Essendon’s young list won’t preclude them from going after free agents this year, with the club having the salary cap space to target a player.
New chief executive Craig Vozzo, previously a list manager and general manager of football at West Coast, said he didn’t agree with development windows for the timing of bringing in free agents, and that the club would chase any talented player in the free-agency market if the fit was right.
Essendon CEO Craig Vozzo.Credit:Justin McManus
“I don’t look at things like that (windows of contention). I look at where we’re at from a draft perspective and then where we’re at from a free agency perspective, so if you’ve got any opportunity you take it,” Vozzo said.
“It’s such an even comp, so if you’ve got an opportunity to improve your list by free agency, whether you’re a young developing list or a list that’s ready to contend, really good free agents, really good players, are very attractive in both scenarios.
“We’re in a reasonable position from a salary cap perspective – the list, itself, I see as being young and at the stage now of growth. So, we put a lot of effort into resourcing development within the coaching department.
“We’re looking forward to seeing that growth, particularly over our first 12 months, to work out where our current reality is, and then we’ll make list management decisions with that experience in mind.”
Vozzo said he was hopeful the club would first re-sign their own player coming into free agency this year – Darcy Parish.
North Melbourne key defender Ben McKay and St Kilda small forward Jade Gresham are the most high-profile of the non-Essendon free agents on the market this year.
In a wide-ranging interview since taking over as CEO of the club in January and ringing changes in the football department, Vozzo said the change to reporting lines for list manager Adrian Dodoro and football manager Josh Mahoney was not about de-escalating tensions between the pair.
Vozzo said the new structure, in which both men report to him, rather than Dodoro reporting to Mahoney as head of football, was not an interim measure, and he favoured it being the long-term reporting line.
While tensions and a disconnect between Mahoney and Dodoro have been widely reported, Vozzo said the structural change was not about personalities.
“I haven’t seen it. I assume there has been (conflict) in the past, obviously I wasn’t privy to it, but it’s been documented,” Vozzo said. “All I’ve seen is a very functional relationship in a work sense. It’s professional, and they go about their business in the best interest of the football club. That’s what I’m seeing.
“So I’m not seeing a day-to-day issue. I’m seeing one where we’re working cohesively in the best interest of footy club.
“There were a few reasons I changed the reporting structure. One, coming into the place what I noticed straight away, which is different to what I experienced when I was working as general manager of football (at West Coast), was just the quantum of the job. You’re overseeing four programs (AFL, VFL, AFLW, and VFLW) as general manager of football at the Essendon footy club.
Football chief Josh Mahoney and recruiting boss Adrian Dodoro.Credit:Getty Images
“So one of the aspects was additional resources and providing my support to the leaders of the department, particularly in my skill set. Obviously, having a list management and recruiting background, it felt like a natural fit to provide additional resourcing in that space with myself from the helicopter point of view.
“That doesn’t mean we’ve diminished Josh’s importance in terms of our list management and recruiting focus – he is an integral part of our list management committees and has full oversight, and a really important part of that … let’s build together with our TPP management as well.
“I don’t see it as an interim measure. It’s one that I’ve worked in the past as well. For instance, the senior coach reporting directly to the CEO is something that I’ve experienced over my entire time before here.
“It’s something that I’ve put in place for this season, with an intent in mind that it remains. And it’s something we’ll assess. We’re always looking to improve.”
Vozzo began at Essendon on January 16, replacing the stupendously short-lived Andrew Thorburn, and Xavier Campbell before that.
A lawyer from Adelaide, Vozzo’s practice expanded into player management before he was appointed list manager at West Coast. He was then promoted to GM of football before moving into senior commercial roles.
Essendon wanted a chief executive with a strong handle on football, and Vozzo’s first months have been heavily focused on the football department, where he has overseen significant investment in development coaching. Daniel McPherson was also hired from North Melbourne to oversee high performance operations.
“I spend a chunk of my time in football, no doubt, but I spend a lot of time on aspects of the commercial aspect of the business as well. What did I find coming in? I found what I expected in the sense of an excellent coach. I couldn’t be more impressed with Brad [Scott].
“One of the things coming into the role, people asked ‘Why? Why take this job?’ and one of the reasons was having a young and exciting list. We’ve got plenty of work to do, we’re at the early phases of growth with young talent.
Archie Perkins, Nik Cox and Zach Reid.Credit:Getty Images
“To see players, apart from your [Archie] Perkins and your [Jye] Caldwell, and [Zach] Reid and [Nik] Cox, but even players that have come through in different pathways a bit harder, so Nic Martin, coming through an SSP (supplementary list) selection, and Jye Menzie and Sam Durham.”
NOT SEEING POLITICAL DIVISIONS
After Kevin Sheedy, as a board member, spoke out upon the appointment of Brad Scott – that he was disappointed James Hird didn’t get the job as he had voted for Hird – it threw the political divisions at the club into open public glare.
Vozzo says he has not been witness to political divisions or hostility since his arrival.
“I’m just not seeing it,” he said. “Some people have asked me the question, and the difference between the old club (West Coast) and Essendon is just 150 years of history, and with that comes 150 years of people. So, there’s a lot more voices. I’m not seeing that as being political; just a lot more voices and additional amounts of passion, I guess.
“I guess one of my ambitions, as quickly as we can, is to have people just talking about our football team and the excitement about our players. That’s one of my objectives as quickly as I can.”
“Getting Paddy Ryder back in a professional sense, obviously with his experience and knowledge and what he can pass on to our players as an Indigenous mentor, is a big thing. But I guess messaging wise, that he was comfortable coming back to the football club, a club he represented for many years and obviously, there were issues when he left, it was a really pleasing thing that he made that decision to come back to the footy club.”
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