While Fremantle at Marvel Stadium this week looks like a sure thing on paper, the Bombers will experience another footy-free September this year if they continue to play the same predictable football they played against Geelong and Sydney in recent weeks when they face the Dockers.
Given Freo have one of modern footy’s sharpest tactical minds in Ross Lyon at the helm, the Dons would want to change things dramatically on Saturday night if they want to come away with the four points – namely the way they enter their forward 50 and also their hunger for the footy.
The fact that Essendon are once again on the brink of finals oblivion is an indictment on the club. When you go out and recruit Jake Stringer, Adam Saad, Devon Smith and Dylan Shiel in the space of two off-seasons, you are making a statement of intent that you are ready to challenge for premierships.
To potentially miss the finals in each of the two seasons after making that bold declaration would be nothing short of a catastrophe and would put coach John Worsfold’s position under enormous scrutiny.
Worsfold is contracted to the club until the end of 2020, but paying out coaches with a year to run on their deal isn’t exactly uncommon and if he once again shows that he is incapable of taking this playing list to the finals, then drastic action will need to be taken.
Right now, Essendon have the most talented playing list they have assembled since the early 2000s and another wasted season under Worsfold would be unacceptable. Things have already become urgent for the Bombers.
In the last few weeks, Worsfold has looked a lot like yesterday’s man from a tactical perspective with his predictable strategy of bombing the ball forward, regardless of which Essendon players are in the forward 50 at any one time, rather than imploring his players to lower their eyes and kick it at least one more time before going inside 50 playing right into the hands of the backlines of both Geelong and Sydney.
Last week Dane Rampe and Aliir Aliir must have been chuckling to themselves at how easy Essendon’s midfield were making their job for them while the week prior, Mark Blicavs, Tom Stewart, Harry Taylor, Jake Kolodjashnij and Jack Henry would’ve been feeling the same way.
Three rounds ago, Essendon did push flag contenders Collingwood right to the line, but if you really delve deep into that contest, it had a lot more do with flashes of amazing individual brilliance from Joe Daniher and Jake Stringer than any semblance of a sound structure going forward.
Since the start of last season, the Bombers have won 15 of 30 games – bang on average and not good enough. Worsfold just hasn’t worked out how to harness all of the talent at his disposal in a meaningful way.
But there’s an even deeper issue facing the Bombers right now and that is they have become a soft football club on and off the field. Nobody has really filled the void left by Jobe Watson in the grunt department, while CEO Xavier Campbell and president Lindsay Tanner seem to be more concerned about PR and ensuring the club has a warm and fuzzy image in the wake of the supplement saga than restoring the club’s reputation as one of the most feared sporting oraganisations in the country as it was 20 years ago.
No doubt things had to drastically change in the wake of the darkest period in the club’s history, but the club’s hierarchy have taken things too far. So much so that we didn’t even hear a peep out of them in the aftermath of Rampe’s goal post climbing exploits which cost the club four premiership points.
Can you imagine something like that going through to the keeper under the watch of the late Graeme McMahon, Peter Jackson and Kevin Sheedy?
You can bet the likes of Eddie McGuire and Jeff Kennett would’ve come out swinging straight away if something similar happened to their clubs.
Then you see the captain Dyson Heppell smiling with David Myers a few seconds after his team’s finals hopes suffered a potentially fatal blow at the hands of the bottom team.
Nobody is doubting Heppell was hurting at the result or his love and commitment for the club, but it wasn’t a great look and he had to know that he was on national TV. It’s hard to imagine any of his predecessors Watson, Matthew Lloyd or James Hird reacting in the same manner.
The last great Essendon team had no shortage of toughness with the likes Damien Hardwick, Dean Wallis, Dean Solomon and Jason Johnson in the line-up. Who is Essendon’s enforcer these days?
Do the Bombers want to continue valuing being liked more than being ruthless and respected as they were in Sheedy’s era? Because if they do, they can kiss another season that promised so much goodbye and watch their finals victory drought balloon out beyond 20 years.
Ronny Lerner is a Sports reporter for The Age.