Eagles great raises questions over Essendon’s internal culture

Glen Jakovich has taken aim at Essendon, believing their off-field culture cost the club two star players in the 2020 trade period.

Joe Daniher (Brisbane), Orazio Fantasia (Port Adelaide) and Adam Saad (Carlton) all chose to depart following the club’s six-win campaign.

Jakovich has revealed that two of those three would have stuck with the Bombers had John Worsfold remained in his role as head coach.

“I just feel the off-field issues continue to linger on, they’re not on the same page from board to admin to players,” Jakovich told Sportsday WA.

“I do know that three of those players that left, two of them would have stayed if John Worsfold was still coach.

“I was told that individually, not by John, but by someone in Melbourne.

“I had a bit to do with two of them in the national academy program.

“A Daniher does not leave Essendon, why did he leave? Maybe one day we’ll find out. You don’t lose three A-graders like that.”

Essendon enters 2021 with a new coach in Ben Rutten and a new president in Paul Brasher, with Kevin Sheedy also returning to the club as part of the board.

Jakovich likes their list on paper, but feels off-field issues have held them back and may continue to do so.

“Something is amiss and it’s internally. From my intel over in Melbourne, there seems to be a lot of Essendon people that demand they play finals every year, but they don’t understand it’s a national competition,” he said.

“They’ve been building this list with no finals experiences or performances, so I think what makes them great off-field, their great histories and traditions, is their Achilles heel right now.

“Until they understand that and the AFL system, then I see them missing the eight again this year because there’s so many off-field issues regarding their administration, their board, their members are frustrated and that pressure hampered John Worsfold last year, you could see that.

“I went through their list last night and I’m just amazed this side has not played regular finals over the last couple of years.

“Their senior players are really strong, they have been struggling with a few injuries.

“Three A-graders left the club and I think what makes Essendon so great is their biggest downfall. They’ve got a big history and a lot of tradition and I think they rely too much on that.

“They haven’t won a final since 2003 … they need to get their off-field issues in order and I’m not talking about what happened in the past, I don’t even want to bring it up what happened in 2012, but I just feel the place is unsettled.

“It needs the players now to step up and perform in their own environment. There’s a lot of pressure on them.

“They’ve got a great list here that I think can play finals football, but they keep missing out.”

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Adrian Dodoro lifts the lid on Essendon’s draft strategy

Essendon list boss Adrian Dodoro has explained why the club opted to take four key position players in this year’s National Draft.

The Bombers had three picks inside the top 10 of Wednesday night’s draft, presenting them with a golden opportunity to refresh the club’s list after a 13th-place finish in 2020.

Dodoro drafted the athletic Nik Cox with pick eight, midfielder/forward Archie Perkins with pick nine and versatile defender Zach Reid with pick 10.

While also recruiting Next Generation Academy pair Cody Brand and Josh Eyre – who are also key position players – Dodoro said it was crucial the club replenished their tall stocks as the likes of Michael Hurley and Cale Hooker enter the twilight of their careers.

“That’s an interesting one,” Dodoro told SEN’s Dwayne’s World when asked if the club recruited too many tall players.

“If you look at the demographics of our list, you see that we have a number of spine players that are probably coming to the latter part of their careers and we have to look to the future.

“This draft was about the future of our club and doing the right thing about our club, in the next two or three years we’ll be turning over the majority of that spine and there will be a brand new spine.

“We’ve lost Joe Daniher, we’ve lost Tom Bellchambers so we’re already a couple of men down in that area so we wanted to own this draft this year in term of the talls.

“You talk about being too tall, a guy like Nik Cox is 200cm but he can play on the ball, it’s not like he’s a key position forward who doesn’t have agility, he’s actually a really nimble young man and very exciting.

“Archie Perkins will play in the midfield and when you have a kid like Zach Reid that’s available at 203cm … you see the forwards like the King brothers who are coming through, it’s a no-brainer and you need to plan for the future.

“Then our other two boys are NGA players that were later in the draft, people may think (we took too many tall players in the draft), but we certainly think we can settle on our talls and look to other areas in the next few years.”

Essendon will be hoping their trio of top 10 draft talent will provide the catalyst for an improved season in 2021 under head coach Ben Rutten, who takes the job outright for the first time after sharing the coaching duties with John Worsfold last season.

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Matt Rendell delivers his snap verdict on Essendon’s trio of picks

Essendon came into the 2020 National Draft under the microscope given they had three picks inside the top 10.

With those selections, the Bombers took key position utility Nikolas Cox out of the Northern Knights, midfielder Archie Perkins out of Sandringham and key defender Zach Reid out of Gippsland.

Before the draft, veteran AFL recruiter Matt Rendell stated that nailing this draft could set up the Bombers’ next premiership.

Following their picks, Rendell gave his analysis saying he did not expect them to select two talls.

“They’ve lost key position players, they’ve got Michael Hurley at 30 plus, so they’re bringing in a key back and Cox who could be a key forward and another gun midfielder,” Rendell told SEN’s trade coverage.

“I probably would have gone the next mid like a Tanner Bruhn in front of Reid because we know they’ve got Cody Brand an Academy player later in the draft who’s a key back and I rated him around pick 15 to 17.

“They’ve also got Josh Eyre as a key forward coming in, so this is going to give them four talls and one mid which is going to be fantastic, but that’s going to take a little bit of time.

“That’s going to take three or four years before you see the fruition from those picks.

“If I was them I probably would have gone the mid instead of Reid, but they’ve still picked three very good players, but they’re probably not going to get a heap out of them next year besides Archie.

“It’s a patience draft for them. In three years you’re going to have every key position covered.”

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Essendon’s four takeaways from club review

Essendon president Paul Brasher has revealed the four major themes to emerge from the club’s recent review.

Speaking on SEN’s Whateley on Wednesday morning, Brasher says the review sought feedback from a sample of 40 people from the club and within the broader football business, allowing for anybody with strong views on the direction of the club to be heard.

Ultimately, Basher believes much of the feedback boiled down to four key themes.

“One of them is about the brand. We’ve been hearing a bit from outside the club anyway on what does the club stand for? What’s its brand? What’s its vision? What’s the style of play look like? How do we know what Essendon looks like on and off the field? That would be the first one,” Brasher said.

“The second would be around standards and accountabilities. If you look at what their (John Worsfold and Ben Rutten) particular styles are, there’s a spectrum that has player empowerment at one end and absolute rigid standards and accountability at the other. John’s a bit more the empowerment end whereas Ben’s more towards the standards end. We think moving forward we need much clearer standards of accountability.

“The third is around honesty and connection, and that’s the ability to give and receive constructive feedback which in turn means having relationships between all parties involved that allow them to take it and give it the way it’s intended.

“And the fourth one is around player leadership and development of players. You know, not too many clubs get a Luke Hodge, but we’re looking to recruit more people with obvious leadership skills and more importantly we’ll be developing our existing players and getting them to the point of being very, very strong leaders.

Brasher reinstated his belief that if the club can achieve these four themes, the primary focus will be accomplished.

“Our number one objective is to win premierships,” Basher said.

“So if you start with that and work your way down in terms of what it means for behaviors, what it means in terms of game style, you start to get a cohesive picture that says we’re really focused on just that.”

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AFL 2020 | Better leadership, game style, less player power: Essendon’s football department review

“I think the most important finding was that the players don’t think the club is in absolute chaos, that they actually thought it’s exaggerated but there are a lot of issues to deal with,” Brasher told The Age.

“They love Ben as a person and a coach. They think he’s going to be a good coach when he’s given his own free hand with the team and they’re looking forward to next year.”

Brasher said there were four areas of concern that the review had addressed: defining what the club stood for, a recommendation to reduce player empowerment and demand minimum standards instead; a need to improve feedback and leadership in the playing group, providing support for skipper Dyson Heppell.

Brasher said the players wanted a more consistent and recognisable game style.

“Just understanding exactly what it is – you know, we’re not Richmond, we’re not some other team. We need to understand the game style that’s going to work for us and be able to communicate that to our players, but also to our members and our fans.

“They (players) want more probably consistency in game style and, you know, better able to recognise it rather than having it just play out on the field, you’re not quite sure how to define it.”

The review said Rutten would be suited to a system that demanded standards and accountability from players and that he needed to avoid mixed messages.

Essendon and president Paul Brasher.Credit:The Age

“The four big areas we would worry about are identifying what we stand for as a club, as a footy team. We need to get better at that,” said Brasher, who sat in on all the interviews with staff and players, in a review sparked partly by Adam Saad’s exit (to Carlton), which the club saw as more consequential than the expected departures of Joe Daniher, Orazio Fantasia and Conor McKenna.

“Getting the balance right between empowerment – we’ve probably gone too far in the direction of empowerment – bringing that balance back more to minimum standards and accountability and that’s going to play more to Ben’s natural style of coaching.

“Tough feedback – being able to give and receive constructive feedback, we haven’t been very good at it, and we need to get better and it’s got to be consistent, that all the coaches are the same, players can give and receive it.

“And the leadership thing, that we need to be better at bringing in leaders, identifying them, developing them and selecting them into the group.

“More support for Dyson, who’s, you know, he’s a clear stand out leader at the moment.”

Brasher said there were “fantastic” potential leaders in the 20-23-year old group at the club. “We need to help them to develop it.”

In the summary to members, Brasher said: “We must be clear on how we play and what we stand for” and restated that the club’s “overriding objective” was winning.

Brasher told The Age the review found Rutten had to be clear in his messaging.

“The finding on Ben was that he needs to be clear that he’s responsible for the team and be very clear in his feedback, make sure there were no mixed messages from other coaches, people in the club, he’s going to control the whole narrative for the players.


“The one concern is that he doesn’t take on too much and, you know, run himself ragged trying to do everything, because his natural inclination will be to say ‘I’m in control of this club now and I’m going to take it forward.’ So we need to make sure we give him the right support.”

In the summary for members, Brasher said the players “wanted to be pushed hard in training”, adding feedback would be improved by prioritising “relationships and connectedness” amongst coaches and players, which was “an important criteria in the appointment of (ex-Bulldogs assistant) Daniel Giansiracusa.”

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Essendon’s trade demands for Fantasia revealed

Essendon has asked Port Adelaide to part with their 2021 first round pick if they want to secure Orazio Fantasia, according to SEN Chief Sports Reporter Sam Edmund.

The 25-year-old small forward, who is out of contract at the end of next year, has signalled his intention to leave the club and head back to Port Adelaide and his home state of South Australia.

Edmund is now reporting that the Bombers are hellbent on securing Port Adelaide’s future first round pick in the deal, with another pick going back to the Power.

“Port Adelaide has offered their pick 28 (for Fantasia) which ends up going out to the 30s and Essendon are not happy with that in a weak draft,” he said on AFL Trade Radio’s Trade Afternoons.

“They’re saying that 28 will not get it done, so the Bombers want a future first and they’ll give something back.

“That’s where that one is at right now.”

Essendon list boss Adrian Dodoro confirmed to AFL Trade Radio earlier in the week that Port Adelaide’s pick 28 “wasn’t appealing” to the club.

“It’s incumbent upon them to come to us at this point in time,” Dodoro said.

“Pick 28 is something that’s going to blow out into the mid-30s in this draft so it’s not something that’s appealing to us.

“(Orazio) knows he has a contract and he’s happy to come back and have a great year here next year.”

Fantasia played five games in 2020 because of persistent soft-tissue injuries on the back of featuring for the club on 15 occasions in 2019.

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Rendell’s analysis of Essendon’s list

Matt Rendell is undertaking a series of List Analyses on AFL Trade Radio.

On Monday afternoon, he dug into Essendon’s prospects, after a calamitous end to their season was followed by a handful of players heading for the exits.

“Nothing is as bad as it seems, and nothing is as good as it seems,” Rendell said.

The long-time recruiter believes the Bombers’ prospective midfield acquisitions will prove transformative.

“They are in front of the game, Dodoro is, with (Jye) Caldwell,” Rendell claimed.

“Josh Dunkley as well. They’ve been looking for a big inside mid for ages, and he’s the player.

“Throw those two in the midfield with (skipper Dyson) Heppell, Dylan Shiel, Darcy Parish, Devon Smith, Kyle Langford, Zach Merrett and Andrew McGrath? That’s a pretty damn good midfield, I reckon.”

Rendell identified the Dons’ forward line as lacking height.

“They’ve got (James) Stewart, Harrison Jones who is a kid and might play a handful of games tops, and (Jake Stringer) at 191cm, not really a key forward,” he said.

Rendell highlighted small and running defenders as another hole in the Dons’ list, with Adam Saad bound for Carlton and Conor McKenna having returned to Ireland.

Veteran pillars Michael Hurley and Cale Hooker are surrounded by medium defenders in Mason Redman, Jordan Ridley and Matt Guelfi.

“I can’t see a player who is going to play on the small forwards for the opposition,” he said.

“Do they need to get Neville Jetta for a year? He can help them out for a year while they try to find someone.”

If they play their cards right, Rendell forecasts a swift bounce for Ben Rutten’s men.

“If they pull off these trades, and they get another good kid in the draft, they could seriously give the eight a nudge again next year.”

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Essendon’s Adam Saad officially requests AFL trade to Carlton in massive blow for Bombers

Dashing Essendon defender Adam Saad is set to join his third AFL club after nominating Carlton as his destination of choice.

Saad, who has played 61 games for the Bombers after 48 at Gold Coast, is out of contract and is in the process of informing Essendon of his wish to leave.

The 26-year-old averaged a career-high 18.9 disposals per game this season despite the shortened game length, and his likely departure is another big blow to Essendon’s hopes of turning around a poor 2020.

The Bombers have already lost fellow rebounding defender Conor McKenna to retirement, while free agent Joe Daniher and forward Orazio Fantasia could also be on the move.

Daniher has been heavily linked to the Brisbane Lions, while Fantasia could return home to South Australia despite being contracted for 2021.

Saad is set to earn a five-year deal at Carlton, assuming a trade with Essendon can be done.

The Bombers are likely to request Carlton’s first-round draft pick.

“We put forward a significant offer to Adam and we are disappointed in his decision to pursue a playing future elsewhere,” Essendon’s recruiting manager Adrian Dodoro said

“Although we wish Adam all the best, he is not a free agent and therefore a suitable trade will need to be forthcoming from Carlton. Clearly, there is an expectation of compelling compensation for a player of Adam’s calibre.”

Essendon missed finals in 2020 and will have serious gaps to fill before 2021.(AAP: Darren England)

Saad’s decision is another big boost for the Blues, who have also attracted GWS free agent Zac Williams.

Meanwhile, Jackson Hately is the latest player to want out of the Giants, with the midfielder requesting a trade to Adelaide.

Taken at pick 14 in the 2018 draft, Hately is determined to return to his home state and has picked the Crows as his desired club.


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Essendon’s Conor McKenna to head home after parting shot at media

But in an interview with the ABC, he lashed out at football media, claiming he was treated “like a piece of meat”.

McKenna was particularly disturbed by sections of the media appearing to medically assess footage of him clearing his nose at training.

“They’re not specialised in that so I don’t understand why they’d speak about that,” he said.

“Speak about what you know. If you don’t know anything, don’t speak about it.”

The 24-year-old also said late on Tuesday that he might be back at Essendon in the future.

“Hopefully at some stage I might be able to come back out,” he told the club’s website.

“I’m not really sure, I could go home and in two years’ time I might want to come back and play AFL.

“I don’t think the book’s fully closed yet. I might be able to come back and maybe hit the 100 (games) mark, but at this stage it’s over.”

McKenna did not want to take part in the Bombers’ final two games of the home-and-away season.

Sources at Essendon said he had been miserable with homesickness for several weeks.

“I do really feel the time is now right for me to return home to Ireland,” McKenna said.

“I’ve made no secret of the fact that at some point, I’d want to be returning home to my family and I’ve been weighing up the decision recently. It’s been a difficult year for everyone, but it’s also been a chance to take stock and weigh up several things in my life, so the time is right.

“I will always be grateful for Essendon’s support of both myself and my family since I arrived at the club from the other side of the world at the end of 2014.”

The defender became a key part of John Worsfold’s team during his 79 games, using his dash and creativity across half-back.


He was at the centre of controversy earlier in the year when he became the first AFL player to test positive to COVID-19.

Consequently, this season’s match between Essendon and Melbourne was postponed.

An investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services found that only teammate James Stewart was a close contact of McKenna. Both were forced to quarantine.

The club’s general manager of football Dan Richardson said McKenna and the club had open and honest conversations over the years about the possibility of him returning home.

“We understand Conor’s decision to return home to be with his family and while we are disappointed to lose a player of his calibre from our list, he departs the club with our support to return to his homeland,” Richardson said.

“It has been a very trying year for Conor personally, too, but ultimately we accept that the pull to return home was too strong. We will continue to provide our full support to Conor as he embarks on the next phase of his life.

“We thank Conor for his contribution to the club and wish both he and his family all the very best for their future endeavours.”

Club sources confirmed McKenna was likely to again play Gaelic football when he returned to Ireland.

McKenna represented local club Eglish during his off-season break late in 2019 without informing the club.

At the time, it prompted Worsfold to admit he was “really disappointed” with him.

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Essendon’s Conor McKenna retires from AFL and will head back to Ireland

Essendon’s Conor McKenna has retired from the AFL with immediate effect after the call of his Irish homeland became too strong.

McKenna has had a horrid 2020, testing positive for COVID-19 after returning to Australia, reluctantly, from Ireland when the AFL season went into shutdown.

He was forced into isolation for a third time having already done two stints, one in Ireland and another on his return to Australia. McKenna managed just six games in 2020.

He’d indicated he was highly unlikely to stay in the AFL beyond this season, and the 24-year old, who has played 79 games since his 2015 debut, told his teammates on Tuesday morning the “time was right” to go home.

“I’ve made no secret of the fact that at some point I’d want to be returning home to my family, and I’ve been weighing up the decision recently. It’s been a difficult year for everyone, but it’s also been a chance to take stock and weigh up several things in my life, so the time is right,” McKenna said.

“I will always be grateful for Essendon’s support of both myself and my family since I arrived at the club from the other side of the world at the end of 2014.

“I will miss my teammates and coaches, and I want to thank the Bomber fans for their support across the journey too. I will always wish the boys well and hope they see success in the not-too-distant future.”

Essendon football manager Dan Richardson said the club understood McKenna’s decision.

“While we are disappointed to lose a player of his calibre from our list, he departs the club with our support to return to his homeland,” Richardson said.

“In recent years, we’ve had very open and honest conversations with Conor, and his desire to return back home to Ireland has been no secret.

“It has been a very trying year for Conor personally, too, but ultimately we accept that the pull to return home was too strong. We will continue to provide our full support to Conor as he embarks on the next phase of his life.

“We thank Conor for his contribution to the club and wish both he and his family all the very best for their future endeavours.”

McKenna was recruited by Essendon in late 2014 as a category B rookie from County Tyrone, Ireland. He went on to make his debut against Richmond in round 22, 2015 at the MCG, kicking a goal with his first kick in the AFL.

He was named in the AFLPA’s 22Under22 side in 2018 and placed fourth overall in the club’s Crichton Medal in 2019 behind Zach Merrett.

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