Today my AFL list analysis and offseason preview series is back in action with the Essendon Bombers, a side who despite making a splash in two consecutive trade periods remain unsuccessful in finals.
John Worsfold came into a club on its knees in 2016.
He had come to take the mantle of head coach of a historic if wayward football club at Essendon.
In his time at the Bombers, he has led the club to two finals series, albeit both elimination finals upon which far too much significance is placed. This can only be classified as a success given the proximity to the tumult of the 2012-2016 period, and the subsequent ban of 34 past and present players.
It has been said that Worsfold is a coach who does not emote enough in front of his players, it has been said that the Essendon game style does not suit the modern game, and it has been said that Essendon lose the key performance areas that would otherwise derail a team.
I say each of these characteristics is both a bane and a boon.
Worsfold’s calm demeanour bordering on stoicism gives the outward impression that his players can still win the game. His game style, while different, can be viciously effective as other teams do not know how to react to a back half game style. Whilst the loss of certain statistics such as ground ball gets, contested possessions and contested marks is an indictment on the coaching staff, it is not the be all and end all of a football team.
Worsfold has done several things right. He has imbued his team with a never-say-die attitude, taught his players to manoeuvre with dash and dare, and plays a brand of football that is pleasing to the eye, if not so much for the heart.
In 2019, he found himself in the unenviable position of dealing with a mounting injury list, media speculation around his job security, and rumour-mongering about players leaving. However, Essendon still made their second finals series in three years and they did this without the past two winners of the Crichton Medal.
However, it must be acknowledged that Worsfold can be far too one-note with his attacking style of play, and players do not know how to lock the ball in the forward half of the ground.
Players such as Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Irving Mosquito and Orazio Fantasia are all attacking the ball at pace and have taken steps forward this year. Additionally, the injury concerns regarding players such as Joe Daniher or Devon Smith made it impossible for Essendon to get their best 22 on the park day in and day out.
With Essendon’s best 22 players on the park, they can go deep into September next year with an equal balance of smalls and talls in the forward line.
With the retirements of several players, a new dawn is upon the Essendon Football Club.
We have players taking drastic steps forward such as Dylan Clarke, Mason Redman and Aaron Francis, all of whom have their best football ahead of them.
We have players at the peak of their powers eager to tear the competition apart with exciting play and winning the football.
We also have a coach with a relaxed demeanour who clearly has the respect of his players and will only continue to get the best out of his players in future.
In 2020, Essendon has the opportunity to achieve something special – to go forward boldly and not give an inch.