Just thought I would put some thoughts down given that a week is a long but also an incredibly short time in football.
Let me start by saying that in my 25 seasons of following the Bombers this is definitely (given the context) the bottom of the barrel. Let’s go through the post-1993 phases to see why our travails this season are so jarring.
Phase 1: 1994-98, The learning years
We spent the first part of this a little too self-happy. Youngsters who had unbelievably won a premiership in the first try expected it to happen each season. Yes, major injuries to Hird, Bewick, and Long played a role but despite the coaching staff’s experience, it was a hard sell. 1996 (losing 2 finals by a point each) was an inkling of what should have been. And then, the ’98 marshmallow game was the absolute pits.
Phase 2: 1999-01, The peak
Everything came together. New ideas in the coaching staff under Sheeds. The infusion of skilled AND tough players (Solly, the Johnsons, Barnard, Heff, Cara, Blumfield), the blooming of our core in Lloyd and Lucas and the resurgence of veterans like Hird, Mercuri, Barnes, Fletch and Longy. We should have could have won 3 in a row but had to settle for 1. As the siren sounded on the ’01 grand final (and the aged gentleman sitting in front of me quietly removed his shirt to reveal a Fitzroy jumper under it) there were only two routes we could take. Surgically remake the list or top up and go around again. We unfortunately chose the latter.
Phase 3: 2002-07, The inevitable decline
This is when our decline truly started. The kick off was the salary cap debacle leading to Heff, Cara, Blumfield, and Moorcroft leaving. Sheeds, in all his wisdom thought that we were but a few top ups away from contending. Remember Mark Alvey? Mal Michael? The return of Fish? I do feel that towards the end Sheeds knew it was time to go back to the kids but it was too late.
Phase 4: 2008-2010, The depths of mediocrity
Knights and his “brutal running” regime were never going to work out. Yes, every now and then we pulled out a brilliant win but the misses in recruiting, trading, and developing bit us again and again. That said, towards the end of Knights’ tenure one did feel that the kids were ready for development, the spine was in decent shape, and what was missing was a better coaching group.
Phase 5: 2011-2015, The lost generation
Not much to say here as it is still so raw. Maybe an optimist would say that the generation isn’t truly lost. A pessimist would say that Jobe should have captained a premiership, Stants should have played in a Grand Final. Fletch should have had a much more successful end to his career. Should have. Would have. Could have.
Phase 6: 2016-Now, The false dawn(?)
Finally, this brings me to now. Once I got over the shock of the ban, I was actually really excited by the ’16 season. How often does one go into a season with ZERO expectations? How often do kids get games in them as a big group surrounded by experienced pros? How often does one have the luxury of a dozen ready-made players waiting to join your side in the next season? And then comes 2017 and we make the finals and Dodoro does his thing at the trade/draft table. That should have set us up for a massive 2018. Yet… Our coaching is one-dimensional. Players’ talent is not being utilized. We make the same mistakes again and again (kicking sideways, hand-balling aimlessly under pressure) not just in the same game but game after game. Yes, we have a hole in our mid-field but our defence and attack are as good as any. But that is no good now that the confidence is shot.
I fear this season is lost and it is the most disappointing one in my years as a Bomber fan. This could so easily have been avoided or at least fixed. There is no external pressure. There are no major talent issues. This is a self-inflicted wound.