I hope you are all keeping safe and well.
It has certainly been a busy period for everyone at the club as preparations and planning continue ahead of the 2021 season.
In recent weeks, there have been a number of developments which I believe will be hugely significant to the future of our club.
The most recent and spectacular has been the conclusion of the AFL trade period, from which we have emerged in a very strong position. We will be welcoming to the club Peter Wright, Jye Caldwell and Nick Hind, all of whom will be ready to make an immediate impact.
We were delighted that Josh Dunkley wanted to come to Essendon. He is an exceptional young man and we wish him the very best for the future. Unfortunately a deal could not be done, but the good news is that we will now enter the national draft with picks 6, 7 and 8 and we have not sacrificed our ability to access top talent in the 2021 draft. We have the opportunity to recruit some outstanding players who will reap rewards for this club for years to come. Adrian Dodoro and his team deserve great credit for that.
Last week, we welcomed the announcement of a $6.28 million funding commitment from the Victorian State Government to support the expansion of the NEC Hangar. This will deliver the club an integrated elite and community sporting precinct, a new Hall of Fame and museum and enhanced facilities for our VFL/VFLW teams and Next Generation Academy.
In terms of our football program, the football staff, including coaches, will have a very different look as we move into 2021:
- Ben Rutten has taken control of the team as our senior coach and is already bringing his strong leadership style to bear. I am sure you will be impressed as you come to see more of Ben in coming weeks and months.
- We are working to provide Ben with every support necessary for him to be successful, as part of which we are in the process of recruiting a new general manager of football.
- We have further strengthened our coaching panel with the appointment of Daniel Giansiracusa, who was named the 2020 AFL Coaches’ Association Assistant Coach of the Year.
As you know, over the last fortnight I have undertaken more than 40 interviews with a cross-section of players, coaches and staff as part of a post-season football review. I was assisted in these interviews by our football director Sean Wellman and fellow directors Simon Madden and Kevin Sheedy.
The changes mentioned above, while they were in train prior to completion of the interviews, are all important in addressing some of the issues arising during the review. Importantly, there have not been any major surprises to have come from the review, but there are several themes relating to specific areas within our program that have been identified for improvement.
There were two very positive themes coming through consistently from the interviews with players:
- Strong positivity and excitement for the 2021 season.
- Overwhelming support for Ben Rutten as our senior coach.
At the same time, there were plenty of areas in which we need to get better to a greater or lesser extent.
As I am sure you will understand, I am not going to go into a lot of detail on comments coming out of the interviews, but let me give you an idea of what I believe are some of the most important and/or consistent themes:
Essendon brand, identity and winning culture
A desire to better understand what we stand for as a club and a football team is a theme I have been hearing from our members and it came through in some of the interviews as well. We need to be clearer on what the Essendon brand stands for. We will be addressing this as a club to ensure that our brand and our identity are clearly defined.
Critically, there will be no ambiguity about the fact that our overriding objective is winning - winning games, winning finals, and particularly winning premierships. I know that sounds like we are stating the obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be taped to our wrists so that none of us ever lose sight of that.
We must be clear on how we play and what we stand for. Our identity is important to our coaches and players and we know our members want to see a clear and identifiable culture, game style and approach to how we play.
When you hear from Ben in coming weeks you will discover this is something he is passionate about.
Standards and accountabilities
There have been conflicting philosophies in this regard within our coaching program: empowerment/own your career vs. uncompromising demands on standards and accountabilities. It is clear the empowerment approach didn’t work well with this group in this environment. Going forward, everybody, not just the players but everybody in the entire club, will be in no doubt about the standards required and will be held accountable for meeting those standards. This will be a major focus area for the coaches and for the new general manager of football.
Honesty and connection
Our players want to be pushed hard in training. They want to have high expectations placed upon them and they want to receive strong, honest and constructive feedback on their performance. The foundation for this is care and strength in relationships. It is important to acknowledge that prioritising relationships and connectedness amongst the coaches and the playing group is critical to achieving this. This was one of the important criteria in the appointment of Daniel Giansiracusa.
Player leadership and development
There will be more focus and emphasis put on recruiting, selecting and developing leaders now and for the future. The playing list already has a very strong group of young players with great leadership potential, but there is a need to invest further in this area. We will be reviewing the scope and content of our leadership development programs, with assistance from one of Australia’s leading high-performance psychologists, Cliff Mallett.
Development more broadly, both in terms of mental resilience and player skills, will continue to have increased focus.
Additionally, our head of high performance Sean Murphy will be charged with taking the group physically to the next level. While we are unfortunately saying goodbye to a great lead physiotherapist in Dave Rundle, who is leaving for family reasons, we are welcoming back Bruce Connor, another top-rated physiotherapist who worked with us some years ago and has more recently been part of the Hawthorn high-performance team.
These are just a few of the main themes coming out of our interviews. There are numerous elements to each of them which we will get right and which will make a big difference to what you will see from our team in 2021.
Equally important, we will do everything possible to put the best possible resources and support around Ben, the coaching panel and the football department more broadly.
The detailed outputs from our review will be our constant roadmap as we work towards and through 2021. To the extent that they relate to coaching, Ben will benefit greatly from having the ability to call upon mentoring from Kevin Sheedy. In addition, the extent to which we make progress against the various recommendations will be regularly monitored by our football director Sean Wellman, and will be one of the factors to which the Board will have regard in assessing performance next year.
The insights from the review will also help to shape the attributes we will be seeking in our next general manager of football. We will put weight on the specific skills that we feel will best position the club to deliver on these insights and deliver success for the program.
There is no doubt that a significantly reduced football department soft cap in 2021 will make things challenging for all clubs. We think we are well positioned in terms of how we are prioritising the reduced spend, but will continue to review this to ensure we are giving our team the best possible chance to achieve on-field success.
We will now be judged on our actions and will be accountable to the plans we put in place to address these areas for improvement.
Thank you for your continued support of the red and black.