Essendon CEO Xavier Campbell has thanked outgoing senior coach John Worsfold for his role in keeping the playing group united during one of the club’s most challenging periods in history.
Worsfold, who led the Eagles to two premierships as captain and one as coach, will coach his 107th and final game for the Bombers against Melbourne on Saturday.
It will end a five-season reign at Essendon that began in 2016 when 12 players were banned for the season in the wake of the supplements saga.
Speaking in two-part Dons Digital feature Honouring Woosha, Campbell said the club’s situation could have entered dangerous territory if not for Worsfold’s steadying influence.
“2016 was a strange year. It was heartbreaking at the start. The emotions at that point were hard to describe, and It’s hard to articulate what we were feeling,” Campbell said.
“For ‘Woosha’, it was only two-and-a-half months into his tenure (when the player bans were handed out) … It’s unfathomable to think about what he actually had to take on, and I probably only think of it now and reflect on how challenging it was.
“We thought it (Worsfold appointment) was going to be a decision about managing the group with a fair bit of relief, but a need to align because it was a group that had been through such a unique and challenging situation, but then it became the most extreme of circumstances.
“John was incredibly calm and a great right-hand man. He was incredibly helpful at the time. He had that steady hand, and he was unflappable. He cared, and he worked hard to balance the football piece and purpose with that care.”
The Bombers regained the majority of their banned players in 2017; an emotion-fuelled season that saw them rebound stunningly to a finals berth.
Campbell revealed just how challenging it was for the club to keep its playing list together prior to 2017, crediting Worsfold for his tireless work behind the scenes.
“Moving into 2017 and bringing the group back together, that was much harder than what people think. That was difficult, incredibly difficult … John was able to bring some glue to build it all together, and it’s been incredibly valuable for us,” he said.
Ben Rutten will strive to build on those foundations when he officially takes the reins as senior coach after Saturday’s clash as part of Essendon’s coaching succession plan.
Campbell said Worsfold’s wisdom and selflessness had helped steel Rutten for the challenges ahead.
“The job is harder than you think going into it. There’s just things you didn’t know, and pressures you haven’t experienced before,” he said.
“John has been able to present a buffer and perspective for Ben this year. At different points where there’s a fork in the road, they’ve been able to discuss which way to go and why. John hasn’t necessarily said ‘Go this way’ and just forced Ben; he’s helped him to understand which of the different options might exist. I know Ben will be a better coach for that.”
Stay tuned for part two of Honouring Woosha on Friday, as captain Dyson Heppell sheds light on what Worsfold is like behind the scenes, and the impact he’s had on the players.