The second part of the six-part series comprises the five players the Collingwood Magpies, Essendon Bombers and Fremantle Dockers can least afford to lose in 2021, plus each side gets one honourable pre-draft mention.
As nonsensical and downright aggressive and intolerant as all footy discussion has become these days, how can anyone watch Jobe Watson walk off the field in tears against Sydney and not feel overwhelming sadness?
Has there been any footy career whose downturned result has been the opposite of everything promised as much as Jobe’s? Does anyone’s given name match the events of its biblical character’s counterpart so precisely?
He came into the league, much like Gary Ablett Jr, as the heralded son of a former champion and much-loved player – Tim Watson – who won three premierships, including winning one ‘post retirement’.
Likewise, the club he was joining had two decades under its belt as a mover and shaker, one of Melbourne’s iconic clubs.
Coach Kevin Sheedy didn’t rate him early and it wasn’t all plain sailing, but eventually it worked out – or was working out.
Watson’s 2012 Brownlow Medal gladdened the heart of almost everyone who followed footy. It was the culmination of Essendon fans seeing this child here and there around the club for decades as a member of father Tim’s crew, growing up to assume the accolades of the player he was born to be.
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But Essendon, like Carlton, lost their relevance this century. They stopped being a player come September, then they became beholden to shoddy recruitment of retired 30-year-olds, and finally became victim to a cowboy sports scientist.
Watson was booed by crowds, spent three years training with his mates under the most intense stress, was banned from the sport for a year, and in the end lost his Brownlow Medal.
He gave Essendon some of its dignity back. In captaining the dirty years and ensuring there wasn’t a mass exodus of players, what Jobe did was arguably greater and certainly tougher than the stern but plain-sailing work of multiple premiership captains of say, Terry Daniher and Luke Hodge.
But history will surely not recognise this. Watson will not be anecdotally known as a greater leader than other captains who are almost incidentally there during the surging good times. People will acknowledge Watson’s difficult captaincy of a unique niche moment, but he will not be the first captain to jump off the front page of Essendon’s 2050 Limited Edition Retrospective Treasury Album.
His career all ended in terrible emotional wear over an entire five-year period. Still, his retirement surprised me. He never seemed that old. 32 seems to be the limit these days, as clubs push for greater playing and management excellence at the expense of emotional and historical excellence.
Jim Pavlidis in the Sunday Age wrote exactly of my feelings towards Watson:
“It’s unlikely either side in the red-and-black-view-of-history wars will ever agree on anything, except when the conversation turns to Jobe Watson. Throughout the long supplements saga Watson displayed none of the hubris of others at Essendon, and the dignified manner of his retirement announcement, devoid of anger or self-pity, sees him leave the game as a universally admired champion.”
The AFL doesn’t do stories about how sometimes life itself just doesn’t work out. You are the master of your own destiny, right Daniel Menzel, Clay Smith, Alex Johnson?
But with Jobe Watson, the AFL community is having to acknowledge that failure is a major part of the world.