Recent reports suggesting that John Worsfold’s future at Essendon rests upon his side’s performance against West Coast next week are disappointing.
To disrupt the incremental and sustained growth of the club based on arguably footy’s toughest road trip against the reigning premiers is short-sighted and reactionary.
In saying this, as one of the few Essendon fans who stuck around to witness every one of the 21 consecutive goals kicked against us by the Bulldogs in Round 21, I did consider what life would be like without Woosha.
However, if you take a step back, Worsfold’s teams have shown the potential to break out over recent years.
Notably, the form of the club over the back half of the 2018 season was outstanding and demonstrated Worsfold’s vision of the team at its peak.
That is, a team with incredible transitional ball movement abilities capped off with ravenous tackling up forward.
It is understandable then, that the Bombers’ start to the 2019 campaign left many disappointed, myself included.
Worsfold does have some excuses to call upon, including the implementation of new defensive structures from new assistant coach Ben Rutten, the man tipped to get the top job at the Bombers should Worsfold struggle against the Eagles.
The Bombers conceded a whopping total of 365 points in the first four rounds of the year as these changes were implemented, an average of 91 per game. In an ideal world, these changes could have been adapted too before the first bounce of the year, however once learnt, the Bomber defence excelled.
A settled back six of Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley, Mason Redman, Adam Saad, Conor McKenna and Patrick Ambrose limited teams to the fewest points per game in the competition from rounds 4-13.
Unfortunately for the Bombers, injuries limited their defensive potency during the second half of the season with the likes of Ambrose, Hurley, Hooker, McKenna, Guelfi, Hartley, Francis and Saad missing time.
This constant reshuffling of defensive duties came into full view during the Bombers’ humiliating defeat at the hands of the Western Bulldogs just a few weeks ago.
Injuries to key position players up forward also put a damper on Essendon’s momentum, with Cale Hooker having to drift forward at times to compensate for a lack of bigger bodies.
This structural uncertainty, coupled with inexperienced prospects such as Ben McNiece and Dylan Clarke having to take up key defensive outposts created the perfect storm for a hungry Bulldogs side.
This loss, while a blemish on Worsfold’s resume, is not entirely his fault.
It is also worth mentioning that Essendon’s injuries have been reoccurring and many are continuing to play below full fitness.
At different stages across the second half of the season, the likes of Dyson Heppell, Orazio Fantasia, Jake Stringer and Shaun McKernan have struggled to completely overcome injury issues and have suffered inconsistent form as a result.
The Bombers injury list has mainly hit its key position and midfield players, thrusting at times young and undersized prospects into key areas.
Take for example the case of Kyle Langford, who was named in the middle of the ground against Marcus Bontempelli in Round 21.
Langford was only put in this position as the Bombers fundamentally lack the big bodies of a modern midfield if injuries hit.
While tenacious, the likes of Merrett, McGrath and Fantasia will struggle to make a defensive or contested impact when challenged by champions like Bontempelli.
It is also worth noting that the other big loss of the Bombers in the second half of the season came against the Power, which for all of their flaws, had the big-bodied midfield that has proved to be the antithesis to Essendon this year.
This raises an important point, Essendon’s flaws may simply boil down to the second string of midfielders that are inconsistent and may lack the quality at this stage to stem the runs of the opposition that have taken games away from the Bombers.
Either the likes of Langford, McGrath and Fantasia are to make long term improvements similar to those Darcy Parish has made this season, or Worsfold and the Bombers need to improve the variety of their list.
While not as flashy as their previous recruits, a player in the mold of a Scott Selwood to clog up stoppages and stop the run of opposition teams at the source should be targeted by the Bombers by draft or trade in the off-season.
Either way, it is clear that through injuries and list construction, Worsfold’s coaching is not at complete fault for these capitulations and the growth of the likes of Parish and Conor McKenna over recent years demonstrates Worsfold is capable of extracting the consistent best out of previously unknown quantities.
Last week’s performance against Collingwood also demonstrated the importance of Michael Hurley to the Bombers’ system, as there is no one else on the Bombers list who is able to command a defence and use the ball as effectively as him.
The Collingwood second-half fightback, as well as the other two big losses to the Power and the Dogs, came with Hurley sitting on the sidelines. Should he miss the final against the Eagles, this should be considered by the club when assessing Worsfold’s future at the club.
As Worsfold’s potential replacement, Ben Rutten, shares some of the blame for heavy losses in recent weeks, any transition to Rutten as senior coach needs to have broad support from the playing group.
After just one year at the club, it appears unlikely that Rutten has already amassed the support required for this.
Ultimately, structure and tactical nous are not Worsfold’s major problems and he should only be sacked if it is deemed his relationship with the playing group is not able to focus the team towards his vision.
Not simply because he loses to the reigning premiers in the fortress next week.
The Bombers play exciting, fast-moving football and as a fan, I’m more than happy to see this continue under Worsfold in future.
While some may speculate on whether Woosha is too reserved or lacks motivational qualities, it is only the players who know this.
Given the recruits the Bombers have gained via the trade period over recent years, I suspect Woosha’s personality is more than palatable for the players, however, Worsfold may face question marks in his ability to refocus the players in the midst of disastrous performances such as the loss to the Bulldogs just a few weeks ago.
If the Bombers were to move on Worsfold, it should only occur if another candidate, such as incoming assistant Blake Caracella, has widespread support from the playing group.
I suspect the Bombers will retain Worsfold next season, however, if Essendon again starts poorly, a mid-season transition to either Caracella or Rutten would be a reasonable decision if it was to reinvigorate the players.