Round 21 – Gold Coast Suns v Essendon: Family Time


Since the birth of our son on June 30 (three weeks early. An ‘End of Fin Year Special’ if ever there was one) My attendance at Essendon games has been less frequent than usual, with the lounge room couch and a Foxtel subscription providing adequate compensation.


This particular piece of furniture is significant as my wife spent a decent amount of time seeking comfort within it during her early stages of labour. After watching our defeats to the Saints, Bulldogs and Adelaide, I found myself musing out aloud whether I have actually endured more pain. We agreed to disagree on that one.


So I turned on the TV on for the Gold Coast game primarily out of habit and also through ritual. My Dad claims that my first game was away at Arden street in 1984 as a two and half year old. Such habits are hard to break.


This, of course, was Essendon’s first game since the axing of James Hird. Despite being the centre of an unprecedented AFL story that has enveloped more column inches and talkback radio than a Shane Warne-hosted, Pete Evans-catered, Adam Goodes-attended, Alan Jones-covered dinner party, Jimmy boy was undone by that ‘meat and potatoes’ scourge of a coach’s career: bad results.


And weren’t they bad? What started as a season of epic defiance and tomfoolery turned into one of battling mediocrity before the bottom finally fell out against the Saints in Round 14. Since then it has been a matter of counting down the weeks for Essendon fans. Although I knew Hird wouldn’t last, I thought he would be kept until the WADA appeal was done…though now I’m not really sure why I thought that..


The tears from Hird at his final press conference flowed as he talked about his journey at Essendon, his grandfather and father’s history at the Club and the affect of the saga (and his decisions) on his family. To me, the moment was a final (or, more likely, a first) realisation that his childhood obsession – to play for, then captain, then coach Essendon – was over. Not only was it over, but it ended in failure. A massive failure. A failure he could no longer try and recover from. The thought that he has played a key role in that failure doesn’t bear thinking about for him. That’s partly the problem.


As he spoke about his family’s legacy, which he knew was now tainted (whatever you believe has happened, that is a fact) I wondered if he thought of his father. I read a while ago that they were estranged and though I’d be a fool to guess what their situation is currently, I didn’t get the feeling that he was standing at the back of the room. I also thought of David Evans and how, at face value, he seemed to be a mentor who provided a calming influence. That relationship, by all reports, is no longer. Just another sad, sorry chapter.


But with a game to be played and a season to be finished, the Bombers packed their boots while Hirdy tossed his pot plant and name plate into his cardboard box.  Awaiting them on the Gold Coast were the Suns, a team with their own problems and whose coach, Rodney Eade, must often feel like the father who volunteered to take the kids away for a poolside holiday, only to spend his days at theme parks and all-you-can-eats and nights in emergency rooms and 24-hour clinics.


From my horizontal viewpoint, it seemed that the Dons were well represented in the crowd. This match is our only one in Queensland for the year and one legacy of the Sheedy era is that the Club has a strong following all over Australia. The man himself may also say it’s because of Roger Merrett and all the other Essendon players sent to the Bears in the initial years. I think it’s more because we were successful and progressive back then. I’d settle for the latter right now. I’m happy to wait for the former.


Of course the Suns also have lofty ambitions and their potential is unquestionable. With Lynch and Day up forward and Hall, Martin and Matera on the ball, they seem more dynamic than the Bombers and always look more likely to win. Even though he is in opposition, I can’t help but admire Harley Bennell and his running and bouncing is captivating. Despite learning about Melbourne’s footy obsession the hard way, he seems to have hit form and could definitely have a long career.


But these bursts of class were rare in a game in which both teams played like they were the toddler sprinting to the front of the rollercoaster line, only to find themselves a foot short of the ‘you must be this tall’ threshold. Where desire was prominent, good skills often weren’t and many promising passages of play were undone by poor decisions, or, in the case of the Gold Coast, poor kicking for goal.


This forward-line sloppiness was the only thing that kept Essendon in the game early in the last quarter. With only a couple of goals the difference for most of the day, it seemed as though the Dons were destined to crash from the fairy-floss high that a new coach can bring and go down without a whimper. If Jack Martin had been as efficient in front of goal as he was eye-catching, this may have been the case.


Thankfully for us Dons fans, we were given a reason to watch a game in a full for the first time in a while as two goals in the last three minutes meant a win was a real possibility. Unfortunately, our Round Two classic of a backman turned forward hero was remade into a Warner Brothers flop as Jake Carlisle’s rushed shot at goal went through for a point. Like Lethal Weapon in those parts, the Dons were a great ride for a day, but, overall, a tired franchise that is chasing the magic from twenty years prior.


As I lay in my usual post-loss ball, I saw how devastated the players were. With the new TV deal signed, the players will soon be richer than ever but I doubt these guys log onto internet banking to console themselves at night. One wonders what they tell their partners/family/friends at the dinner table at the end of a work day.


I note a play mat, stuffed toy and mobile on the floor under the TV. The lad is asleep. I wonder what I’ll tell him one day.


Like many of us, I’m inclined to find positives. Shaun McKernan showed his value with three goals and should surely be given a consistent run in the side next year, even if a ruckman can be secured. Young Nick O’Brien got plenty of the ball despite an obvious lack of speed and Dyson Heppell kicked goals and competed, though his sparkle is missing. As for the coaching, I can’t say I saw any jaw-dropping changes from Matthew Egan, but I wish him all the best. There are plenty who would love to do what he is doing for a day, let alone 20. Plus, his main remit is to not be James Hird. Who would’ve thought that would be a KPI at Essendon?


At this time of year, and under these circumstances, a fan’s dedication can be a burden but, perversely, should also provide comfort. If you know you’re in for a lifetime, you should, by logic, expect the wheel to turn.


But that’s a bit broad-minded. Right now, the family needs to heal. Hopefully the elders can see that.


Meanwhile, I’ve got a nappy to change.



GOLD COAST SUNS    5.3   9.5   12.7  14.13.(97)

ESSENDON  4.1   7.7  11.7  14.11.(95)



Gold Coast: Martin 3, Lynch 3, Bennell 2, Shaw 2, Hall, Russell, Malsceski, Day

Essendon: McKernan 3, Heppell 3, Hooker 3, Dempsey 2, Fantasia 2, Laverde



Gold Coast: Martin, Bennell, Hall, Lynch

Essendon: McKernan, Heppell, Hurley



Votes: Martin 3, Bennell 2, McKernan 1.




About Andrew Else

Andrew has self-reported to this site as a lifetime Essendon supporter. He also played local footy for Lara and Melbourne Uni Blacks.

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