AFL news | How John Worsfold’s Essendon became a deluded failure

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This month, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, there’s another sporting milestone many have forgotten, but for Essendon supporters remains just as significant.

It’s been 20 years since arguably the greatest season by a club in VFL/AFL history, culminating in a 16th premiership for the Bombers.

Except for one hiccup against the Western Bulldogs, Essendon pulled off close to the perfect season; a league record 24 wins and an average winning margin of 51 points.

The Bombers were the greatest in the land. Kevin Sheedy was the king and the players – Hird, Lloyd, Fletcher, Long, Mercuri – were royalty.

Two decades on from that all-conquering season, Essendon is as far away from a 17th flag as ever.

And, as John Worsfold’s five-year reign as coach comes to a close, one has to ask the question: what has it achieved? Honestly? Very little.

Yes, 2016 was always going to be a write-off due to player suspensions as a result of the supplements saga. But the facts are that during Worsfold’s tenure, the Bombers have finished in the top eight just twice, failed to win a final and he leaves the club languishing 13th on the ladder, with just one win from its past games.

If Essendon fans thought they had reason to be optimistic early in the season, it was certainly supported by the coach. “We think we can win the flag,” Worsfold proudly proclaimed in April.

Five months on, that statement in retrospect appears delusional.

Despite bringing in the likes of Jake Stringer, Adam Saad, Dylan Shiel and Devon Smith in the past two years, to top up the list to make a genuine tilt at a drought-breaking flag, the Bombers have failed to make progress.

Even worse, club great Matthew Lloyd now believes “they need to go backwards … Not bringing in players from other clubs and looking to the draft”.

That’s an indictment on a coach who believed as recently as this year that the club was in the frame for a premiership and now, as a minimum, is on the cusp of a partial rebuild.

Essendon’s succession plan, too, has failed in its initial phase: the takeover.

If Ben Rutten was last year judged to be the man to lead the Bombers forward and this year has been doing all the match day preparation, why has Worsfold even been at the club? Yes, he’s been the front-man for the Bombers’ coaching panel with the media but internally, has his presence just muddied the waters as to who is actually in charge?

The belief that Worsfold has overstayed his time at Essendon was echoed by his own bizarre sentiments following Saturday’s 50-point thrashing at the hands of Port Adelaide: “If Essendon work together and pull it all together, we’ll see where they’re at.”

Those comments would be perfectly suited to an outsider, but the senior coach of the football club? Most definitely not.

The Worsfold years at Essendon have not been fruitful and his time at the club is likely to be pushed to the side in a similar manner to Matthew Knights’ ill-fated three years in charge.

With Worsfold’s departure must come a new belief and new identity for the Essendon Football Club. Rutten’s position has already been criticised by some but he at least deserves a season at the helm, without someone looking over his shoulder, before he’s graded fairly.

But there will be no honeymoon period. That’s already been squandered this season.

The Bombers need to make a statement, too, in their recruiting; you’re either with us or your not. Essendon isn’t some halfway house for players to bide their time.

Joe Daniher and Orazio Fantasia made it abundantly clear last year they wanted out. They should’ve been gone.

Similarly with Adam Saad, who’s yet to recommit, and is reportedly in no rush to re-sign despite being presented with a four-year deal. If he’s skeptical about the direction of the club under Rutten and isn’t committed, then let him go. Yes, he’s a sensational player, but he’s got to want to be all-in.

The best teams are those who want to be together, who want to be there for the long haul. Essendon need look no further than the Gold Coast Suns to see a group of players who want to be together, even if it takes time for that success to come.

Twenty years on from that all-conquering 2000 season, Essendon is in the midst of its longest ever premiership drought.

It’s time to stop papering over the cracks and time to get this team on the path to success.

Over to you, Ben. Good luck.

Shane McInnes is an AFL commentator and sports broadcaster with 3AW, 6PR and Nine Radio. You can follow him on Twitter: @shanemcinnes.