It would be overstating matters to say that Mark Neelds demise is due to the increasingly contentious contract extension of John Worsfold.
But, like Richmond of two years ago – who renewed Damien Hardwicks contract for two extra years on the eve of the season – the decision to hand Worsfold an additional two seasons narrowed Essendons choices, and has referred much of the pressure on to his support cast.
The Dons cannot remove Worsfold, having backed him in a biblical show of faith.
If they did move him on, it would rebound on the administration that made the call — costing a truck load of money, which would be counted in the soft cap for footy spending.
It was not – and is not – an option in 2018.
In the meantime, it has been increasingly evident – and particularly to about a million Essendon fans – that the Bombers are a) performing terribly and b) that their slump is not only due to a skinny and under-sized midfield that has not yet found a replacement for Jobe Watson.
The Dons are not playing the game the way the it should be played. They are not defending in the manner that virtually every team wants to defend — which is to get the ball in their front half and lock it in, Richmond-style. They defend from too deep, behind the ball.
This is not how they want to play. In hindsight, it was ominous that Worsfold called the players confused with the game plan following a pre-season loss.
Essendon had played finals last year on the back of a quick and often exhilarating method of ball movement, but which was never going to win finals.
Neeld had been brought to Essendon by Neil Craig, who knew the ex-Demons senior coach from their days at Melbourne.
Eventually, Neeld was given responsibility for the game plan and strategy in a role that was, in practice, covering for Worsfolds weakness.
Worsfold, a strong leader and people manager, has never been a highly tactical coach or one renowned for drilling a particular style of play.
When the Eagles fell down the ladder in 2008 following the drugs saga — and the loss of Chris Judd and Ben Cousins — they brought Phil Walsh in to the coaching panel.
Walsh was there to assist Worsfold in devising a game plan and in teaching the players to follow that plan. After falling down the ladder again in 2010, as the club rebuilt its culture, the Eagles rose up to the top four in 2011.
While Neeld and Worsfold are understood to have had a warm working relationship, it seems clear that the Dons inability to produce a modern game style has hurt Neeld, who is understood to have been informed on Monday that his position had been made redundant.
The clubs statement was somewhat conflicting with this, saying Neeld had been in conversations with them about his position for a couple of weeks. Essendon will not replace Neeld with another strategist during the season — it is not practical to do so mid-season.
But in time, the head of football Dan Richardson, who worked at Richmond in its premiership season and saw the benefits of changing Hardwicks assistants, will have to find an assistant who can help Worsfold, not so much in the box, but in teaching the players to play the way they must.
Worsfold, if he is to succeed, could well need to find someone of Phil Walshs ilk, since the Essendon coaching panel — despite Mark Harveys resume — doesnt have that person, or if it does, it isnt working.
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