Essendon coach John Worsfold has evoked the memory of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, urging the Bombers to put their dismal AFL season behind them.
Ravaged by the loss of 12 players to doping suspensions, Worsfold’s side managed just three wins to claim the wooden spoon.
In his address to the club’s best-and-fairest ceremony on Wednesday night at Crown Casino, Worsfold said Essendon could learn from the challenges faced by Ali during his career as they looked to climb back up the ladder.
“In 2016, the world lost Muhammad Ali, a man with an incomparable work ethic and a fearlessness for standing up for his beliefs,” Worsfold said.
“A man who was arrested, stripped of his titles and exiled from his sport for three years – three of his prime years – but then he took part in what was billed as the ‘Fight of the Century’ with Joe Frazier and he lost.
“But then he made a comeback and is recognised as one of the greatest athletes of all time.
“Barack Obama said of Muhammad Ali: ‘he’s a man who believes real success comes when we rise after we fall’.
“Though not identical, there’s some lessons we can learn there.”
None of the banned players was present at the ceremony as they served the last weeks of their penalties.
Club chairman Lindsay Tanner told the gathering he was proud of the progress made in the long recovery process after the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) January decision to uphold the doping bans stemming from the 2012 supplements program.
“We’ve come to the end of an extremely challenging season, one that is unique in AFL history,” Tanner said.
“We all know why and I don’t intend to revisit the causes tonight. The events of the past few years have been very serious for Essendon Football Club, our members and particularly for the players involved. The effects will be with us for some time.
“On that awful day in mid-January when the CAS decision was handed down, my message was very simple: ‘We will get through this’.
“We can now take stock at the end of an extraordinary season. The recovery process is by no means over, but we have made great progress.”
Despite his earlier assertion, Tanner couldn’t resist one small dig at CAS as he praised the unity and resilience of the players and club.
“We haven’t turned on each other,” he said.
“We haven’t been distracted by the temptation to publicly re-fight the CAS decision – outrageous though it may have been.”
The banned players are allowed to return to the club in September and are awaiting the verdict of their appeal to a Swiss court.