Thursday, 23 July 2015


Talk recently on the football shows was of the limited tenure for James Hird. That he has lost the players and that the club is in a parlous state.
Certainly a 110 point loss to the 2014 wooden spooner is a cause for concern, as well as the toll taken by the ongoing WADA scandal. A recent victory over Melbourne may have quelled the calls, but there is no denying the pressure is still there

As it stands, Essendon's ranking by the FootyMaths system is not as poor now as it has been in the last decade. Nor too is the win-loss ratio yet, as is described in the table below.

Currently they track better than the 2006 Sheedy team, and are heading below the level of the previous Hird-coached seasons. With 7 matches to play, they need to win 2 to equal the worst of the Knights coached seasons, albeit one that was his last, and white-anted by media and prospective candidates.
Going below the 1000 ranking point barrier is also the lowest point for Essendon since the last weeks of the Knights tenure.

The final years of the Sheedy era ended in middling ground (by the above rankings points), and the Knights coaching stint followed a similar pattern to when other fresh coaches come in. A period of establishment of system and structure, followed by growth and success. Not spectacular success, but the second year set a decent platform.

When it began unraveling for Knights, and how, is part of this Guardian piece by Ben Cuzzupe, and also documented by Caroline Wilson back in 2010.

All of the Hird seasons have shown improvements and good form, followed by lapses. With largely the same list, Thompson kept the club stable, and winning football games. This years lapse under Hird is earlier, and more alarming.

Where to now for Essendon?

As Rohan Connolly said in an SEN interview on Monday... who is there that can step in, and who would want to? It is becoming a difficult proposition for anyone other than one dedicated to the long haul, of returning a club to its former status.

It will take time and patience. To re-build a team, its confidence, its game stratagem.
To placate the followers that the path taken is the right one. To build hope, and to be realistic about the past, present and the plan for the future.

With all the recent turmoil, and with the WADA affair still hanging low over Camp Tulla, who would go to Essendon?
Who would want coach a team potentially decimated by WADA suspensions? To play with what remnants are available, and flush green youth?

It would be the hardest job in football, possibly harder than starting new clubs from scratch.

With a new club, there is optimism and hope. Fresh faces and enthusiasm of founding something. A 'greenfield site' where you have the opportunity to stamp your own mark. Build and found greatness

What is the offer with a dispirited and divided organisation? A chance to forever be overshadowed by players past and extant pressure from factional forces? To be drawn into battles that rage beyond the field and club offices?

But as Rohan points out, there is little to be gained from unloading Hird before his time, other than more negativity in the media, more financial and legal strain, and more gnashing and wailing from the hoi poloi.
But there will come a time, as it does for all in football, where that curtain will be drawn.

Its a position Carlton also find themselves in. A club that is struggling, and had its former coach suggest it is not an attractive proposition for players to want to go to. But also Carlton is a club riddled with players from inside and outside the board room, that have a hankering for tinkering.
Ongoing involvement from outsiders undermines the management of the club itself, and the business that it should be concentrating on.

Granted the mire of Carlton appears not as deep as what remains at Essendon, but it has its roots extending further and deeper.
Back to delusions of grandeur that saw a gleaming palace placed on the wing of its home ground, all but devoid of seating for the average supporter, but instead commissioned for the well-heeled. And of constructing a stand and committing to loans at a time when ground rationalization meant local grounds were being walked away from, not embraced. Has that loan been fully paid out yet?

And also back also to salary cap infractions that brought the club success, and ultimately its most unwanted prize. A first ever Wooden spoon, followed by 2 more. And years in the wilderness.

These two clubs, powerbrokers of the past, having a mutual intertwined history in the quest for premiership tally supremacy, now find themselves similarly intertwined. Both struggling. Both with external forces drilling away at the club they love, blinded by self-interest.

Clubs needing change. Refreshing. Re-invigorating.
Facing a hard decision on the road ahead. To continue doing as it has done, or to seek an alternate path. A long hard road to redemption.

That road to redemption is a road that has been (and is still being) traveled by a once-struggling football club. The Richmond experience is the template forward.

Its the tale of a new executive at the helm, who brought experience and knowledge. Not just of the business side of the the Club, but also of the business of football and what being a footballer is about.

Its also the story of quelling the notorious Richmond factions and coteries. The back room men who would 'eat their own' for success.
Of being able to sell them the message of a fresh beginning, a hard road and long journey, a patient and concerted effort.

Its a story of building from a-new, committing to the task and journey and not wavering, not flinching. Not wilting under pressure or making rash judgments.

It has taken time, and the end goal for Brendon Gale and Richmond is yet to be met fully. But who can point to an instance of instability or factionalism under the Gale tenure?

It has been a trans-formative period for one club. And it is the sort of transformation that would be welcome at those two others.

You could also make the case that there are other templates out there too.
For example, that of a traditionally well supported club that has cast off its working class clobber and now is brash and bold with more front than Myers.

Another that set itself strong a business mindset after almost sending itself to into oblivion. One that redefined membership and built a forward thinking culture that challenges only one other club for boldness.

Both Hawthorn and Collingwood took it upon themselves to reshape into the footballing-business hybrid machines that they now are.

Collingwood recognizes itself as 'the most well known sporting brand' in the nation, and has been able to use the power of that brand. It targeted other top tier brands and worked its exposure via weekly television coverage, usually in prime time, to further promote itself and partners.
It also moved from a much loved (and feared) venue to the grandest stage. To better prepare the team for finals, and to better accommodate its members and fans

Hawthorn went a different route, First by rebuilding internally after the failed merger, growing its membership base. Then secondly recognising that the Melbourne area offered little hope for supporter growth, they made a bid for the hearts and minds of Tasmania. A state enamoured with football, but lacking its own representation. A hard sell to its local members, but one that provides a new source, as well as revenue to the coffers via the Tasmanian government. A business decision that guest poster Sean highlighted here last year.

All hard work. All involving pain (of a type) for fans. All involved a commitment from the club to hard calls and being able to sell the message to the members, and bring them along too.

Its what Richmond is also doing.
And you could argue, to a lesser extent perhaps, it is what the Western Bulldogs and Geelong are also undertaking.

No doubt that for both Carlton and Essendon, the road is long and hard, and that it will involve cultural shifts that will be uncomfortable for a pair of clubs who were quite comfortable (thank you very much) under the old VFL structure.

These remnant VFL megaliths need to recognize that change is needed to deal with the current business of football that most other clubs recognize as the new norm. Lest they go the way of megafauna of the past.

* With Thanks to Ben Cuzzupe for his nudge in the right direction *
* Thanks also to Ethan for the wonderful gifs *

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