Essendon’s best-and-fairest ceremony passed with no word on skipper Jobe Watson’s AFL playing future.
The 31-year-old and the 11 other players serving doping suspensions weren’t present at the Crown Casino event on Wednesday night where Zach Merrett was the runaway Crichton Medal winner.
Watson is yet to inform the club if he intends to play on next year or retire after sitting out the 2016 season.
With time running out before important list management decisions are required, there was speculation the Bombers may use the season-ending club celebration to make an announcement on Watson’s future.
Instead, he wasn’t mentioned in speeches by coach John Worsfold – who noted all the players who had re-committed to the club – and chairman Lindsay Tanner and was only referred to him in passing throughout the evening.
Watson and Tayte Pears are the only banned players yet to confirm their intentions for next season.
Worsfold evoked the memory of boxing legend Muhammad Ali in his address, urging the Bombers to put their dismal season behind them.
Ravaged by the loss of the 12 players to doping suspensions, Essendon managed just three wins to claim the wooden spoon.
“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.”
Tanner told the gathering he was proud of the unity shown and progress made in the long recovery process after the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s January decision to uphold the doping bans stemming from the 2012 supplements program.
“We haven’t turned on each other,” Tanner 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.
Merrett, 20, finished 105 votes ahead of joint runners-up Joe Daniher and James Kelly and also won the best club man and best defensive player awards.