New coach or not, Essendon need direction
Even if Matthew Knights is replaced at the end of the season, a prospect that’s becoming increasingly likely, those at Essendon desperately need to sit down and have a good hard look at their club.
Make no mistake, the idea of getting rid of Knights is looking more sensible by the week. Losing at home to a side stuck on the bottom of the ladder, as the Bombers did against West Coast over the weekend, hardly helps his cause.
Neither does the fact Essendon have conceded more points than any other team this season.
Neither does the fact Mark Williams is now on the market, as is Dean Laidley.
Neither does the fact the Essendon chairman, David Evans, failed to guarantee his future – after already labelling a finals appearance as a “par result” for this season.
And neither does James Hird’s post-game comments, for that matter, especially after the criticism from Matthew Lloyd and Scott Lucas earlier in the year.
But changing the coach simply cannot be the only course of action the club takes this off-season. In fact, determining the coach should be secondary to getting on top of a few, far more pressing, issues.
A number of comments made by Evans suggest the club holds an overly-optimistic view of where the team is at and where it’s going.
This off-season, Essendon need to get realistic. They need to drop the talk of par results and what year they’ll start contending. They need to figure out where they are really at, where they’re going and, most important of all, how they are going to get there.
They also need to figure out how to navigate two years of compromised drafts. Trading one or two senior players in return for Gold Coast or GWS draft picks wouldn’t seem like the worst idea.
It may seem a bit drastic, or to some it may seem unnecessary, but one look at the stockpile of young talent the Bombers possess shows how important it is for the club to not waste these next few years.
Paddy Ryder is 22. Tayte Pears is 20. Michael Hurley is 19. David Zaharakis is 20. Travis Colyer is 18. Jake Melksham is 18. Scott Gumbleton is 21. There are others, some recently-drafted, that are also young and filled with potential.
Plus, certain members of the “older guard” aren’t all that old. Captain and star Jobe Watson is just 25, for example.
It may not seem like it right at this minute, but a great team can be built around these players. It’s the responsibility of the club as a whole – not just the coach – to not squander the opportunity.
The 26,991 attendance figure from Saturday night – the lowest crowd for a Bombers game at Etihad Stadium, once the club’s fortress – shows that the fans expect more.
Let’s just hope the club reacts not with a knee-jerk reaction, but with a measured and considered response that will put them back on track.
Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio