Essendon past and present

On the day that Kevin Sheedy was sacked as Essendon’s coach in 2007, I was in Paris.  It was four o’clock in the morning when I was awoken to the piercing sound of my phone ringing on my bedside table.  Looking at the screen, I was immediately startled.  It was my father.  Why would he be ringing at this hour? The good news was that my family was safe and sound.  The bad news was that my hero had been sacked. He would coach the rest of the season, but that would be it. At the time I was gutted.  I was appalled, furious, angry and upset.  I was sad.  I thought of the 24 years of my life to that point.  All of them were with Sheeds as the coach – all of them.  What the hell would life be like now?

From that moment on, life as an Essendon supporter has been a rollercoaster ride.  Later that year we said goodbye to Sheeds and Hirdy.  Then a new coach arrived with a daring, bold, attacking, kamikaze style of play that was as brilliant as it was shocking.  A year later we made the finals with only ten and half wins with pulsating victories againstCarlton, Collingwood and St Kilda to get there.  We then lost by a bigger margin than any other Essendon team in the history of the club had in a final.  Lucas retired and then Lloyd followed.  In 2010 we lead the reigning premier by nearly four goals in the second quarter of round one, only to have nine unanswered goals kicked against us.  We’ve beaten St Kilda, the Bulldogs, Hawthorn and Carlton, yet lost to West Coast and Port Adelaide.  This is the new Essendon.

Another slightly bizarre and wacky coach who is no stranger to success, Malcolm Blight, said from the Channel 10 commentary box on the weekend that Essendon at their best were very good, but if things didn’t go their way they completely fall apart. At 80 points down, I suspected he was onto something.  Blight’s comments reminded me again of another coach Sheeds used to do battle with in the ‘80’s – Allan Jeans.

Jeans used to say that his Hawthorn team of the 1980’s were so good because the gap between their best and their worst was very small.  When they were at their best they were brilliant.  When they were at their worst, they were still good.  Winning became their culture.

Which brings me to Bomber Thompson.  The three time premiership winning player, who captained the Baby Bombers to an inspired premiership in 1993 told fellow Essendon champion Tim Watson a few weeks ago that his Geelong team simply expected to win each game.  That was their culture.  He told Watson that’s what he knew at Essendon.  Only winning was accepted.  Only winning was expected.  He wanted to bring that culture he learnt at Essendon to Geelong.  And he has.

Which, bring me back to Sheedy.  His playing career was littered with team success.  Richmond of the late sixties and seventies were winners.  That’s just what they did – they won.  That became one of Essendon trade marks in the eighties, nineties and early 2000’s.  They didn’t always win, but they usually did.

Which, brings me to Knights.  Here’s hoping he doesn’t bring Richmond’s culture from the last 30 years to Essendon.

Next Sunday evening I’m attending the Essendon 2000 Premiership Team ten year reunion.  I’ll be heading along to reminisce with many other Essendon fans who will swear it seems like only yesterday that we boasted about how good we were and taunted other clubs to catch us if they could.  I’ll be clapping as Lloydy takes the stage.  I’ll be shouting loud as Scotty Lucas follows.  And then Wally, Wellman and Fletcher.  We’ll whistle for Smokin’ Joe, Longy and Barnard. Then I’ll be on my feet for Hirdy and Sheeds.  We’ll cheer for the whole team.

It was a golden year that virtually signalled the end of a golden era.  I wish I knew it at the time – I would’ve taken the next month off school to lap it up and savour the moment.  Who knows when it will happen again?

Before I attend the 10 year reunion I’ll be at the MCG, watching the current day Essendon take on the current day Melbourne.  I’ll be heading there with a mixture of hesitation and hope, looking for signs – any signs – that might provide me a glimmer of hope that this young Essendon team could one day replicate the feats of the 2000 team ten years ago.  As Sheeds told us at his farewell in 2007, “If you’re going to look back, don’t forget to then look forward and dream about what could be.”

About Sam Duncan

My name is Sam Duncan, a very passionte, slightly one eyed and mostly optimistic Essendon supporter. Originally from Yarrawonga, the home of the mighty Pigeons, I moved to Melbourne to go to Swinburne Universtiy in 2002. Feeling right at home as a uni student, I stayed for a long, long time, completing an undergraduate degree in media and communications, an Honours and Masters degree in the same field, and finally, a PhD in sport, media and cultural studies. I'm the author of 'Rolling with the Punches: Tales of an Aussie Traveller', lecturer in the Bachelor of Sports Media at Holmesglen and boundary rider for AFL Live. I love footy. I love Essendon. Go Bombers!

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