Essendon coach John Worsfold has all but anointed Brendon Goddard as the Bombers' captain for 2016 after the suspension of Jobe Watson and 11 other senior list players for the season.
Speaking publicly for the first time since a dozen of the club's most senior players were suspended by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Tuesday, Worsfold said that while there were still formal processes to be worked through, Goddard appeared an "obvious choice".
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Coach John Worsfold dismisses suggestions that the Bombers won't win a game this season and says the club has begun appointing its leadership group and will promote the best rookies to the senior list.
"He's in our leadership group. The players had their say and said they see him as one of our leaders," Worsfold said. "I can see why people would think it's an obvious choice."
Of the seven-man leadership group voted on by the players shortly before Christmas, only two – Goddard and defender Mark Baguley – will be eligible to play this season. Watson, vice-captain Dyson Heppell, Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley and David Myers will all be sidelined until mid-November because of the supplements scandal.
While Brownlow medallist Adam Cooney is still on the list, his injury management issues would make him a big risk. The next two most experienced players Essendon can turn to this season are two more imports in James Gwilt and the newly-arrived Craig Bird.
And the next player on the experience scale is David Zaharakis, who has now twice been voted out of the leadership group by his teammates.
Worsfold said he was focused and "ready to go" on what has become a massive coaching challenge missing close to half his best possible line-up, Essendon now unbackable favourites for the wooden spoon and many believing they not even win a game.
"You don't sit around and sulk," he said. "We've got a lot of stuff we've got to do now, we're preparing for a footy season and I have to be focussed on that."
And he said the experiences of coaching West Coast through the saga of Ben Cousins' drug use and his time at Adelaide last season after the death of the Crows' coach Phil Walsh would help him deal with Essendon's current plight.
"It's not nice, but I've had a lot of experiences through my sporting career and personal life," he said. "We deal through events that you don't want to happen, but you've got to deal with. I've got some experience through my time with Adelaide, and an understanding that you can get back out there and bounce back and go well."
Worsfold pointed to former Collingwood rookie Michael Hartley, drafted by the Bombers late last year, as a likely replacement for suspended key defensive pair Hurley and Hooker.
But as the Bombers go about putting together a replacement list, promoting rookies and taking up to 10 more "top-ups", he appeared to shy away from the likelihood of the club investing in many recently-retired AFL players because of fitness concerns.
"We've started discussions around what we need and what's available, that's all underway," he said. "We've got players that we know pretty well in our VFL system that we've got ready access too potentially, so that's all underway, and hopefully we can move with that as quick as we can.
"Anyone we bring into this footy club has to have the same attitude that we're looking for from the current squad, of wanting to improve and really add value to us and be competitive, to train hard. If their attitude is not like that, we won't be having them. If they're unfit now and it's too big a task to get them to an AFL level of fitness, that's going to make it very tough."
Worsfold said Essendon would be aiming much higher than a wooden spoon, but that this year would be about development. "We are going to put so much work into improving ourselves individually and as a group throughout this year, because that's what is going to have a massive impact in the long term," he said.
And positivity, he said, would be a key.
"I'll be focussing on helping these guys grow as footballers. If you think losing a game of footy 15 goals to three is better than losing 25 goals to 10 … people have views on that. My view is we're going to be as competitive as we can throughout the whole year.
"We're going out there to win games of footy, and we're going to challenge ourselves to get the absolute best out of our group we can. If we have one or two bad losses, I won't be saying: 'Let's shut up shop' and cower away.
"We're not running out with a total team of youngsters, so the challenge for us is to train them up, get them fit and compete at our absolute best.
"Success generally in sport is measured around winning, but I'm a big believer you can have success in terms of building to become a great team on the field over the course of not just one season. So we can have some great wins this year in terms of preparation for how good we want to be in the future."
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