ON THE eve of his first meeting with the club he coached for 27 seasons, Kevin Sheedy has acknowledged that he would have traded Essendon's captain Jobe Watson if offered ''a very good player'' in return, had he remained as coach of the Bombers beyond 2007.
Explaining the remarkable transformation of Watson from a fringe player to what Sheedy called ''a big star'', the legendary coach of Greater Western Sydney said Watson did not have the right attitude, professionalism or body shape to be an elite AFL player during Sheedy's time. He said there were ''two Jobe Watsons,'' adding, ''there's one who came to Essendon who wasn't prepared and there's probably one I didn't pick in my last game with James Hird's last game that might have made him [Watson] think about [that].''
To the suggestion that the coach had made a mistake with Watson, Sheedy replied: ''Not necessarily from the point of view that he had to change his attitude towards the fitness level that he was displaying to say he wanted to be a top-class player.
Essendon captain Jobe Watson. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
''And if he wanted to cop his body weight and get himself super fit and give himself the body he's got now, nothing like the body he had, I mean to play AFL, well I wasn't prepared to roll with that.''
Sheedy praised Watson for his achievement in becoming captain, calling it ''a great story'' comparable to Sydney's similar transformed former (Hawthorn) father-son, Josh Kennedy. ''To be captain of the club is a pretty big distinction isn't it, really?''
To the suggestion Watson would been moved on had Sheedy remained at Windy Hill, Sheedy said: ''Well, I mean if someone offered up a very good player for him, yeah I would have traded him, yeah. In fairness to say that, I mean I offered up a good player to get a good deal. I mean you've got to offer good players to get good deals. In the end I offered Ted Richards [to Sydney] and got Courtenay Dempsey. Now, you know, that might turn out to be good one day.
''All I'm saying is Ted and Jobe came through Essendon at the same time. If Courtenay Dempsey ends up helping Essendon win a premiership either this year or next year, maybe that deal was very, very good. But I'm prepared to do deals that both [parties] win.
''If you're not fit enough, you're not going to win a best and fairest. Like he's won a couple of them, but he's won them in average teams and I know the feeling about that because I won the best and fairest at Richmond in an average team.''
Sheedy said Essendon today was a very good team. ''If he wins the best and fairest this year and they win the premiership, well he's done absolutely marvellously well. But that's the level where my bar is.
''And that's how you assess this. And I'm not going to apologise for my negativity towards Jobe early doors, but maybe, just maybe, it was a boil on his bump that annoyed him. His attitude, to his professionalism, has been an enormous turnabout.''
Sheedy said he was pleased Jobe had stayed with Essendon, the club
of his champion father Tim. ''Absolutely. I love the father-son stuff.''
Sheedy said an excellent deal would have been required ''because the Watson name at Essendon is sort of like clearing Jack Clarke or the son of John Coleman or the son of Simon Madden or the son of Terry Daniher. And fair enough by the way. Hawthorn didn't seem to think that was a problem [with Kennedy].''
While Sheedy has had a long and interesting relationship with Tim Watson, who was on occasion on the other side in political conflicts, Sheedy was adamant any perceived issues with the father had not been visited upon the son.
''No, no. What Tim Watson? No, I've got no problem with Tim Watson. He played three premierships with me, four grand finals. I've got no problems with him. Tim and I might disagree on some aspects as far as football, but that's about as far as it goes.
''The difference between probably Tim Watson and myself is that Tim Watson went with Alec Epis and that was a negative for me.'' Epis, a board member, was opposed to Sheedy's re-appointment in 1998.
Sheedy compared Jobe Watson to Kennedy in style and to Hird. ''What he's been able to do is exactly what another kid at Xavier [College] has done, and that is be a big man around the stoppages, over the ball like Josh Kennedy and they're doing the same aren't, they?
''And technically, in yesteryear, they'd be probably centre half-forward. He's got a great feel for the game, not unlike Hird, without the elite athleticism, but he's a very smart player in how to look after his inadequacies … and at that, he's been very good at overcoming whatever a person like myself or the opposition coaches has seen to be possible an Achilles heel in his make-up. He's overcome that. So far.'' Sheedy said while he coached ''with a carrot'' mainly ''I said 'well, maybe Jobe got the stick.'''