Essendon: The saga that keeps on giving

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Essendon players walk off the ground after the round eight loss to Carlton. (Photo: Darrian Traynor/AFL Media)

Essendon has just lost to Carlton, a 0-7 team. Rock-bottom, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

This season marks the second year back with a full Bombers team, after allegedly putting the four-year supplement scandal behind them. Many pundits believed they had a shot at being a top-four contender this season. Unfortunately, seemingly as if the ghosts of disasters past were back to haunt them, they look worse then ever.

A psychologist might look at them and ask if it was ever really possible for the team – in fact the whole club – to return to ‘normal’ so quickly after such an unprecedented saga that essentially vowed to strip the Essendon cupboard bare. Can people who have been walking a tightrope for so long under false hope, and who have been ripped apart so systematically, really forget and ‘get on with it’ as if nothing had happened?

Let’s look at the long-term carnage on and off the field since the supplement team had its year off, which in itself would surely have tested the resolve and loyalty of all concerned, and led some to consider their options.

Our first focus is on arguably the main protagonist in the supplement affair – James Hird. In 2017, soon after resigning from the club, Hird was hospitalised after a drug overdose and then placed in professional mental health care for a period.

Mark Thompson’s property was recently raided by police. (Photo: Getty Images)

Next, former Essendon coach Mark “Bomber” Thompson recently was in Melbourne Magistrates Court facing charges of drug-related offences, including drug possession and trafficking.

A sign post of the malaise at the club at a deep and irreversible level was the sad fact that only 13 Essendon 1993 AFL premiership players attended a recent 25-year reunion. Unsurprising perhaps was the absence of the ’93 captain Mark Thompson and James Hird, who both might feel a little unwelcome at the event, considering their woes, but the low numbers likely indicate that the party may indeed be over for Essendon and its past players.

New blood might have been a welcome injection to invigorate the spirit. Welcome Jake Stringer traded from the Western Bulldogs. Last year Stringer had a litany of off-field issues, but with a show of faith via his recruitment to the Bombers, could he have turned over a new leaf to bring a much needed boost?  The jury is still out, but he hasn’t covered himself in glory. Getting extreme tattoos, bleaching his hair and appearing to have put on some extra weight since the season started hasn’t exactly exuded professionalism.

Current Essendon coach, John Worsfold during a press conference. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)

And what of the current Essendon coach, John Worsfold? While he may have helped the team through some messy years, is he the right person to inspire them and drag them out the other side of the abyss? He’s been under fire for running the same game plan every week, with no change, and appears to have no answers to his team’s lacklustre, performances. As if to add insult to injury, Essendon have given themselves no room to move in getting a new voice in front of the players, having decided after round one to extend Worsfold’s contract for a further two years. Why would they want to lock themselves into such a strait-jacket?

And more was yet to come with the club deciding to sack assistant coach Mark Neeld after the Carlton loss. Many people in the media have come out and said that Essendon has used Neeld as a scapegoat for recent performances, and that Worsfold should have taken more responsibility for what has been happening.

Essendon assistant Mark Neeld was sacked after recent poor performances. (Photo: Michael Klein)

And so the saga goes on. Essendon legend, Matthew Lloyd has said “Gone are the days where Essendon can call itself a great club.” Very strong words, but is this about ’not being great’, or a case of the whole club being in a state of depression? Truth be known, either way, the club has to rebuild its talent, confidence and self belief, which could take years.

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