As the beleaguered Essendon Football Club lurches from one disaster to another, their meek surrender at the hands of St Kilda simply must be a tipping point if they want to salvage something from the 2015 season.
Stats rarely lie and any which way you look at it, St Kilda methodically took apart Essendon piece by piece. They amassed 141 more disposals, had 23 more inside 50s and took a staggering 142 marks to the Bombers’ 71. It was a performance that stripped bare the deep-rooted problems at the club and for perhaps the first time, the club needs to start laying the bricks of a re-build with a view to 2016 and beyond if they are to have sustained success.
Socceroos head coach and master tactician Ange Postecoglou recently mused on Offsiders: “If you waste a year in sport, it takes three years to recover.” They are salient words and while originally applied to Carlton’s current plight, they are just as fitting for the Bombers at the moment. 2015 as a season may be a write-off finals wise for Essendon but they cannot afford to coast towards the end of the season.
So what do they do with the final nine games of the season? Putting it bluntly, there are more than few players that they need to trialled before the year is out.
Perhaps no other club in the league has so many middle-of-the-range types that are virtually unknown to those that don’t pay close attention to their list. It remains a mystery why so many players have been stockpiled rather than tested.
Bring up the names Jason Ashby, Alex Browne, Elliott Kavanagh, Lauchlan Dalgleigh, Will Hams, Shaun Edwards and Orazio Fantasia and you cannot conclusively make a judgement on their football futures. They have all had some senior time but never a sustained period playing AFL footy where you can make a proper judgement either way.
If the second half of 2015 is to be remembered for anything, it surely has to be the period where Essendon finally found out whether those seven players could cut it at senior level.
The duo of Jayden Laverde and Kyle Langford are still finding their feet in their inaugural year on an AFL list but they must too be given vital games in the coming weeks.
And what of Tayte Pears? A mainstay in Essendon’s side a few years ago, he’s slipped so far down the pecking order VFL coach Hayden Skipworth is currently playing him as a forward. He surely has to be a better option than James Gwilt who, while serviceable, was delisted by St Kilda for a very good reason.
It would be unfair to solely pin the unravelling of this season on the playing group and such, the coaches will come under heat in the coming weeks.
James Hird has probably taken up more column inches than most sporting stories in Australia and his future will most likely be decided at seasons end but as the club seemingly finds new lows to slump to each week, his position as senior coach looks rocky at best.
While Hird has rightly copped criticism this year, the wider coaching group has largely gone unnoticed by most. The likes of Mark Neeld, Neil Craig, Matthew Egan, Mark Harvey and Nathan Bassett must also take responsibility for what looks on the face of it an almost non-existent game plan.
If anything, some sort of rigid structure to accompany fresh faces in the coming weeks puts the wheels in motion for a fresh start next season. While not a full re-build, a re-alignment of an entire club seemingly in free fall surely is needed.
Essendon could do a lot worse than lower their colours, swallow their pride and take a look at how St Kilda approached the period after Scott Watters was sacked. One and a half seasons on and consistent recruitment both in the draft and in the trade period coupled by a strong culture has them seemingly on their way to a finals tilt in the coming years.
It speaks volumes that the Saints have had a crack at multiple premierships, re-built and now on the up again in the time Essendon has hovered around mid-table, making numerous short-term calls that has seen the club stagnate.
The modern game is a cunning beast that waits for no one. It is constantly moving and you cannot waste a season where others have used to either strengthen or begin the road to their next flag.
Before the season is out, the Bombers should have a crystal clear idea of who can cut it at the highest level while being in a position where they can trade their way into a stronger draft position.
With the long-winding ASADA investigation poised to wrap up before the 2016 season begins, the time is now to start looking towards the future.
Essendon’s 110-point loss was their seventh worst in their entire history and becomes a seminal moment for what is the third oldest list in the competition.
If the Bombers coast in the next nine games, the vicious cycle that has hampered the club for so long is destined to continue. The hard calls have to be made, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes senior figures at the club. If not, more unwanted history looms large for a once proud club.