Accepting mediocrity – The story of the Essendon Football ClubSeptember 14, 2017
Before you embark on reading this article you should know that it is written by a lifelong passionate Essendon fan from a passionate Essendon family. Just because the content is negative (and believe me it is), it doesn’t make me or anyone else with similar views any less passionate than the ‘glass half full’ Essendon Football CIub fans. It doesn’t make me any less of a supporter or some sort of traitor or turncoat, nor is it a direct attack at any individual in particular. It’s an honest and frank assessment of the recent history of the Essendon Football Club – and it ain’t pretty.
So, if you are an Essendon Football Club apologist, then this article probably won’t be to your liking. But, if you want to face facts and perhaps challenge your own opinions, or even try to understand the negative opinions of others (and make no mistake that portion of the fan base is growing) then spare a few minutes to have a read and by all means feel free to share your thoughts whether good or bad.
And yes, I do acknowledge events surrounding the ‘supplements saga’ have no doubt impacted on-field performance, but this tale of woe extends far beyond the past five years and was prompted following yet another insipid performance in a final by the Essendon Football Club on the weekend. Ok, with that preamble out the way – strap yourselves in!
Let’s start with the weekend. Whilst the majority of the tens of thousands of Essendon fans who spent their hard earned to flock to Sydney wouldn’t have expected a win, they expected and deserved a decent effort. They got neither. Instead, they watched their side became just the second side in over 20 years and the first in 17 to concede ten goals in one quarter in a final. That is deplorable in any game let alone a final and the biggest match in Essendon’s past three years.
It is simply unacceptable from both those on the field and those in the coaches box (who seemed incapable or unwilling to stop the onslaught). It is a stat and an effort that nobody, from supporters to executives should tolerate. But in the aftermath, the majority of what we’ve heard, both from club officials and from many a supporter is about the ‘brave effort’ and ‘great year’ Essendon had. It’s all about the positivity and where the club has come from. ‘From wooden spooners to finals’ they shout. ‘Nobody expected us to make finals so I’m just happy we did’ they proudly exclaim. Only a passing comment from the club about the performance and the ‘need to get better’ by ‘learning from that’.
Away from the weekend though and it’s an all too familiar response from a club that in the past decade and a bit, appears to be content with mediocrity and happy to accept that near enough is good enough on the field. It’s a sentiment that has transcended the club and now echoed by many supporters who seem to view and accept a meek finals exit as a win.
With Richmond winning their Qualifying Final, it leaves Essendon (excluding Gold Coast) as the club with the ‘honour’ of the longest drought without a finals win.
The last time Essendon won a final was in 2004. In the 13 years since, the Bombers have made the finals just four times, losing all four Elimination Finals they contested by an average margin of just under ten goals. Take out the 2014 nightmare choke against Nth Melbourne and the average losing margin from the other three finals is a shade under 75 points. That’s 13 seasons in succession without a finish inside the top six – the worst performed side in the competition in that time. It gets worse. 1968 was the last time an Essendon side not coached by Kevin Sheedy won a final.
That’s an embarrassing state of affairs no matter where you sit on the positivity scale. I’m not here to tell you how to support your side, but if you’re content with those facts and figures then you are a part of the problem. Particularly if you partake in the social media backslapping of the club informing them how ‘proud’ you are of their efforts and how ‘we are on the right track’ and ‘the future is bright’. Of course, you’re only regurgitating the perception the club puts out there anyway when they tell you ‘we’re building to something special’ with a great and talented list.
But are we? Is the list that talented? Nobody over values their own stock like the Essendon hierarchy and the fans tend to follow suit. Joe Daniher, Zac Merrett, Darcy Parish, Orazio Fantasia and Andrew McGrath aside, none of the other youngsters who are touted as being ‘the future’ have given any indication that they’ll actually deliver on the extraordinary amount of unwarranted high praise and acclamation they continually receive, especially from the fan boys and cheerleaders.
Aaron Francis is chief amongst them. On Twitter in particular, he is spoken about in glowing terms. Why has he managed just five games in two seasons when Parish, who arrived in the same draft, has managed 40? What gives us any definitive indication that he’ll actually make it? I sincerely hope he does, but right now all we have is a kid who goes alright at VFL level, but who allegedly ‘isn’t fit enough’ to play week in, week out in the AFL. Alarm bells ring in my ears when a 20-year-old kid, who’s now had two years in the system, still isn’t fit enough to get a game.
The jury is well and truly out on Kyle Langford and Jayden Laverde too. They show promise, but unlike younger teammates such as Parish and McGrath have failed to grab opportunities after three full years in the system. The noise surrounding Josh Begley on social media was also deafening. The kid hadn’t even made his debut yet and the fans were imploring his inclusion like it would solve all our problems. I’ll cut him some slack though as he’s a first-year player.
The 26-30-year-old age group, so crucial in mounting serious challenges has to be a significant concern as well. Falling into that bracket from those who played on the weekend are Mark Baguley (30), Tom Bellchambers (28), David Myers (28), Michael Hurley (27), David Zaharakis (27), Patrick Ambrose (26) and Travis Colyer (26). Between them, they have played almost 750 games and combined for just 51 Brownlow Medal votes, with 40 of those provided by Hurley and Zaharakis. Whilst Brownlow voting isn’t always a reliable measure, it certainly does indicate a players ability to win matches and influence contests and I’m afraid those numbers just aren’t good enough. Of those in that age bracket who didn’t play, are Heath Hocking (29), Matthew Leuenberger (29), Craig Bird (28), Ben Howlett (28), Mitch Brown (27) and Shaun McKernan (27). Contractual obligations aside I wouldn’t be surprised if every one of those guys was gone by the start of 2018.
With the retirements of Brent Stanton and Jobe Watson, it also means not a single player on the Essendon list at the start of 2018 will have played in a winning final for the club. Scary.
The state of the list, particularly the group aged 26 and over and the lack of a winning culture are a real concern.
It’s not all the players’ fault though. The misplaced arrogance of the Bombers and their status within the standing of the competition is also exemplified, maybe best exemplified, at the trade table. Notoriously difficult to deal with owing to that over valuation I mentioned earlier, it has led to the Bombers being a ‘top-up’ happy club in the past 17 years since their last premiership, with the biggest name they have managed to attract in that time being Free Agent Brendon Goddard (which didn’t require a deal to be brokered).
The early to mid-2000’s smacked of a club believing they were closer than they actually were, as a string of Carlton rejects walked through the door (from a Blues side who routinely finished last in that period) as well as gems like Ty Zantuck, Richard Cole and Mal Michael. Fast forward a decade and little had changed with the likes of Paul Chapman, Adam Cooney and Jon Giles joining. The Bombers have rarely committed to a full, proper rebuild and the arrogance of thinking they are close has cost them dearly.
The Dons continually spruik themselves as a destination club and with the want and means to land a ‘big fish’. But year after year superstars seem to be looking for a new home and year after year goes by without that big fish landing at Essendon. Why? How? In recent days I’ve even witnessed on social media Essendon fans who don’t believe players like Jake Stringer would improve the on-field performance. A 23-year-old, All-Australian, premiership player I’d suggest fits in at any club, let alone one without a finals win since before social media was even founded. It again speaks to the acceptance of mediocrity that fans have come to expect from the club where ‘Stringer couldn’t fit into the forward line alongside Daniher, Hooker, Stewart and Francis’. Ok then……
Spurred on by former champions of the club, one of our most bitter rivals Hawthorn famously drew a line in the sand halfway through 2004, tired of accepting sub-standard performances and being pushed around by the big boys. At the end of that season they brought in untried coach Alistair Clarkson, committed to a rebuild off the back of youngsters named Hodge, Lewis, Franklin and Roughead, went through some short-term pain but won a premiership four years later. They’d add another three in the next seven years to be the unquestioned powerhouse of the competition.
It is time the Essendon Football Club drew a line of its own.