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.
If you’re an Essendon supporter, or an AFL fan for that matter, and think that the Bombers’ game plan is completely to blame for the absolute nose dive they took this season, you’re kidding yourself.
Sure, to some extent the stagnant movement of the ball and the desire to keep possession was definitely a problem, especially for a fast-paced team that thrived off movement through the corridor, transition and counter attacks. But Essendon’s problems go far deeper than just on-field simulation.
This is a blatant culture issue.
The toxicity around Essendon, and the standards of mediocrity that have followed them around for years, is starting to haunt the Bombers in ways they could never imagine.
John Worsfold claimed that they were a good club and that they weren’t far off when it came to competing. At the beginning of the season with the club at 4-1, that seemed more and more likely.
Weeks later, when they had lost eight out of the last ten, the narrative drastically changed to become the complete opposite, with Worsfold inevitably taking a swipe at the club in the process, and potentially causing a rift between him and the supporters.
So can anyone tell us where Essendon are really at? How can a team crumble so badly? Is it really a lack of consistency, or are there things going on behind the scenes? Because I’m certainly not convinced.
This coaching transition between Worsfold and Ben Rutten could not have been more rocky, and multiple times throughout the season we begged the question: who is really in charge here?
We eventually found out it was Rutten, and his stop-start game plan was certainly not favourable among the playing group. It’s not hard to see. He didn’t have their support. But neither the footy department or higher management has done anything to figure this out.
Everyone is pointing the finger at someone else, not ready to take the blame or cop the brunt of the situation. That’s poor.
The clear absence of Dyson Heppell and the constant shuffling of the leadership group is another factor that cannot be ignored. Heppell only played three games this season due to a fractured ankle. However for the last couple of years he has found it tough to gather any consistent form, making it hard for him to influence games in any way.
Given these circumstances, the Bombers need to look at sorting out a new captain in the off-season. A fresh face and on-ground presence is what they have been needing to secure throughout a fairly tumultuous campaign.
The Bombers also have to stop shuffling their leadership group. At the beginning of every season there are players moving in and out of the group, which doesn’t look great for the stability of the team. My advice: keep it simple and keep it consistent.
So now it brings me to the situation that they are in now. They’ve lost coach John Worsfold, Conor McKenna, Tom Bellchambers, Joe Daniher, Adam Saad and Orazio Fantasia all within the space of four weeks, and both Cale Hooker and Michael Hurley are also uncertain as to where they’ll be in 2021.
Both Daniher and Fantasia indicated their desire to be traded elsewhere last year and this situation was inevitable. They had no desire to play for Essendon this season. So why would you hold them at the club against their will?
Why wouldn’t you trade them and grab some lucrative draft picks in return? This only adds to the heightened tension around Tullamarine and the situation is absolutely baffling.
Essendon were shocked when Saad indicated that he was interested in being traded. I wasn’t. No one who puts off signing a contract for a good week or two then looks to re-sign. He was clearly disgruntled with the club. The poor form, the way they were playing him and the way that the game style didn’t suit his attributes made it a seemingly easier decision than it actually looked.
The one thing that the Bombers should be shocked about is where he wanted to be traded to: Carlton. It had to be them, didn’t it?
But here’s the stinger: he is going to the Blues on a similar salary to what he’s receiving now from Essendon, not even significantly more. It clearly shows where both clubs are at. Carlton is now a more attractive option, and a more popular club for free agents and rightfully so.
They have a decent game plan, a stable coaching and leadership structure, and a brilliant culture crafted by David Teague. And even though both these teams finished two spots away from each other on the ladder, it seems that Carlton is in a much better position for finals contention next year.
Oh yeah, and just in case you forgot, they’re picking up that Zac Williams guy too. No big deal.
Essendon need to fix up their attitude and culture, and until they do that, the club will continue to spiral out of control.