benefits of the SSSS haul then we may be looking at a different story. The 2017 forward line in last years team is probably a top 4 side.
 

Bunk Moreland

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Nice work. For me, our biggest issues since 2016 are:

1. Lack of a coherent gameplan that will allow success. This is a product of the extension of Worsfold's contract in 2018, which was a poor move. Post ASAGA, we put "stability" ahead of success.

2. Coaching setup. When re-signed, Worsfold put in place the catastrophic coaching structure around Mark Neeld, which set us back significantly. Steps were taken to fix this. RESOLVED

3. Lack of on-field leadership. As 2018 had the disastrous coaching setup, 2019 had the disastrous player leadership group setup. Inclusion of players like Daniher and Fantasia who aren't natural leaders and had their own challenges. For their "development". Their development doesn't come before a high-functioning playing group. Have an emerging leaders program if you want that. We also let go of Goddard too early. He was a lot more than his declining output. He was the closest thing we had to a Hodge/Brisbane figure and was very valuable. Some supporters simply didn't like him. That means nothing. The players liked him, a couple of arguments notwithstanding. We had/have a genuine dearth of on-field leadership which is extremely important in the highly structured modern game. We've gone some way to fixing that, but it's a work in progress.

4. Daniher injuries

5. Fantasia injuries. I think, unfortunately, the time has come on this one. We have enough injury-prone players without being invested in another who, truthfully, isn't core to our success. Needs to be moved on this year I believe.

6. Parish development. I have no idea why he hasn't been handed a similar development path to Heppell, McGrath and Merrett. Midfield, from day 1, nowhere else.

7. Langford development. How can we be this far in and still not know what position he should play?

8. Ridley development. It was as plain as day he was being very poorly treated at selection last year. That's been fixed this year, and what do you know... RESOLVED

Basically, the major issues lie with Worsfold. Re-signing him was a mistake, we failed to comprehend that he wasn't the man for the job post 2017. Or, at the least, didn't surround him with people that made up for his shortcomings. Perhaps, really, we needed a Rutten and a Caracella back in 2018.
 

Red Black and Blue

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Great post, love the detail and thought.

I do disagree with the origin of our cultural decline.

I don't believe it came from the acceptance of rebuild induced failure, rather an avoidance to fully embracing a rebuild. I think this is due to a deeply ingrained sense of entitlement that prevented a mindset shift away from the big club attitude of deserved and bought success.

From 2003-2009 we added the likes of top up players Matthew Allen, Ty Zantuck, Mal Michael, Mark Alvey, Justin Murphy, Scott Camporeale, Hayden Skipworth, Richard Cole. The way we tiered players from that 2000 premiership era to paper the cracks, trying to turn MJ and McVeigh into full time mids at age 28 which worked a little but only at keeping us in mid-table limbo away from the highest draft picks when we were really needing top end talent.

Melbourne are used as the cautionary tale of developing a losing culture through tanking. Yet Richmond, Collingwood, West Coast, Hawthorn tanked and have all won flags in subsequent years. This isn't advocating for it but to question where are their cultural problems? For mine it comes down to the players you draft. Culture is set by the leaders on your playing list and we have actively avoided drafting players that set on field standards for competitiveness.

'The club' seem to prioritise personality, 'character' and loyalty to Essendon above footballing ability for marketing, coterie and image purposes.
 

sameolds33

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Many valid points made in OP and subsequent comments. I think that its easy to discount the benefits of having Woosha (older experienced coach) follow the chaos of the Hird/Bomber era rather than Rutten/Caracella (no head coaching experience).

The best comparison is Adelaide following Phil Walsh's death, loss of talent and the chaos of the pre-season camp. In the end, the confidence (culture) a team has in each other comes from self-belief and trust in each other. We started along way behind every other team as a result of the saga. Woosha's steady if somewhat uninspiring leadership has steadied the club when we needed certainty. The management has meant that we didn't lose many players after the saga, we were still a "destination club" afterwards. It's easy to forget it could have gone either way. I get the despair after a loss like Friday night's - and most likley the next couple of games too. I'd rather be us than Adelaide. I think we're on the up. The next bit is building the self-belief that reduces fumbling and brain fades. That comes down to coaching rather than sheer talent. I reckon our list is OK.
 

Max Baker

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It will take a few years to get used to Caracella and Rutten. It's basically a reset button has been pushed and we are starting all over again. It's no surprise to see good solid clubs playing consistent footy have long term coaches at the helm. Injuries have been particularly cruel to us this year, but in these times its a great opportunity to get games into kids instead of Zaka or TBC. More game time for the kids means better success down the road.
 

Red Black and Blue

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Lack of on-field leadership. As 2018 had the disastrous coaching setup, 2019 had the disastrous player leadership group setup. Inclusion of players like Daniher and Fantasia who aren't natural leaders and had their own challenges. For their "development". Their development doesn't come before a high-functioning playing group. Have an emerging leaders program if you want that. We also let go of Goddard too early. He was a lot more than his declining output. He was the closest thing we had to a Hodge/Brisbane figure and was very valuable. Some supporters simply didn't like him. That means nothing. The players liked him, a couple of arguments notwithstanding. We had/have a genuine dearth of on-field leadership which is extremely important in the highly structured modern game. We've gone some way to fixing that, but it's a work in progress.
I don't think Goddard was the answer. Part of building a winning culture is accountability for performance and unlike Hodge; BJ wasn't performing. Hodge also had a calming presence BJ lacked. He was probably sated by a successful career, but seem to have a balance between the carrot and the stick when teaching the kids. Goddard was all stick.
 

BrunoV

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I don't think Goddard was the answer. Part of building a winning culture is accountability for performance and unlike Hodge; BJ wasn't performing. Hodge also had a calming presence BJ lacked. He was probably sated by a successful career, but seem to have a balance between the carrot and the stick when teaching the kids. Goddard was all stick.

When was the last time Hodge performed?

As a Brisbane defender, being run off and treated as though he wasn't on the ground he was essentially a liability.

The impact of his on-field coaching is something no one will ever be able to comment from outside.
 

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Red Black and Blue

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When was the last time Hodge performed?

As a Brisbane defender, being run off and treated as though he wasn't on the ground he was essentially a liability.

The impact of his on-field coaching is something no one will ever be able to comment from outside.
He was b.o.g in his final game vs GWS. Was absolutely cutting off every thrust forward in the second half and even the week before he was the only one who could shut down Martin who was running hot but made to look silly a few times by Hodge.


You can tell if someone has a captive audience and commands respect on field. Hodge did, Goddard didn't.
 
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Bunk Moreland

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I don't think Goddard was the answer. Part of building a winning culture is accountability for performance and unlike Hodge; BJ wasn't performing. Hodge also had a calming presence BJ lacked. He was probably sated by a successful career, but seem to have a balance between the carrot and the stick when teaching the kids. Goddard was all stick.
I don’t think this is true and people pay to much heed to a few displays of Goddard cracking the shits on field - something he has acknowledged countless times.

Theres more to him than that. The proof is in the pudding, he was well liked by teammates.
 

Lore

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3. Lack of on-field leadership. As 2018 had the disastrous coaching setup, 2019 had the disastrous player leadership group setup. Inclusion of players like Daniher and Fantasia who aren't natural leaders and had their own challenges. For their "development". Their development doesn't come before a high-functioning playing group. Have an emerging leaders program if you want that. We also let go of Goddard too early. He was a lot more than his declining output. He was the closest thing we had to a Hodge/Brisbane figure and was very valuable. Some supporters simply didn't like him. That means nothing. The players liked him, a couple of arguments notwithstanding. We had/have a genuine dearth of on-field leadership which is extremely important in the highly structured modern game. We've gone some way to fixing that, but it's a work in progress.
Wasn't the Daniher/Fantasia/Merrett thing born out of 2016 when we literally didn't have any senior players other than Baguley, Goddard and Zaharakis? They made some sort of pact to get the club back on track, thereby assuming a leadership role and becoming the nucleus in the side until all the senior players came back and injuries hit.

We also had James Kelly at that time, didn't they both (Kelly and BJ) retire in the same year? It was almost like we cleaned house at the end of that year and put all our eggs in the Daniher/Fantasia basket. I guess the generals now are Hooker/Hurley... and perhaps Shiel, McGrath (?!) Might be a question to ask about salary caps too, since that's also the off-season we went after SSS and I believe we were heavily into O'Meara as well. Iirc we also had McKernan and Walla holding out for money and Leuenberger retiring for lack of it around that time?

6. Parish development. I have no idea why he hasn't been handed a similar development path to Heppell, McGrath and Merrett. Midfield, from day 1, nowhere else.
To be completely fair, Heppell and McGrath both started at half-back, and Merrett started at half-forward. That is the development path that Parish is on, though he's not progressed from a heavily rotated position into a primary midfield role at quite the same speed. Having McGrath drafted the year after him probably didn't help, and Shiel was recruited two years after that, making it more competitive in there now than what it was when he was drafted. McGrath basically leapfrogged him, but I think they have different strengths and aren't mutually exclusive (in fact I believe they're pretty good mates).

The Mark Neeld thing fascinates me. So much happened before and since that short-lived nightmare that I'd almost forgotten it. I wonder if the intention with that setup was basically the same thing we've got now with Rutten, except by a different name. A sort of OP senior assistant. Except this time there doesn't seem to be any confusion about how it works.
 

Lore

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I don’t think this is true and people pay to much heed to a few displays of Goddard cracking the shits on field - something he has acknowledged countless times.

Theres more to him than that. The proof is in the pudding, he was well liked by teammates.
He's one that whose public image would have benefited from playing R1, 2020 with no crowd, so we could hear what he was saying haha. I think he said as much on radio, television or social media thing at the time.
 

Bunk Moreland

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The Mark Neeld thing fascinates me. So much happened before and since that short-lived nightmare that I'd almost forgotten it. I wonder if the intention with that setup was basically the same thing we've got now with Rutten, except by a different name. A sort of OP senior assistant. Except this time there doesn't seem to be any confusion about how it works.
Neeld was put into a new role which placed him between Worsfold and the line coaches. It was some bullshit about driving better connection between the lines. Worsfold wanted him across everything so he could convey things between the groups and also up to him. It was a disaster. It was as if he was to be a second line coach for every line. The line coaches basically didn’t think they could address or instruct their players without Neeld around, otherwise he’d be out of the loop, but meanwhile he has to be around the other lines too. Things simply weren’t communicated to players. Worsfold had distanced himself from the players, so there were different messages being delivered by line coaches and him. And you had Neeld in the middle trying to work in all directions.

It was a fairly predictable disaster too. When Richardson and Campbell reviewed it, it took them all of about five minutes to work out it was totally dysfunctional and they immediately made Neeld’s role redundant. It wasn’t even anything to do with Neeld’s performance - it was a stupid structure and he had an impossible gig.

This year is straightforward because Rutten is the senior coach. Worsfold is basically just an advisor and offers feedback to all coaches and players. Plus he does the media, though that might start to change a bit.
 

Shane Heard

Premiership Player
Mar 11, 2018
3,314
5,660
AFL Club
Essendon
I don’t think this is true and people pay to much heed to a few displays of Goddard cracking the shits on field - something he has acknowledged countless times.

Theres more to him than that. The proof is in the pudding, he was well liked by teammates.
there’s absolutely no concrete proof of that statement.

I put forward the opposite view that he was a negative force in the side through out his time at EFC
 

Red Black and Blue

Brownlow Medallist
Oct 1, 2006
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I don’t think this is true and people pay to much heed to a few displays of Goddard cracking the shits on field - something he has acknowledged countless times.

Theres more to him than that. The proof is in the pudding, he was well liked by teammates.
I particularly don’t care about his outbursts in isolation, it’s in combination with action or lack of. Didn’t run hard defensively or put his body on the line, didn’t support spoil or man mark.

It’s one thing to demand competitiveness, but if your actions aren’t team first then it’s wasted energy.
 

Red Black and Blue

Brownlow Medallist
Oct 1, 2006
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there’s absolutely no concrete proof of that statement.

I put forward the opposite view that he was a negative force in the side through out his time at EFC
I’m not even sure it’s important either way. Does being liked mean you’re effective? Mark Bolton was loved, Sam Mitchell was hated. I know which one Id prefer as a team mate.
 

Shane Heard

Premiership Player
Mar 11, 2018
3,314
5,660
AFL Club
Essendon
In my mind it all went to #### in 2008 and the years after under the woeful leadership of senior coach M.Knights.

Knights took over in 08’ with a player list that had no real standout leaders in their mid 20s to take over from the last of golden era senior players of the early 2000s.


In 2008 we had an average team age of just 23. Experience was an average of 57 games.

Lloydy, JJ, Scotty Lucas and Mal Micheal were each 30, Fletcher 32 ..together were the most senior players and about to wind up their careers with their lack of pace and all round greatness compare to their younger days.

mid age players...Rama
27 years of age, McVeigh 27, Pev 28, with McPhee, Hille, NLM, Lovett and Welsh were the next tier around 25ish but none would be considered elite (except Rama) and certainly showed no obvious leadership skills on the field.

This crucial period in the clubs on going development post Sheedy was left in the hands of a very inexperienced coach in Knights and that’s where you can pinpoint the glaring void left over once those remaining older guys finally retired.

we had a whole bunch of very ordinary young players (with some you could label a genuine spud) on that 08 list that we kept around for years after.
Some could argue that at the time they were all promising young guns. But history now says there was nothing special about guys like Slattery, Riemers, Dyson, Gumbleton, Monfries, Pears, Johns, Davey, Hislop, Lonergan, Chartres, Nash and Laycock.

Bellchambers was 18...Myers 18, Ryder 20, Hocking 20, Houli 19, Hooker 19, Dempsey 20, Jetta 19, Stanton 21, Winderlich 23 and Jobe Watson aged 23 on 50 games and just starting to get the hang of league footy.


Before long there’s no more Lucas and Lloyd kicking goals and the battering ram of one Jason Johnson was gone. So was Rama who was our most gifted skilled player imo at the time.
All the hard nuts were retired or traded away back in Sheedy post 2001 days. End of an era..player wise.

Things went to #### when Knights couldn’t develop our spuddish young guys and promising tall forward recruits like Gumbles, Johns and Neagle eventually were realised as a bust for one reason or another.

Hird takes over and also struggles to build a strong side because there’s just too many ordinary players with flaws.

The peptide saga unfolds and the rest is history. Everything is wiped and we have to basically start again.

And here we are in 2020.
 
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Shane Heard

Premiership Player
Mar 11, 2018
3,314
5,660
AFL Club
Essendon
I’m not even sure it’s important either way. Does being liked mean you’re effective? Mark Bolton was loved, Sam Mitchell was hated. I know which one Id prefer as a team mate.
it’s not extremely important but let’s not forget was a very experienced player and an elite skill level when he joined us.

but he was a knob

Bolton was a c grade defender and a boarder line useless spud

players loved him I hear but so what.

he was a weak link along with plenty of others

our list since 2008 has been made up of around 60% spuds who got regular games year after disappointing year
 
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Yoda_

Brownlow Medallist
May 6, 2007
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Great post, love the detail and thought.

I do disagree with the origin of our cultural decline.

I don't believe it came from the acceptance of rebuild induced failure, rather an avoidance to fully embracing a rebuild. I think this is due to a deeply ingrained sense of entitlement that prevented a mindset shift away from the big club attitude of deserved and bought success.

From 2003-2009 we added the likes of top up players Matthew Allen, Ty Zantuck, Mal Michael, Mark Alvey, Justin Murphy, Scott Camporeale, Hayden Skipworth, Richard Cole. The way we tiered players from that 2000 premiership era to paper the cracks, trying to turn MJ and McVeigh into full time mids at age 28 which worked a little but only at keeping us in mid-table limbo away from the highest draft picks when we were really needing top end talent.

Melbourne are used as the cautionary tale of developing a losing culture through tanking. Yet Richmond, Collingwood, West Coast, Hawthorn tanked and have all won flags in subsequent years. This isn't advocating for it but to question where are their cultural problems? For mine it comes down to the players you draft. Culture is set by the leaders on your playing list and we have actively avoided drafting players that set on field standards for competitiveness.

'The club' seem to prioritise personality, 'character' and loyalty to Essendon above footballing ability for marketing, coterie and image purposes.
When you look at everything here in isolation, it seems the EFC is simply trying to be the good guy club. Not wanting to screw up and draw attention to itself.
 

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