A prediction of the EFC’s 2021 Season
With another failed season I’m feeling like it’s Groundhog Day again for the EFC. A season of promise, disappointment and in particular waste. Now normally I’d rant/vent a bit and suggest some changes for the future which would create mini discussion, or ignored by the BB community - but to be honest I’m over trying to think of ways to improve the club, because why bother. So instead I thought, why don’t I take off the tin foil hat, wack on my Nostradamus pants and have a crack at predicting the EFC future. A sort of what’s install for the EFC for 2021. I’ll try to install some of my logic and reason behind my prediction to provide context and then set my predictions hence forth.
A couple of caveats, firstly this is done pre end of season and the wheels might completely fall off anyway, but I think Worsfold is a smart enough man manager to keep it together. Secondly it is pre-draft/trade and the release of a fixture and thus each will have an impact on my predictions. In particular the fixture which will push some of my expected round bands to more forward or back. Thirdly, sometimes the world just gives you a gift, and drafting a Joel Selwood at pick 96 is a possibility, especially with the uncertainty around the 2020 draft. Sometimes that can enough to change a club’s future.
Before I go forward I must go back
The end of the season signifies the end of the ‘Great Calm’ as Essendon, one ushered in and maintained by Worsfold. He was handed a steaming pile of ■■■■ in 2016 - an impossible task - and one which I think he handled brilliantly in that year. There in lied the problem, the strategy set forth from that year was one which would put us in the predicament of today. The plan (Hatched by Little and X, and possible Dodoro) was to be winning flags at the backend of the saga players careers and at the kicking off of the newly acquired high draft picks careers. An era of super success and flags from 2019-2022/3. This strategy has significantly impacted our decision from that year onwards, and one which can now only be regarded as a complete failure. Its hard to find concrete public evidence of this as the identified strategy, but between some inferences from the club, press and BB leakers and just common-sense logic around what has transpired - it appears to fit. I’m happy to be corrected if somebody has a more accurate description.
What this involved was some key decisions that give me an indication of what to expect. Firstly, this is the Little and Xavier’s plan, and they will stop at nothing to cling to it at every turn, including getting desperate and listening to a snake oil salesman about a shiny new way to solve all of your problems. Secondly, it required some acceleration of the development pathway, one which we capitalised on so successfully at the trade table with the SSS trade period, but our hubris let us get the best of us the following year chasing Shiel – a player type we didn’t need for a price we could barely afford and limited our future options. Thirdly, it required blind faith in a crop of players who were at minimum unwitting accomplices to the saga and whose career and mental states were bruised and battered from the whole affair. Without being there I will never know, but to guess I’d say Little and X went through some ■■■■ with them and have a real ‘connection’ and sense of responsibility, I’d suggest they might have promised them if they return when it’s over at the end of 2016 they will do everything in their power to help them get redemption - the elusive Redemption Flag.
It’s an incredibly loyal gesture to the banned players, and incredibly selfish to them only, a plan which pinned the hopes of the club’s future at the feet of so few. It’s also incredibly disrespectful to the passionate paying members and fans of the EFC, people who were innocent bystanders to the saga, yet had to live through it as the club and players did. It required faith and sacrifice of the future for few, when the Essendon fans wanted nothing more than to build long term successful future, a new era, rather than a high-risk tilt at redemption. Whilst the fans did not have the same experience through the saga, it’s certainly not something people will describe as good or even easy experience. We all copped rival clubs abuse, we all had to endure the pain of seeing the club suffer. The fans deserved a fresh start.
It also leaves us with three era’s in players at the club, all with vastly different experiences, all with vastly different motivations, yet a strategy and potentially game plan targeted to the few. The groups are:
The Saga Players – Bellchambers, Heppell, Hooker, Hurley (8.8% of the list)
The EMO Players – those who went through the emotional pain but not the penalty – Ambrose, Daniher, Fantasia, Gleeson, Langford, Laverde, Tippa, McKenna, McKernan, Merrett, Zaharakis (24.4% of the list)
The Next Generation – those who never had to deal with the full pain of the saga – Begley, Bryan, Cahil, Clarke, Cutler, Draper, Francis, Gown, Guelfi, Ham, Hibbered, Johnson, Jones, McBride, McGrath, McQuinllan, Mozzie, Mutch, Parish, Phillips, Redman, Ridley, Saad, Shiel, Smith, Snelling, Stewart, Stringer, Townsend, BZK. (66.8% of the list) – SSSS are an exception to the NGs but technically sit within the group.
What’s even more interesting about the era’s is the age profile and the ‘unhappiness’. The reality of the Saga players is three are less than a year away from retiring, and of the EMO players, three have tried/threatened to leave (Fantasia, Daniher, McKenna), two are on their last legs (McKernan and Zaka) and two are completely injury prone (Lav and Ambrose) – which is 6 of the 11.
The questions history makes us ask are:
- Who is our strategy beholden too?
- Who are the club focussed on?
- What decisions we made that address the reality of the group dynamics?
- Who of the post saga players have aligned themselves to what era?
This takes to present day and the current status of the club. It’s the 4th middling year of no mans land and a team which is consistent with the past. A club strangled by mediocrity, a lack of passion and bizarre strategy when it comes to selection, list management and game plan. To be more specific:
- Playing underperforming older player and dumping kids who play OK – double standard at the selection table and where player play their footy on the field.
- Making trade decision which benefit the minority of the list and fail to address gaping holes
- A game plan of back half rebound that was halted for a brief successful period in 2018 and returned in 2019 which has had a media label of ‘not a premiership winning capable plan’ since knights was coach.
But, the era of calm is almost over, it’s time to get Truckin! (If the club don’t steal that second line and put it on trucker hats for sale they are stupid)
Come end of season Ben Rutten assumes the role with the most highly paid senior assistant in the game in Blake Caracella - the premiership whisperer. He has highly touted assistant in Leigh Tudor and Dan Jordan and a recent clean out of dissenters. The fitness staff is all new and Seam Murphy the saviour of all thing injury and performance related.
Some assistants of which are happily sniping from the sidelines in Rob Harding – please continue Rob, I’m enjoying the critical analysis.
Our playing list appears split, between the old guard of saga players, the EMO players and the Next Generation (NG). The older guys came back for some serious $ and long-term contracts, they have eaten some serious cap space. The victims of the saga in Merrett, Daniher and Fantasia era so to speak are all ‘jacked enough with the club’ to be either requesting an exit, thinking about it or disgruntled with their status in the leadership group. Some have been sidelined and maligned, others just injury prone, others just sick of the sight of the place. The mad Irishman (and top 5 talented player at the club) is homesick and on the way out.
The NG have been shunted to the sidelines, played on the flanks/twos and told to be the workhorse whilst we focus on getting the older guys the glory. This has also resulted in double standards, the new recruited retreads/list clogger/top up players taking their game time and are dealing with a stink of “you have to wait for your time” rhetoric in the air. Primarily it appeases the Saga/EMO group (but I cannot confirm) because the temporary lower performance of the kids would affect the strategy of a Redemption Flag and thus we must pad with average – AFL ready – players who can help no matter the expense of the future.
The recent trades of the SSSS brigade also need to be guaranteed a tilt for the Redemption/Trade Flag in the next 3-4 years, as it aligns to the Saga/EMO generation rather the NG’s. To tell them now it’s 3 years and some tough games before we improve may see some revolt.
Just a few of the actions that support some of this are the rapid shift from highly logical and explainable selection in 2016 to a double standard in 2017-2020. Players requesting to leave, players being reported considering leaving, and leaders being jacked with being shunted from leadership groups at various times (Hurley, Hooker, Merrett).
At the end of the 2020 season we have a club which should be ushering in a new era unified and bursting with enthusiasm and hope for a successful further. Instead we appear to have one stinking of desperation, divided and without any sense of a future direction, crippled by a jacked to the ■■■■ salary cap with little room to move.
A club at a serious crossroads.
2021 the year of the Ox
So now we hook into the predictive powers of the Nostradamus pants, my description of what will happen. My predictions are primarily based on the assumption of status quo, one driven by the 2016 strategy and hubris of the fearless leader X. I’ll caveat a few alternatives at the end.
The AFL will throw some potential curve balls which might have an impact some like:
- Reduced Soft Cap for Football Departments
- Reduced Salary Cap for Players
- List cull to 38 or less
- A raft of new an improved rule changes which screw clubs recruiting strategy’s highly likely to be focussed to benefit Clarkson.
- Permanent reduction in the game time to the 2020 length under the guise of protecting against COVID for 2021.
- A doubling down of the umpires unconscious bias towards the EFC - as far as I’m concerned the whole should refer to them as the Green Leghorns until it stops – screw the fines.
The end of year wrap up
X will no doubt be aware of the membership grumbling from another middling season. Focused blindly on the original strategy he will self-justify the future based on the actions of 2019, he has already instigated the change required, he just needs time and less oversight from Worsfold for Rutten to wield his defensive genius magic. So, we will see some minor tweaking at the assistant level, removing any remain objection to Rutten’s plans, Harvey is my pick to be gone.
Dodoro will be spared because there is not much else X can do without admitting fault. And the last thing you need is a disgruntled ex-employee who knows every skeleton in the place joining another club, or worse the media. Especially one with a bigger profile than yourself that can place blame on your meddling in the recruiting department.
Minimal senior players will be shunted, with Rutten willing to give everybody a chance under his leadership, minimal list additions in a comprised year. The saga players will not be pushed, they are free to self-choose their career and exit. The list may involve a possible contraction because of the reduced soft cap, salary cap and potential list cuts. But all in all, Rutten will be focussed on ‘stability’ rather than wholesale changes. You can’t ■■■■ on the strategy of the guys that hired you by dumping the very players they promised would be delivered redemption. Bellchambers will see the writing on the wall and will retire.
Unfortunately, we will again be threatened with a mini exodus by the EMO generation, with Daniher, Fantasia, Merrett, Laverde and Langford busy assessing their career positions. Do they wish to be the packhorses for the Redemption Flag attempt 5 or should they set themselves up elsewhere? My vote is Daniher gone, Langford almost gone and Fantasia looking to walk at the end his contract. Merrett with be handed the kings ransom to stay, even though he is in contracted.
As for the NG’s like Saad and co it’s more traditional and most will likely stay or be cut, none seeking a home elsewhere. Should there be a list cull required from AFL direction it will involve all of the ‘list clogger’ types from recent drafts – Clarke, Begley, Mutch etc.
The war room
During the trade and draft period it will be highly dependant on the EMO’s, if it’s as expected then it will be a relatively quiet period except for an X shiny object shopping spree. I won’t fully rule out a mass EMO exodus and thus my predictions are up the creek. But I feel its highly unlikely due to the COVID industry conditions. So outside picking up a bargain basement Ben Brown for a First round to Second pick downgrade, I think we will be relatively non-issue at the trade table. Which for me would be a disaster occurrence, we need to bank some picks for the future.
At the draft we will take the ‘can’t believe he was there at our pick’ HBFer or Utility with our second rounders and our two ‘gee we fooled the other clubs’ academy players. We will over play the importance of our new shiny draft picks and superstar FF to take the attention off of our other issues.
With an unencumbered Rutten sprooking yet another ‘tweaked’ game plan we will be focussing our effort around our shiny new FF whose work rate and marking will be a step-up on out ball movement of 2020. The usual fittest year ever, never seen such big running loads, have a look at Parish’s arms and McGrath shoulders will become regular reporting clichés. Outside of the COVID interruptions it will be essentially uneventful.
The leadership group will once again be contentious as the NG’s gain more control, dissention amongst the dumped Saga and EMO players will continue driving a larger wedge within the group. The SSS brigade will shift in alignment to the enlarged group of NG’s knowing there future lies with the younger players and the bounty of excess cap space diverted to their extensions (as a result of being sold a lie by X) will focus their efforts on taking leadership roles away from the Saga/EMO crew.
Hepp will remain as captain – because X promised it to him till he died to get him to stay.
Still burned from the 2019 season beginning, the X-led communications team will not be adventurous with predictions, tempering expectations. In fear of membership drop off there will be a new wave of Doggie memberships, 1-3 game membership, discounting, and any other tricks to make the magic membership number break last years record. This will all be targeted towards the – helping our COVID struggling members still be involved in the club at a discount price. But really it’s a ploy to paper over the crack in Essendon fan loyalty and interest, something that is on it’s last legs.
Just before Round 1 the social media pump up will begin with Captain Hepp talking about Actions doing the talking rather than being ‘pumped’ to win prior to putting in a dog of a performance. He too has learnt from the 2019 debacle.
All management at the club will be paranoid about another poor season.
Its difficult other predict the first three round without a fixture, but I do know, we will either loose or win narrowly, there are no ‘thrashing the opposition’ games in the club immediate future. But anything less than 2/3 will only accelerate the supporter dissention. Parish and McGrath will start well, building on the growth of 2020, Krusty the Clown will be reinvigorated and appear to solve our forward issues for a period. Selection will be odd but consistent with he past, there will be players who’s performance demands them being included, but this be at the expense of their era comrades rather than the traditional players.
This is when the mediocrity will really kick in, out of six games we will be lucky to win 3, the split player group will start to spill over and the ability of once great players like Hurley and Hooker (should they remain) to save or win a game with individual effort will be non-existent. The season will be a bust by R10, however many at the club still talking finals to help maintain the supporter enthusiasm.
This is where the wheels will seriously fall off, only winning 2-3 games in total from the Essendon “June” tradition. The questions of X/Richardson and Rutten will be loud and justified, to stave off any player mutiny X will pull out the circuit breaker firing and man in charge - Richardson will be marched out of the building.
This is where the NG’s will take over the club, whilst they will never admit it the 2016 Redemption Flag strategy will be ‘officially declared dead’ even though it hasn’t had a pulse since R1 2019. The saga players will be retired with great admiration and applause, the EMO players will be skipped over with the SSSS brigade taking over the leadership of the next generation. Hepp being the last bastion of the Saga to play on, only without the captaincy in 2022.
There is the slight chance they hold it together under a new regime earlier and scrape into finals and loose, but I think the ambivalence to losses we are seeing now suggest that’s highly unlikely. Ruttens game plan has been in operation for two seasons now and hasn’t showed success. It’s a hard sell for a group of players to ‘buy-in’ when they know there are issues. It even harder when the wheels can fall off at a moments notice due to a segregated playing list. Irrespective of the win-loss of 2021 the end of season outcome will be the same.
- Rutten recognised the ■■■■ position he is in and goes rogue, focusses entirely on the future and Dodoro joins forces dumping some of the EMO’s, jacking up the draft picks focussing on stabilising the NG group in 2021 and adding the right pieces through the 2022 draft. A Rutten focussed 5-year plan. How he paper over a ■■■■ game plan is beyond me.
- The wheels fall off much earlier and the end of 2021 prediction happens in 2020, with an acceleration of the death of the Saga era players and death of the Redemption Flag strategy. It has a reasonable probability.
- We hit pay dirt at the draft and pick up a Crips, Selwood, Whitfield like clones and quality through the draft, luck descends on the club – this one is a farout dimension.
- COVID-2021 hits, Moderna and Pfizer’s mRNA vaccines fail and we a tumbled into a broken dystopian world where football takes a back seat to a financially broke western economies, dying nations of elderly and immunocompromised, teetering on the edge of a WW3 with China. How is that different to 2020 you ask – just reduce the optimism and turn up the volume to 11 on everything else.
I cant help myself
OK ■■■■-it, you all know I can’t help myself, im taking my Nostradamus pants off and sticking on the Michael Porter smoking jacket and giving you a short opinion of what should happen.
The end of the saga era should be clearly and ceremoniously ended with the end of the 2020 season. We stick a line in the sand and move on – accepting the issues of the past, acknowledging huge mistake and setting a new strategy, one focussed on building a club and culture to winning a flag. It’s time to make the truck an electric one.
- X and Richardson are marched out of the building, no more salesman and especially no more snake oil salesman. New management is appointed through a proper recruiting process starting with the CEO. We focus on recruiting an outside football CEO who has no interest in meddling with the football department. They focus on hiring the best up and coming football manager in the business – find the next Balme. A personality who is calm, measured, stable and has no interest in being a coach or recruiter.
- Dodoro is handed to golden parachute to ensure he stays tight lipped in the future, we look to bring in a new head of recruiting form outside the club.
- We rejig the coaching staff, VFL club staff to build a player development culture from the ground up, everything we do as a football department is about driving this culture. We are all in, this becomes the Essendon cultural drive for the next 20 years. Building even the most untalented players into premiership hero’s.
- We trade/retire Bellchambers, Hurley, Hooker from the saga era
- We trade/retire Zaka and McKernan from the EMO era.
- We trade Daniher to Sydney (especially if he shows a few flashes in the remaining games to re-establish his value) a two first haul should be the aim, although this may be ambitious, we may have to match the Sydney bid to force the trade and extract value depending on the AFL compo assessment.
- We trade Fantasia to Adelaide/Port – a first is all we will get and possible a low first at that.
- Mckenna is handed a one-way ticket to Ireland – it his choice to take it, but if he doesn’t the rules have changed. No more tail wagging the dog – you’re in or you’re out!.
- We trade Merrett to the highest bidder – probably the Hawks, he is our best player, a top 20 player in the league and worth a truckload, but he is also small, and taken some hits. We want picks not players for him and preferable 2022 picks. If I had to guess, Bevo and Clarko would be salivating at the opportunity. High picks is the aim.
- Gleeson to this highest bidder - if there is one.
- Langford id retain – I’ve always been a fan so I might be biased.
- Laverde is hit and miss, the injuries have hampered him – 1-year deal. This is a massive turnaround for me who wanted him gone at the end of R3 2020. But I was enamoured with his last two games.
- We retain the list clogging brigade of the NG’s Hibbered, Cutler, Clarke, Begley, Mutch, Stewart, Townsend on 1-2 year deals with the expectation they will be delisted in the next two years, in the 2021/22 season they can pick up the slack as bigger bodies until the new players put on some size, perform and fill gaps. This will also do two things, firstly give them a shot at AFL to prove themselves - we might be surprised - and secondly allow us easy fodder for dropping due to poor performance and delisting as the next two years draft hauls come on.
- We hit the next two drafts hard, focussing on top end talent and backing our new development culture by taking 2-3 Aboriginal players each year though the draft and through the rookie draft in particular (not saying we don’t if they are there early in the draft, just making it a focus at the backend).
- Rutten is told he has until R20 in the last year of his contract before we will even consider an extension – it’s up to him to provide his worth. We gave him the chance, we gave him an easy start with mentoring, now it’s time to repay the faith.
- We instigate a fail fast recruiting and development policy, the expectation is to know about a player within 3 years, then to move them on or sign them up to long term deals.