Nearly two years ago, then-Essendon coach John Worsfold sat down for his standard post-match press conference.
Only, this time, it was anything but standard.
“I understand that Essendon people think that Essendon should be better, but they’ve also got to understand that the competition challenges clubs now to work to the same rules – the draft and the salary cap,” he told reporters.
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“No one team has any more right to be successful quicker than any other team, just because they’re a big-name club.
“You’ve got to knuckle down and commit to doing the work. Good clubs will do that and come out of it with success.”
Worsfold’s comments now seem prophetic.
The Bombers last week scrambled at the 11th-hour to try and secure Alastair Clarkson’s services. They believed the pitch of being a ‘big club’, given their standing in the VFL/AFL pantheon. could somehow eschew all reasonable and considered process that a club like North Melbourne had committed to and was steadfast on.
That they failed to land Clarkson is, in hindsight and with the benefit of Clarkson’s comments, far from surprising.
What it does do, however, is speak to the level of hubris involved in even considering the Hail Mary was a chance to come off — a hubris Worsfold warned of.
Essendon got Clarkson’s management to answer the phone last week and tee up a meeting with new president David Barham. But that was about it.
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“Out of fairness to the people that I know at the Bombers … it was really out of respect for those people and I had to repay that respect in a dignified way and at least listen to what they had to say,” Clarkson said during his first press conference as North Melbourne’s newly-appointed senior coach.
“But the due diligence required to actually consider coaching a club takes a hell of a lot more than four days for me. It just ran out of time.
“In a different set of circumstances and at a different time, who knows? But this was the right fit for me right now.”
It’s little wonder why former Collingwood president Eddie McGuire reacted the way he did in the immediate aftermath of Worsfold’s comments in 2020.
“I reckon he has just left the greatest bomb of all-time with one game to go. He has just smashed them on the way out the door,” McGuire said on Triple M.
“That is as big a backhander I’ve heard going out the door. Wow, that is unbelievable.”
The pitfalls Worsfold warned of clearly counted for little in the eyes of a divided Essendon board.
One of those ‘Essendon people’ Worsfold referred to may well have been current club president Barham, who has been on the board since 2015.
He was given stern feedback from several Essendon players when he met with them last week and now must bridge an immense chasm between the club’s powerbrokers and several of the club’s senior players.
One of the club’s leaders, Zach Merrett, was telling on AFL 360 last week, even before Essendon finally terminated Ben Rutten’s contract after dragging him through the mud during the week.
“I think I copped a bit of criticism probably last year for holding out a contract about direction of the club,” he said.
“To be sitting here in a bit of a mess 12 months later is a bit disappointing.”
It must be said, Merrett went on to admit: “I’ve committed long-term to the club and I’m really keen and hopeful that in the next two, three, four, five months that they get really clear on what they want to achieve and how we’re going to achieve it and I’ll fall into line massively on that path.”
If Merrett was given a crystal ball and was able to see where the club was currently at, he would be all-but certainly be playing elsewhere right now.
Worsfold’s comments back in 2020 clearly riled some members of the Essendon hierarchy and led to a rare moment in which he read from a prepared statement to clarify his comments.
Shortly after, however, he made more comments that once again make for grim reading two years down the track.
“The reference was that it’s hard work to win a premiership and it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.
“I’ve watched Damien Hardwick do such a great job at the Richmond Football Club starting back in 2010 but it took him seven or eight years to eventually get that premiership.
“In that period there was a massive call to change everything, to change the coach, change the board, and they stuck at it.
“I would just like to implore Essendon people to keep backing the club, to back Ben Rutten, to back this playing group to take them forward.
“It will be tough and there’s a lot of hard work to do but I know they’re up for it.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same.