Sport AFL Peter Schwab: The curious case of Essendon and the ‘circuit-breaking decision’
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Peter Schwab: The curious case of Essendon and the ‘circuit-breaking decision’

mark neeld 2014
Mark Neeld was appointed back in 2014. Photo: Getty
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In 2018, Essendon were expected to be good. Some even thought they were a top-four chance and a premiership threat.

But last week they could not beat a team who were winless.

They could say they kicked badly and that may have cost them, but Carlton, the team everyone knows is rebuilding from the ground up, beat them.

It was a result that was unacceptable to Essendon fans and the club themselves.

Something had to happen to change where they were heading in 2018 and on Monday, something was done.

Mark Neeld, the game performance manager and right-hand man to senior coach John Worsfold left the club.

It was reported that this was Neeld’s choice and we are left to believe whatever we want about his departure and why it occurred.

The reality, for me, is the Bombers needed to make what I would call a circuit-breaking decision – a decision to try and kick-start change in the coaching of this team and club.

Essendon will hope the decision lets everyone know that what is happening will not be accepted and that things must change.

Essendon’s playing list must take a fair part of the blame for the mediocrity of its performances this season.

The talent is on the list, as shown with wins over Adelaide and Port Adelaide, each expected to play finals this year.

But the club’s game plan, to the observer, which ultimately is measured by what we see on the field each week, is simply not cutting it in the modern game.

You can watch teams like Hawthorn or Sydney every week and know what they are trying to do.

Alastair Clarkson and John Longmire’s teams have a brand of football. You can’t say that about Essendon.

Worsfold said it himself in his press conference after the defeat to Carlton, admitting: “We need to work out what we stand for.”

I am told that Neeld went because there was a sense he was blocking the input of others and that the coaching staff assembled around the playing group were finding it difficult to have the necessary input into how the team played.

If this is true, then Worsfold, as the ultimate person in charge, allowed it to happen.

For what reasons, we can only guess. Hopefully it was not due to a lack of faith in his coaching staff.

While Worsfold is responsible for how the team plays, it is foolish and impossible to suggest one person in elite sporting teams can do it all.

And as for the reports about the lack of freedom given to coaches in the box on match day, I can tell you they are curious places to be in.

You are removed from contact with players altogether during the game and this makes it feel, at times, that you are isolated and unable to influence a match.

The box is filled up with many people, all with different roles, all seeing the game from their designated area of responsibility yet all connected to a singular goal.

The role of a head coach is crucial in this environment.

They set the mood and tone but the best ones allow the variety of ideas and suggestions to flow before ultimately selecting the information they will act upon in the heat of battle.

And while teams who win usually have the most talent, they normally have a head coach and a coaching panel who have ingrained a system of play into the club that everyone believes in.

If followed, this often brings them success.

The challenges keep coming for Essendon, who play the in-form Geelong at the MCG on Saturday night.

Everyone needs to be on the same page if they are to pull off an upset victory.

Peter Schwab played 171 VFL/AFL matches for Hawthorn from 1980 to 1991, winning three premierships. He later served as Hawthorn coach, AFL National Umpiring director, AFL Match Review Panel chairman and Brisbane Lions list manager

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