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Bombers run out of excuses

Behind the eight-ball: Embarrassed by Carlton, the crestfallen Bombers trudge off the MCG on Saturday.

Behind the eight-ball: Embarrassed by Carlton, the crestfallen Bombers trudge off the MCG on Saturday. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

JAMES Hird didn't want to be seen looking for cop-outs after the debacle that was Essendon's 96-point belting at the hands of Carlton on Saturday.

That's good, because some things are inexcusable, and not just the size of the defeat but the lack of passion and fight shown by the Bombers against a bitter rival, with so much hanging on the line, was certainly in that category.

Essendon has spent much of the past decade making excuses of some sort, be it injuries, or the wrong coach, or the need for more development, or not having a big enough training ground. It's become a monotonous refrain, and if it doesn't end immediately, the Bombers will remain well short of the powerhouse they'd like to be again.

In the relentless discussion about Essendon's fitness program disaster, some bigger issues have been unmasked, namely a mental fragility already publicly acknowledged by assistant coach Mark Thompson.

You don't need your A-graders on the park to chase, harass, tackle and defend your own. Essendon did none of that on Saturday, most tellingly in the lack of assistance offered to skipper Jobe Watson when he was crunched by the Blues. But that's been the norm for six weeks now.

A 71-point flogging against St Kilda, 67 points against Geelong, 94 points to Hawthorn and now 96 points make embarrassing reading. If it's been purely a physical issue, why in the midst of those disasters was Essendon able to pull out such a gritty effort in Adelaide against one of the competition leaders?

There's a shocking paucity of genuine bull-by-the-horns leadership in the line-up, which still revolves essentially around the captain, a 37-year-old Dustin Fletcher, and a player surprisingly dropped for the Carlton game, Nathan Lovett-Murray.

Lovett-Murray is far from a top-liner, lacks endurance and has done his best work off the substitute's bench. The fact that his aggression and spirit is still such a barometer of Essendon's fortunes is an indictment on many more talented teammates.

How talented? Well, years on, that debate seems not a lot closer to being resolved. Some point to a clutch of potential stars in the 21-24 age bracket, and the likes of David Zaharakis, Michael Hurley, Dyson Heppell, Jake Melksham, and more recently Alex Browne are the most obvious foundation of future Bomber teams.

But there's legitimate questions being asked even of that group. About Hurley's durability, and the fact Heppell and Melksham's development seems to have stalled this year.

That pair, Travis Colyer, Heath Hocking, Tayte Pears, Angus Monfries, Cale Hooker, Kyle Hardingham, Kyle Reimers, Alwyn Davey and Leroy Jetta aren't the best advertisements for Hird's oft-repeated mantra about continual improvement. None are better players than they were 12 months ago. And most of them right now are poorer.

Thompson's mantra, meanwhile, is improvement from within, which helps justify the continued lack of action on the trade front by long-time recruiting manager Adrian Dodoro.

But does Essendon really have enough material to work with? And how far does the trade currency of its list continue to be driven down both by the intransigence of the football department to offer something decent to get something better, and by year after year of ordinary football from players who seem to have been around forever?

Bomber fans know most of the names. Monfries (eight seasons, and 148 games). Ricky Dyson (nine and 114). Henry Slattery (eight and 96). Sam Lonergan (seven and 79). Small forwards Jetta and Davey are in season six, still buzzing around a lot for not much meaningful return. Veterans David Hille and Mark McVeigh surely are about to retire.

You can't just take a hatchet to a list without adequate replacements, comes the obvious party line. But if you don't spend too many years deciding whether a player is up to it or not, that isn't the problem it continues to be for Essendon.

For the first time, Essendon people, rightly or wrongly, are starting to ask questions about their club's coaching "dream team". About Hird's continued public calm in the face of such disgraceful efforts as Saturday's. About the fact that for an assistant coach, Thompson has enormous control. "Nothing here happens without his say-so", was how one insider put it yesterday.

Like the appointment of weights coach Dean Robinson to manage a fitness program and the consequent disastrous spate of soft-tissue injuries. And liked the closed, insular place Essendon now appears to the football world.

After the disaster that 2012 has turned into, the next 12 months will be acid tests of Essendon's credibility. Because the time for excuses is well and truly over.

And in the meantime, while they're highly unlikely to take part in the finals they appeared to be certainties for only two months ago, the Bombers should spend the last two games of the season at least looking like they give a toss about what's going on.

22 comments

  • This Essendon team is very soft. Apart from Jobe Watson and Dustin Fletcher, the Bombers can't handle the heat. A pathetic list with more passengers than the Titanic.Richmond has the bye this week. I'd back the Buldogs against Essendon

    Commenter
    manny
    Location
    willowgrove sth
    Date and time
    August 20, 2012, 3:07PM
    • I'd have to agree! The unfortunate thing is Watson had a great opportunity to win the brownlow but piggybacking the whole team through the last few months has taken a toll... Pity cause for unknown reasons the hate for that guy is amazing...dont know if its his jumper or his form from previous years? but the keyboard warriors have it in for him... Will be interested to see how essendons backline goes once old man Fletch hangs up his boots - that guy is also highly underrated but freakishly talented

      Commenter
      johson
      Location
      syd
      Date and time
      August 22, 2012, 12:59PM
  • I think James Hird could go the same way as a number of other outstanding players who became coaches and flopped (ie Royce Hart, Peter Knights, Gary Buckenara, Michael Voss perhaps) - playing and coaching are two very diffrent things. Hird, despite the army of assistant coaches, always looks rather lost and perplexed in the box as if he's out of his depth & wondering what to do.

    Commenter
    SteveR
    Location
    McKinnon
    Date and time
    August 20, 2012, 3:12PM
    • A bit harsh Rohan.....seeing those players you mentioned who haven't given much return have been out several weeks at some stage. In regards to our talent group, you have left out Howlet, Myres and Winders who are right up there amongs top mids

      Commenter
      Gary
      Location
      Adelaide
      Date and time
      August 20, 2012, 3:23PM
      • A number of factors at play here.....
        INJURIES - Essendon have had 26 soft tissue issues compared to just one for North as an example (Wells last week).
        PLAYER DEVELOPMENT - Too many players have not improved under Hird, especially the small body receivers such as Melksham, Dyson, Colyer, Lonergan and Monfries. If they'd improved in the same vain as Howlett and Zaharakis, the Dons may have a half-decent midfield.
        TRADING - Woeful trading has been the norm at Windy Hill for a decade, courtesy primarily of Adrian Dodoro overrating his own recruiting success and refusing to put up decent collateral at the trade table. You get what you pay for. Midfield deficiency has been well noted since 2004 (after Mercuri, Heffernan, Caracella, Blumfield, J.Johnson, Misiti, Long, Ramanaskas etc. all left) yet 8 years on the issue remains the same. That is utterly unacceptable!!!
        COACHING - Players and club thought that the return of Hird and Thompson would cure all the ills of the side. It hasn't. Too many opinions in the coaches box and on-field confusion about game plan. Had the club chosen Hardwick over Knights in 2007, wonder where the club would be now after 5 years under the defensive-minded non-spin doctor approach of Hardwick?!
        SELECTION - Too many players in and out of the side affecting stability and player confidence. Pears, Lovett-Murray, Colyer, Dyson, Reimers to name a few.

        Fortunately for us Bombers fans, all these issues can be fixed, provided the club shows guts and courage.

        Commenter
        DJCJ
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        August 20, 2012, 4:24PM
        • Still a very good contested ball team just need good players to handle it once it is out on the spread (those players were zaharakis and stanton until they went down).

          Forwards dont have the confidence to lead up becasue it gets kicked over thier heads every time, thus they run to space which makes it a harder kick. the one place where injuries hurt the most is in the middle becasue of the flow on in lower quality first use.

          the positive is that at least we have shown we can play and the talent is there, just need a little bit more of it and some luck with injuries.

          Commenter
          Roger from strathmore
          Date and time
          August 20, 2012, 4:26PM
          • How can you compare the Knights era to the Hird era when it's just starting.

            On another note why no uproar about the clash of jumpers rule from Saturday nights game between Pies and Roo's

            Commenter
            bomber4
            Date and time
            August 20, 2012, 4:34PM
            • It's a long season. Every team has ups and downs in form. Last year, I thought the Bombers had prepared for the preseason and early part of the season to entice their supporters back. With Hird and Thompson on board the club started superbly and dropped away just clinging on to a finals berth. Same this year, with even bigger ups and downs in form. The weapon looks like he has caused mass destruction in Bomberland although I really believe Etihad has a lot to do with these injuries. The players aren't as good as what the club thinks they are. They play their best footy at the wrong end of the season and overrate themselves when they beat some of the better teams early in the season. Teams like the Cats and even the Roos, build up momentum as the season gets to the business end. Essendon do the opposite. They are truly becoming the April champions who are peaking when the rest of last years finalists are still shaking off the cobwebs. Hird looks like a dumbfounded supporter in the coaches box. The responsibility comes back to Thompson who is the real coach but he doesn't have to take responsibility because he is not officially in charge. The dreamteam are starting to look like Abbott and Costello. Perfect timing for the Tigers to give some payback this week. Go Tigers!

              Commenter
              Andy
              Location
              Tigerland
              Date and time
              August 20, 2012, 5:11PM
              • essendon has a major problem and it is recruiting. Adrian Dodoro MUST GO!!

                Commenter
                melvis
                Location
                Pyrmont Sydney
                Date and time
                August 20, 2012, 5:35PM
                • Couldn't agree more. Where did he ever come from is the question I would like to know the answer to because his record speaks for itself.

                  Commenter
                  Tonii Gramsci
                  Location
                  Stuttgart
                  Date and time
                  August 21, 2012, 11:14AM

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