Essendon captain Brendon Goddard admits talk about whether they deserve to play in the annual AFL Anzac Day blockbuster has hit a nerve.
Goddard has dismissed the heightened speculation this week about how the Bombers will perform, given their heavy pre-season losses to Geelong and West Coast.
But Goddard did not appreciate Dennis Cometti’s comments earlier this month.
The veteran TV and radio commentator said contingency plans should have been in place for Essendon not to play against Collingwood at the MCG.
It is the biggest game of the season, outside the finals.
The doping bans for 12 players this season mean Essendon have needed 10 top-ups and there are growing concerns about the team’s prospects for 2016.
Goddard noted their Anzac Day match had become so big because of the work that the two clubs and people such as Kevin Sheedy had put into it.
“That was a little bit inappropriate … again, that’s his opinion,” Goddard said of Cometti.
“It was an initiative by Essendon and Collingwood.
“To think that someone is saying we don’t deserve to play in it because of the current situation is a little bit unfair.
“It did hit a bit of a nerve, to be honest – I did read that.”
Goddard said the players are well aware of the heightened commentary this week around Essendon.
“A lot of the guys are used to it, but it is about making (us) aware, particularly for the younger guys too,” he said.
“Just try to focus on what we can control.
“It’s only natural, considering what we’ve come off, too.”
Goddard said their 105-point loss to West Coast would have been far more worrying had Essendon played well.
“But our performance was well below par, particularly our skills, and West Coast are really good at hurting teams on the turnover and scoring off turnovers,” he said.
“There’s a lot to improve on; there’s no reason to be panicking or worrying too much.”
Goddard said the players had put a lot of work into gelling as a team, given 10 teammates joined the club so late in the pre-season.
“We’re doing a lot right and it’s coming together a little bit quicker than we predicted,” he said.
While the fallout from Essendon’s supplements saga continues, it is outside the team.
“It’s more of a familiar football landscape for a lot of us, whereas the last three or four years have obviously been quite unique and difficult circumstances,” Goddard said.
“Everyone within the AFL community – it’s better for everyone, knowing that we’re moving on.
“Although there’s not a definitive conclusion, we’re all moving on and putting it behind us.
“There is, I guess, a sense of relief that now we can just concentrate on footy.”
Goddard said Essendon knew exactly what they wanted from this season, with a focus on values and standards.
“I know they’re all cliches but, for a young group, the best thing is to simplify things.”