Friday, 14 February 2014

Lessons Learnt? - Essendon

Today is the final in our series where we revisit the teams that caused such grief in the lead-up to the 2013 season.

In this post, it is the rolling maul that started prior to the season, and continued with its ructions right up until now. And one thing is for sure, that it will continue deep into 2014.

Gently In Manner - Essendon
We have blogged more than enough on the ongoing Essendon / ASADA Affair.We were also not of the mind to mark the anniversary of the ASADA investigation, or Essendon's 'self-reporting' either.

The club has suffered a year of media and fan torment as the Affair played out over weeks, culminating in fines and suspensions for 'governance' issues.
We have already called for further action around the governance of the club, with WorkSafe breaches likely to have occurred. WorkSafe are, to the best of our knowledge, still yet to act.

And, of course, there is still the ASADA investigation ongoing, with possible infractions to come, as outgoing WADA Presiden John Fahey said ''it's only a matter of when''.

With all of this maelstrom still to play out, you would think that a low profile might be the order of the day for Essendon.

The Deflect
It was an inevitability that the anniversary of the drugs scandal would be marked by the media and commentariat. It needed no further commotion and notation by anyone else involved, other than to participate briefly in interviews, or issue brief statements.

Instead the moment was punctuated with a large exclamation mark by the club. Its choice to launch its new slogan 'Don The Sash' on the 1 year anniversary of its 'self reporting' was an attempt to deflect attention.

In our opinion, it did the opposite. Yes, the rusted on faithful would have been delighted to have a new slogan, and may have ignored the other press marking the day.
But for others in football, awaiting for the whole issue to be finally resolved, using the anniversary to launch a new slogan was a simple, hollow deflection technique. And another reminder of the hubris with which the club has been accused of in handling the ASADA Affair.

For a club to have gone through the wringer like Essendon did, and been accused and penalized for 'poor governance', that media deflection technique was just another example of that club's aloofness and poor decision making that punctuated their 2013 season.

Fighting Factions
And with the anniversary, came opportunities for interviews. Paul Little, the man that defended James Hird's right to receive his 'contractual worth' despite his AFL banning, and extended the Hird coaching contract once he returns from suspension, participated in one interview.
He spoke at length to The Saturday Age's Caroline Wilson.
Essendon chairman says Hird will return 'a better person'
He reminds us of someone
Essendon chairman Paul Little has declared James Hird would return to the club a better person than the one suspended last year by the AFL, but conceded that he faced a difficult task convincing Hird to move on from the fall-out of the Bombers' drugs scandal.

In a lengthy and frank interview with The Saturday Age one year after the club self-reported to ASADA and the AFL, Little rejected reports he had unofficially appointed himself the club chief executive, and revealed:
 ■ Collingwood president Eddie McGuire had acted as a middle man in attempting to repair the Essendon chairman's "non-existent" relationship with AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou.
 ■ He was backing the club's little-known new chief operating officer Xavier Campbell to be a strong candidate to fill the CEO's role by June.
 ■ The relationship between Essendon's players and the AFL Players' Association remained fractured.
 ■ The general manager of football role – filled in recent years by Paul Hamilton and Danny Corcoran – had been ineffective.
 ■ He was working to bring his predecessor, David Evans, back into the Essendon fold but Evans had indicated he was not ready to return to an official match-day function.
 ■ He could not say exactly what drugs were administered to the Essendon players during 2012 nor predict whether the players faced penalties from ASADA.
Describing his relationship with Demetriou as a work in progress, Little said he regretted he had not been able to negotiate directly with Demetriou as the investigation unfolded last year.
Reading that article, it seems that Little, having manned the barricades against the AFL and fended them off, is now building bridges to HQ.
And those bridges need to be built. The AFL run the competition, provide funds to Essendon, as well as a platform and stage on which to perform.
Essendon cant exist without the AFL. A working relationship needs reconstructing. Little is on the right path.

Yet despite his efforts to protect Essendon and Hird, he is now the subject of attacks from power-brokers at the club.
Tweets (since deleted) by the_red_sash, and those by Ian Hanke, an advisor to Hird (at right) have shown there is still unrest at a club.

For the club to go forward, it needs its President to be able to meet with AL HQ and the 17 other Presidents who took a step away from Essendon so publicly in August.

If Eddie McGuire (or any other President) took that step to help create a bridge, they should be thanked, not vilified.

The Hanke attack is startling, showing us a glimpse of the unfolding inner turmoil at the club.
It also makes us wonder about the sorts of pressures brought to bear on David Evans, resulting in his resignation mid 2013.

What madness resides at this club that can't see the need to function as an AFL affiliate?
Where is the steady heads at the 'Same Olds', who can take stock of the 2013 shambles, right the wrongs and steady the ship?

Only through a strong working relationship can any positions be brokered. Are there some at the club prepared again to use brinkmanship in an effort to win small Pyrrhic victories, at the expense of the longer game?

Again, the question must be asked... is the person Hanke engaged as an advisor more important than a club with over 140 years history?

Such internal bickering goes against the club motto:
        (Gently in manner, resolutely in execution)

Essendon is a VFL foundation club, and one of the fabled members of a select 18. It needs to consider its actions, not just for the now, but for its next century.
In choosing to attempt to hijack an anniversary, and if some of its factions still go tilting at windmills, the club will only continue to struggle to win the faith of all followers, bar their own.

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