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Chaos at Essendon after two decades of systemic failure


We’re on the eve of what shapes as a spectacular finals series of rare depth, and an unforgettable final round that promises explosive results. Yet somehow, here we are with Essendon dominating the headlines.

Maybe it’s a good thing.

Rather than hearing empty platitudes from the upcoming finals combatants (I doubt we’re going to get anything near Ed Langdon’s “duck or no dinner” comments over the next month or so), the top eight teams can let their football do the talking. It’s been speaking loudly enough after all.

Monday was a day of upheaval at Windy Hill. The rumours and reports were flying thick and fast, and it seemed no two journos in town were across the same information.

President Paul Brasher had either been sacked or resigned. Ben Rutten was sacked too, until he wasn’t. Daniel Giansiracusa was coaching Essendon this week, or not. Alastair Clarkson had either not been contacted, was going to be reached out to, or had already agreed to a handshake deal.

CEO Xavier Campbell was either under pressure and the next to go, or rock solid and executing yet another review.

Who knows what will become of general manager Josh Mahoney, who has been spectacularly unsuccessful after his playing career. He was an assistant coach at Melbourne when they could barely win a game, got promoted to oversee the Mark Neeld era, and it was only after he left that the Dees turned things around immediately and won the flag.

Now he’s in charge of the disaster taking place at the Bombers.

About the only rumour that wasn’t passed around was the return of James Hird and Stephen Dank.

There has been a change of president, with Dave Barham replacing Brasher. Barham has been on the board for seven years, so has been a part of the systemic failures at the club. A classic Bombers move.

So, what does it actually mean for Ben Rutten? There has been disquiet about him almost from the time he came on board to serve an apprenticeship under John Worsfold. Before he even became senior coach, he denied Tom Bellchambers a farewell game, in an act that could not have endeared him to the playing group.

Ben Rutten, Senior Assistant Coach and Team Defence of the Bombers addresses his players

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Essendon snuck into the eight in Rutten’s first proper season in charge, pouncing on a soft draw late, but with only 11 wins, four wins and 10 per cent behind sixth-placed Sydney. There were still murmurings.

And then they were never in the hunt this year, trounced in the opening game in by far the most spiritless performance of any team in Round 1. They did have a tough early draw, but to be 2-9 at the bye was pitiful, and while they looked like turning things around afterwards, nothing was at stake.

It’s hard to see Rutten surviving, given that he’s never been fully embraced. When you look at the likes of Bomber Thompson and Damian Hardwick surviving reviews and going on to coach premierships, they had shown the ingredients for success already.

Thompson took Geelong to a semi-final and a prelim in the two years before 2006, which was his annus horribilus.

Hardwick had twice coached Richmond to fifth on the ladder, plus another finals series, before his review in 2016. They had been in the chair much longer than what Rutten has, without the creeping discontent.

Rutten was an assistant under Hardwick, and helped deliver a premiership. But not every assistant under a multiple premiership coach automatically makes it.

Mick Malthouse gave us the misery of Mark Neeld at Melbourne and Scott Watters at St Kilda, while Alastair Clarkson had Brendon Bolton fail at Carlton. Hardwick himself saw Justin Leppitsch perform poorly at Brisbane in-between times at Richmond, and now Rutten.

Rutten’s position is now untenable, regardless of whether Essendon lands Clarkson. Brasher was the first domino to fall. Rutten will be the second.

Adrian Dodoro has been at the Bombers for two and a half decades, all of which has been involved in recruitment, the last 12 years as list manager. It’s a phenomenal achievement to not just keep your job but actively get promoted when you have crafted a list that hasn’t won a final since 2004.

Dodoro has built a midfield that is too small and not tough enough to compete with the best, let alone win finals. Dylan Shiel has been a high-profile flop. Jake Stringer has baggage that can’t be overcome.

Jake Stringer of the Bombers chases the ball.

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

Even Devon Smith, a best and fairest winner, was never the right fit, given an oversized role that neither his body nor ability was fit for.

Worst of all, Dodoro is in charge of a list build that has Dyson Heppell being publicly shopped around and getting interest from Gold Coast because the Bombers won’t commit to their own captain. It’s hugely embarrassing and a disgraceful slur against a man who has given his heart and soul to the club.

Whichever angle you look at the Essendon mess from, they are a shambles. The nuclear option is to blow the club up, and start again.

If Clarkson comes in, this will certainly be the case. And chaos will follow.

Clarkson is a pig-headed, hot-tempered coach, who demands total control and autonomy. Essendon is a club that is full of power-brokers who love putting in their two cents and getting things done their way. Ego is the number one ticket-holder.

And what if Clarkson is another Mick Malthouse to Carlton? Or Denis Pagan to Carlton? What about Malcolm Blight to St Kilda?

It’s been 18 years since Clarkson was appointed at Hawthorn. It’s a different time now, and his last two years at the Hawks provided mixed results at best. Life can come at you fast.

Either way, there will be chaos.





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