Rohan Connolly thoughts on Essendon

Hi, Rohan Connolly sent me this to post on Blitz.

Hi guys,

I got a bit “antsy” after last week’s game and had a bit of a tweet about it and a bit of a rant on the Footyology podcast, saw some people refer to it here, and thought I might as well (via Scott) just expand on a few points raised. Hope you don’t mind.

Firstly, that little rant of mine was completely off the top and unplanned, so really only scratched the surface. In a nutshell, yes, I think recruiting has been an issue, but I do agree with a lot of people on here that it’s in fact poor player development which is a bigger one. But I also think an even more important issue to address and resolve is WHY these things have been an issue for so long. And even that is about more than just one long-standing recruiting and list manager. It’s about both the way the club operates and the highly political culture which has been endemic to it as long as I can remember.

You can get bogged down in endless debate about this draft pick versus that one, or should we have traded or drafted, and when that happens you end up getting sidetracked from bigger questions. So again, ask yourself this … in 20 years, how many genuine stars of the competition has Essendon produced? I’d argue just one, Jobe Watson, and he was a father-son anyway.

Two decades? No superstars? Every other single club you care to name has at least a couple over the same journey, don’t they? Take Fremantle … Fyfe, Walters, Pavlich, Sandilands … take Collingwood … Pendlebury, Swan, Sidebottom, Grundy … or, Richmond, who even when people were still laughing at them at least had Martin, Cotchin, Riewoldt and Rance.

To me, that is the obvious indictment of the list management for 20 years. Not enough stars drafted, not enough stars developed, in fact a few highly rated juniors whose standing only seems to have diminished the more AFL senior footy they play.

There’s also been WAY too much equivocation over whether players were good enough. It consistently takes the club too long to determine whether particular players are up to it. And in several cases, by the time they have obviously decided “no”, their potential trade value has been diminished.

Then there’s the tolerance of average players for years and years. And OK, I’m sure people want me to name names, so I will. Two who spring to mind are David Zaharakis and Tom Bellchambers. At least Zaka, though, has won a best and fairest.

TBC? Well, this may be harsh, but when has Bellchambers ever been anything other than a mid-tier ruckman compared to his ruck opponents? Consider that this his 13th year on the senior list. Are you aware that in that whole time, he has just once finished in the TOP 10 of the best and fairest? Do you reckon many, any other clubs would keep a player on the list that long when not once has been even among the best-performed quarter of the list? I doubt it, frankly.

But, see, now I’m doing it, too, getting bogged down. This is about MORE than this particular list, or coaches, or recruiters. It’s about an environment in which coteries have had enormous influence, not only on what football decisions are made, but who ends up on the board or on the executive. That coterie group power has been diminished a little in recent times, but these days it’s as much about rich and powerful individuals who those allegedly in positions of power continue to have to keep satisfied and on side.

As much as he is ridiculed (often unfairly), arguably the person who actually tried hardest to break down those “old politics” was Matthew Knights. His mistake was to move too quickly in doing so, thus getting too many people off-side. They installed Hird as coach (who could have been excellent) but in my view that instead prompted a “saviour” mentality which didn’t see enough checks and balances applied to his influence, and we know how that ended (and yes, I still think he was shafted and made a scapegoat by the entire football world).

In my view, since then, a gun shy board and administration has made restoring face, and becoming a solid citizen with good values, a bigger priority than actual football performance. I can understand that, too, but in my view there simply hasn’t been enough people in a position to do something keeping others in the same boat accountable enough. Not singling him out, but I’m not sure Xavier has been questioned enough about football decisions. Adrian Dodoro? He’s networked very well, he’s had enough “wins” to keep enough people happy. But 23 years as either recruiting or list manager with that sort of record? Hmmm.

Anyway, I think much of this stuff stems from institutionalised cultural problems which are going to be VERY difficult to fix. And really, they were there even when Kevin Sheedy was coach. It was simply that Sheeds was a master politician as well as coach, and after entrenching himself as central to the whole operation, had enough of a power base and enough success on field to stare down the doubters. And even he, after all, nearly got the chop a couple of times in those 27 years. So ask yourself, if even Kevin Sheedy had to fight and work hard to keep the wolves at bay, what chance did a Knights have? Or does Worsfold. Or will Rutten? It’s a major concern as far as I’m concerned.

Who’s strong enough to withstand that pressure? Who knows the football side of the operation as well as the commercial side and will take the advice they should in both departments, AND be strong enough to tell the hangers-on and the empire builders and the freeloaders to pull their heads in or to rack off when they need to be told? Because I honestly don’t think that collegiate approach is happening right now.

I don’t claim to have the answers. I’d love to see this group put things right. But as someone who has followed this club 50 years, I can feel the buzz which has surrounded it for much of that time fading into a bland nothingness. It needs people who really understand football culture as well as those with sufficient business acumen to put it right. It needs real connection with the support base, not just corporate speak, and endless communications about promos and merchandise.

Less of that and more celebration of what the club is about, its essence and spirit. It sounds nebulous. But “fan engagement” needs to really hit supporters in the heart muscle, not just sound like more glib PR speak. And I will say this. I DO know about that stuff. I grew up behind the Napier St goals, then the “cowshed” on the wing, then in a seat on the other wing. I lived it. I was there in the ■■■■■■ days of the '70s. And then when things turned beautifully in the '80s. I DO think I know what makes Bomber fans tick. I’m just not convinced there are enough people at the club now who do. And yes, it all sounds a bit cliched. But the really successful clubs DO get that stuff. They ARE successful operations in a commercial, corporate sense, yet they still FEEL like genuine footy clubs. Not sure about everyone else on here, but I’d love to feel that about Essendon again. And I DO know that the club needs desperately to tap into a genuine vein of passion which I think is sadly lacking at the moment.

I do tend to be a glass half-empty person, and I’d love to be proven wrong on this cultural stuff. But I have been talking to a lot of very, very successful people who have done great things for this club in far more successful times, and most are as worried as I am about all these issues. I think whoever is prepared to tackle them head-on needs to be given the utmost support, and to LISTEN to people on forums like this, because if this current malaise and “too satisfied with not much” atmosphere continues to prevail, I fear we may never see a golden time like the Sheedy era again.

Anyway, if you’ve read this far, thanks! Rant over!



Can’t say he’s wrong about anything in that.

Hats off to Roco for contributing!

Need a footyology / Blitzcast crossover


Only Jobe in 20 years?

Not Hird?

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It’s ok Rohan you can post on your main account @NotTomBrowne


recruited 28 years ago


Think he meant from year being drafted to end of career


Wasn’t his original blitz username Wayne Otway?

Great point. But he dates models, so there’s that.


I tell you what. I dont know if he would want to do it, but if he ran for the board, he has my vote…


Not much to disagree with there. No idea about the answer though… Maybe get Knighta back!

He’s essentially spot-on.

He could have just posted this himself.

Anyway, he’s not wrong. Club needs not just a playing list rebuild but a complete overhaul from top to bottom.


Spot on

So to summarise he thinks Essendon has a poor culture.

Funny that…

Thanks for sharing @CJohns and thanks to Rohan.

I wonder where @Catherine_Lio is these days? I really hope she reads it and takes it to the bloody board meeting so they all read it


Its a bit long for my attention span, is it available on audible?

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Was a Brownlow medallist long before.

You could are that a few that _ could have been_ had their best years still from them (Hurley for instance), but he’s pretty right about it. Lots of players who looked like they would become superstars, and then stagnated, either through injury, or through to just stopping improving. Even guys like Heppell and Zac Merrett are well below what we all would have imagined 4 years ago. And lets not start on Joe and Raz.

How does club culture even affect individuals in this way so consistently?

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Carlton? Melbourne? North? Gold Coast?

Spoiler alert.

They won’t care.

It will give them something to chuckle over a few red wines though.


I can. I think all that stuff about coteries is bullshit. Coteries consist of people who donate to the club, and they do that because they love the club and want it to be great. There’s no single “coterie view”. Members of coteries have as many different views as members of Blitz.

And he’s wrong about Knights too. Knights was appointed coach because he was the last man standing after a not very impressive field fell away. He lost the players and got sacked.

The club hasn’t had a leader since Sheedy. Sheedy was a flawed leader, and many of his ideas were loopy, but at least he had ideas and the strength and leadership to pull them through.

Since Sheedy left we’ve had no leadership. Rohan’s right about our recruiting being ■■■■, and he’s right about development being worse and he’s right about players being kept on the list years longer than they merit.

I don’t know where leadership is going to come from. Leaders will emerge eventually. They always do. But when? NFI.