Essendon’s week from hell has left them without a coach. Some at the club think they have the answer, but it would only make things worse.
Plus the fallen contender proven to be “brittle”, how Alastair Clarkson can quickly help North Melbourne and a public plea to an out-of-contract star.
Catch up on the big AFL issues after Round 23 in Talking Points!
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WHY ROOS SHOULD EXPECT ‘PROFESSIONALISM’ THEY MIGHT NEVER HAVE SEEN BEFORE
It’s not often a team cops a 67-point thumping yet its fans still walk out of the venue with big grins.
That’s what went down on Saturday in the aftermath of North Melbourne’s big loss to the Gold Coast Suns after one of the most significant weeks in the former’s history.
The scoreboard, somewhat, seemed irrelevant for Kangaroos fans. For the coup appointment of Alastair Clarkson to coach the club for the next five years truly felt like the full stop on a horror 2022 campaign and the beginning of new-found hope.
“I haven’t seen this many smiles on supporters’ faces as a collective off the back of what has been a really trying year,” former Roo Nick Dal Santo told Fox Footy.
“The whole game is based on possibilities and mindset — and they’ve got an opportunity with a brilliant coach that’s a proven product.
“I think we need to tame our expectations of what Clarko can do instantly with this group. But he’s done it before, so why can’t he do it again?”
Reflecting on the Clarkson coup on Saturday, North president Sonja Hood said it was a “relief” but said she felt an infectious joy among Kangaroos fans.
“It’s the essence of everything isn’t it? People often say football is about wins and losses, but I think actually football’s about hope,” she told SEN’s Crunch Time.
“I think generally we like crisis narratives and we like disarray narratives – and the hope narrative is just a wonderful counter to all of that and really underpins my view of where our club’s at. It’s wonderful to see that manifest for the supporters and for the members.
“We’ve done it pretty tough this year, they’ve all done it pretty tough this year, and they’ve stuck by us in record numbers. To be able to deliver a bit at the end of the season is just overwhelming.”
Clarkson on Friday stressed his first official date was November 1, but conceded “the brain is going to be ticking” well before then. No doubt it would’ve been ticking watching Saturday’s loss to the Suns.
There were ample positive signs: Flynn Perez’s polished performance across half-back, Josh Goater’s eye-catching debut game, Charlie Comben’s attack on the ball, Jason Horne-Francis’ solid response after being dropped and Luke Davies-Uniacke’s ability to fight through a tough tag.
Clarkson, though, wouldn’t have enjoyed the Roos’ second-half fadeout that saw the Suns kick nine goals on the trot. Overall, Gold Coast conjured eight goals to one from stoppages, while its final score of 16.18 (114) was the 17th time in 2022 North had conceded at least 100 points.
“Clarko is going to make a massive difference, but he does have a fair bit of work to do, both with how they move the ball and particularly the team defence — and that might take a bit of time,” dual All-Australian Leigh Montagna told Fox Footy.
Brownlow Medallist Gerard Healy gave an insight into what North Melbourne players should be expecting when Clarkson clocks on.
“There’ll be a lot of one-on-one stuff then a lot of team defence, there’ll be a lot of vision and review, behind-the-goals vision from training sessions,” he told Fox Footy.
“Clarko will bring a level of professionalism perhaps they haven’t seen for a period of time — and with that is the expectation of what the players bring.
“He won’t be mucking around if the level of training, application and dedication off the field isn’t right. He’ll make sure it becomes right, otherwise you’ll lose your spot in the team. That to me is exciting for guys like Jason Horne-Francis.
“If you want to get into a club that’s going to get the best out of you, well I think now they’ve got the right man at the top and he can be confident that if he comes to the party, he’ll enjoy the party.”
AFL LEGEND’S PLEA FOR SUNS STAR TO STAY
The silly season doesn’t officially begin until October. But over the next week, the bottom-10 clubs will announce initial delistings and confirm if any of their players will seek a trade to a rival team.
The Giants appear to be facing an uphill battle to retain Tanner Bruhn, Bobby Hill, Jacob Hopper and Tim Taranto, Port Adelaide is preparing for Karl Amon to exercise his free agency rights and there’s lots of intrigue around Hawthorn’s veterans.
From a Suns viewpoint, all eyes will be on exciting forward Izak Rankine, who remains unsigned beyond this year.
Amid a flurry of Suns re-signings this season, Rankine is weighing up whether to accept a juicy contract from the Adelaide Crows, who’ve offered him a five-year deal worth as much as $800,000 per season. It’s well below the Suns’ offer of around $650,000 per season.
Many believe Rankine, who’s had a career-best year in 2022, will accept the offer. Although reports late last week indicated the Suns had been pulling out all the stops to keep him, to the point where Rankine was considering walking away from the Crows offer.
Brownlow Medallist Gerard Healy said he didn’t want to see Rankine leave Gold Coast.
“We do a lot of Gold Coast games and I’ll be disappointed if Izak Rankine goes,” Healy told Fox Footy.
“He’s a lovely player to watch, he’s only scratching the surface of what he’s got available.
“He’s committed himself to this group for a long period of time and they’ve committed to him — and yet he’s got a big decision to make.”
The Suns on Saturday capped off their best-ever season with their equal-biggest win of the year. The 67-point win meant Stuart Dew’s men finished 2022 with a 10-12 record and a percentage of 102.8 — the first time a Gold Coast team had finished a season with a percentage of over 100.
Suns forward Alex Sexton said it was an exciting time to be a Gold Coast player, declaring on Fox Footy that “everything’s going in the right direction”.
If Rankine stayed, he’d remain with a club that will be launching into a 2023 campaign with confidence, to the point where finals should be a minimum expectation.
Triple All-Australian Nick Dal Santo said it was crucial there was a “stability with the playing group” at the Suns.
“We continually talk about connection and the continuity of playing with similar players for a period of time, so that ball use forward of centre looks more consistent. But also their ability to retain some of their high-end talent and then bring in a couple of pieces … Go out and find those particular players that can help you,” Dal Santo told Fox Footy.
ESSENDON CAN’T FALL FOR SAME OLD TRAP WITH HIRD
It may sound “preposterous”, but James Hird returning as coach of Essendon is “legitimately on”.
It would be the most Essendon thing they could possibly do. And that’s why doing it would be such a bad mistake.
At Tullamarine, Hird isn’t just the Messiah; he’s the Messiah who was wronged.
He was already the playing great who was supposed to become their next coaching great, but the supplements saga – which first saw him suspended, then eventually forced out of coaching for almost seven years – then divided the football world.
“James Hird is the Messiah – and that return to Essendon is legitimately on, according to senior figures in the club who continue to push this very strong. Quite clearly Kevin Sheedy is one of them,” Jon Ralph explained on Fox Footy on Friday night.
“So Hird could lead a dream team of Essendon favourites with Dean Solomon and Mark McVeigh also returning. Solomon is tipped for a senior role anyway, but if McVeigh gets the GWS role, Hird and Solomon have pledged they will stay with him, so they seem to be a trio.
“One theory tonight is that even if (CEO) Xavier Campbell is not in favour of Hird returning – and who knows whether he will be – well (board member) Kevin Sheedy might just have the numbers anyway and he might be able to get his way.”
Some are indifferent to Hird, and some would argue his role at the club in that dark period should stop him from returning to coaching.
But the view of the most passionate Essendon fans seems to be Hird is the only one who can truly fix everything and return them to the promised land.
“There’s one faction who would like that to happen,” AFL 360 host Gerard Whateley explained on SEN radio this weekend
“Were they to seize power, I think they would restore Hird as coach.
“It would be incredibly divisive. There is one group who passionately believe that he is the only figure that can heal it.
“And then there’ll be the rest who’re going ‘this is madness’. Most non-Essendon people will find it preposterous.”
The idea, in a sense, is that Hird’s return will allow Essendon to finally move on from the supplements saga. That him coming back would make up for how he, and the club, were treated by the AFL.
But this seems absurd (without even talking about who deserves blame for the saga). Bringing back Hird wouldn’t allow Essendon to move on; it would ensure they cannot. He is, fairly or unfairly, the face of that period.
And it’s part of the problem defining the club over the last two decades; a problem that many big Victorian clubs have faced over the years.
Club greats certainly deserve respect, but at Bomberland, they seem to receive deference. They are viewed as infallible.
Kevin Sheedy is the prime example. Not many clubs have 74-year-olds as the swing vote on their board when there’s a presidential coup, nor as a key part of conducting a club review. That’s true at Essendon, though, and his actions during the Alastair Clarkson chase drew heavy criticism.
As Bombers president Dave Barham was trying to lure Clarkson, Sheedy was going on radio and bizarrely claiming Clarkson should go to North Melbourne to help them relocate to Tasmania.
“He’s lost the plot, Kevin,” Caroline Wilson said last week.
“I don’t see that his role on the board is tenable after those comments.
“Matthew (Lloyd), you talk about quick fixes and little things that look good for the club (as problems) – putting Kevin on the board, to be brutal, was one of those.”
Sheedy and Hird undoubtedly did great things for Essendon in the past but that does not mean they will do great things for them in the future.
Moving on, and finding new, talented people to help run the club rather than trying to rely on the same few names decades after their heyday is what the Bombers need now.
‘JUMP’ THAT PROVED BRITTLE BRISBANE ‘WEREN’T UP FOR FIGHT’
Brisbane had a chance to earn a top-two finish on Friday night.
Instead it was handed one of the most humiliating losses of the AFL season so far.
And while the Lions will still have a home final in the first week, it’s now a sudden-death clash against one of the most in-form teams in the competition in Richmond.
Brittle Brisbane was brutally exposed by Melbourne on Friday night, going down by 58 points at The Gabba after conceding 13 goals to two in the first half.
Little separated the two teams on the stats sheet, but the Demons were able to generate so many goals from little opportunities due to the lack of pressure being applied by the Lions, who were spooked on the big stage.
Dual premiership Kangaroo David King pointed to vision from Friday night’s game where Melbourne’s perceived pressure forced Lions star Zac Bailey into an uncharacteristic move.
Bailey was in the vicinity of a loose ball in the middle of the ground, only to hesitate for a split-second. That allowed Demon Trent Rivers to pick up the footy, handball to Jack Viney and set up another Melbourne attacking forward foray.
“The way Melbourne play and their brutality, they force you to jump and force you to think: ‘Is that my ball? Or is that just a little bit too hot in tight and tough there where you know Viney is coming the other way?’” King told Fox Footy on Saturday
“This here says to me last night they just didn’t want to be there. They really weren’t up for the fight, the Brisbane Lions. That gap in the game, it permeated through the first quarter, he second quarter, the third quarter – it was over pretty early, but it was there all night.
“I’m nervous if I’m a Brisbane Lions fan right now as to where my troops are, where’s their headspace.”
There were fiery scenes throughout the match, particularly in the first half as multiple spotfires broke out between the two teams.
But St Kilda champion Nick Riewoldt labelled that “fake toughness” by Brisbane.
“They came out and it was all bluster and jumper-ripping and skirmishes. But when the ball was there to be won and when they were in those situations, they weren’t up for it,” Riewoldt told Fox Footy.
“They almost looked distracted because they’d wound themselves up so tight to be able to go out and compete. They couldn’t fire the same level of shots when it really mattered that Melbourne could.”
Brisbane will enter its fourth consecutive finals campaign, but this time from outside the top four after a patchy back-end to its season.
The Lions could also be without Cam Rayner and Noah Answerth, who are both facing one-week suspensions. Skipper Dayne Zorko is under the pump after an inappropriate sledge towards Demon Harrison Petty left the latter in tears.
King said the Lions haven’t looked like a genuine flag contender “for weeks”.
“I’ve been pretty critical of their backline – and that was exposed on Friday night,” King said.
“In the first half, the Demons scored at will. They had 26 inside 50s for 13 goals, I mean that just doesn’t happen against good teams
“If you can’t defend in big games – finals, pointy-end type games – that’s all she wrote for me.”