Essendon’s bold goal of a top-four AFL finish by 2018 remains the priority for coach John Worsfold, despite their devastating CAS verdict.
Worsfold is confident that whatever happens to their 12 banned players, the Bombers can develop a strong team in three years.
Soon after Essendon appointed Worsfold last October, the club unveiled an ambitious strategy to become a top-four team by the final year of his three-year contract.
But that was before the CAS verdict in January, which upheld WADA’s appeal and meant 34 current and past Essendon players were found guilty of doping charges.
It meant the Bombers would be without 12 players, including many of their stars, for this season.
While Essendon appear to have recruited well with 10 replacements, no one is quite sure how the Bombers will perform this year.
“I can see both – I have a really clear picture of what our squad looks like with the 12 players coming back and how exciting that will be,” Worsfold told AAP.
“But I also know that if, for whatever reason, we don’t get them all back, that we still have a good balance within the group.
“(With) future drafts and trading, we can keep the list right up there.”
The 2006 West Coast premiership coach added that the top-four goal was only feasible if the squad had enough talent and was at the right demographic.
He said Essendon had a lot of good talent among their first- to third-year players and these would start hitting their straps around 2018.
“Talent alone is not enough – we’ve seen that with GWS and Gold Coast,” he said.
“We can hit that (demographic), in terms of age and experience, games played – we can have a really good blend in 2017-18 and beyond.”
Worsfold also will focus on development and performance this season – not one or the other exclusively.
“You don’t have to say ‘okay, Darcy Parrish has to play every week’ to say that he’s developing,” he said of the top-10 draft pick.
“He doesn’t necessarily develop quicker by playing more AFL footy – every player is different and you have to be careful.”
Worsfold noted the 10 replacement players deserved the opportunity to play to their potential.
Up to four of those will be in action on Sunday when Essendon play their first NAB Challenge match against Carlton at Ikon Park.
Worsfold used former Fremantle onballer Ryan Crowley as an example of a player who was determined to play in the AFL as much as possible this season.
“He wants to play AFL footy and he’s training like he wants to be in the team,” Worsfold said.
“I can’t then just say ‘well mate, you’re the best trainer and you’re in the best form, but I’m not going to pick you’.
“It’s unfair, it doesn’t work and it won’t create a great culture around here.
“Part of development is players fighting to earn their right to play AFL footy and not just be handed games – they have to show they’re up for it.”