Thought I would post my thoughts on where we're at:
It‘s been a turbulent 12 months for Essendon supporters â€“ what an understatement. The club has lost its CEO, Chairman and iconic Head Coach (albeit temporarily) all amidst a maelstrom of bad press and broken relationships ranging from the AFL CEO all the way to the Age‘s head football writer.
What now for Essendon fans then? How do they feel about what has transpired and the year ahead? I cannot speak for all Bombers fans but I am feeling strangely calm about the season ahead. ASADA feels like a distant blot on the radar and I doubt the AFL could sanction the club any further even if more scandalous revelations were to emerge (short of revelations that Essendon has been illegally using mysterious alien technology to create a clone army to overthrow the Republic). I do not mean to sound flippant when talking about these issues because there may be serious ramifications yet revolving around future player health and welfare. Outside of that I‘m done talking about it and I suspect most Dons fans are too. Whatever the culpability of the club we‘ve paid the heaviest fine and copped the biggest sanctions ever handed out to an AFL club. If we cheated we certainly have been punished. If we‘re innocent then we‘ve already been punished. Aside from player welfare and potential ASADA infractions (which wrongly or rightly don‘t seem like a legitimate possibility) I am quite comfortable considering the whole sorry saga closed.
James Hird poses the only obstacle to that closure and it galls me to admit it but by the season‘s end we may be talking about how it is best for the EFC and club legend James Hird to part ways, for the time being at least. Hird‘s messiah-like return to Windy Hill spoke volumes of the man‘s love and loyalty for the club. He essentially sacrificed any chance at an orthodox coaching apprenticeship to help unify a brand that was fraying at the edges. It has often been said by opposition supporters that if Mathew Knights had overseen the supplements scandal he would have been sent packing faster than you can say AOD-9604 (or whatever new supplement the media decides to cover next week) but the truth is they deserve to be treated differently because they are different. Hird is an Essendon legend who paused a career in business to come back to footy when his club needed him. Mathew Knights might be a Richmond demi-god but his tenure at Essendon was fairly disastrous (I still wake up in cold sweats reliving the recruitment of Mark Williams and am only just beginning to trust our backline‘s ability to make short passes within the defensive 50 without haemorrhaging points). Furthermore at the end of the day Knights walked away with a hefty wad of Christmas money courtesy of the EFC. In standing by Hird and extending his contract the club showed the loyalty that was due to him but I think that by the end of the season the equation will have changed for all parties.
The AFL don‘t like James Hird. Neither does Caroline Wilson and a host of other sporting commentators whose names I could only be bothered to learn if they actually stopped ambushing the club I love at every available opportunity. What‘s more painful to admit is that the footy public doesn‘t like James Hird anymore. Governing body, powerful media elements and public opinion stack up as pretty compelling indications that Hird may never be allowed to prosper within the AFL. For a man who has given my club so much over the years this is a rotten fate but I think it is the increasing delineation between the interests of the EFC and James Hird the individual that will ultimately see a split. The club is clearly committed to drawing a line in the sand and moving on whatever the emotional cost. Chairman Paul Little recently did an interview with the Age newspaper and given his terse denunciations of Caroline Wilson‘s journalism last year I bet it boiled his blood to do that. But therein lies the answer to the Bombers‘ blueprint going forward; it‘s not about individuals it‘s about what‘s best for the team. Bridges are being built left right and centre with hated enemies from last season and I cannot help but feel there is no room for James Hird in this new Essendon. Furthermore I think it will be Hird himself, ever the clubman, who makes this call. Any Essendon Chairman who sacked James Hird would risk disrupting the heartwarming display of unity that we saw last year at Windy Hill. However I think Hird will realise that the club is best able to move on from the saga without him being the face of the club and that he is best able to clear his name through the courts if he can do so as an individual rather than as the coach of the EFC.
Of course this is just a theory. A lot of things can change between now and the end of the season and the outcome really hinges around Bomba Thompson, his success and desire to continue coaching past 2014 will be pivotal to determining Hird‘s ultimate fate. As embarrassed as I am to admit it I‘ve long secretly harboured lascivious dreams of Hird going down with Gastro minutes before kickoff and Bomba rolling into the coaches box (Hamburger in hand) to calmly dispatch the opposition. Now my guilty dreams have come true I‘m not sure I want to see us go back from that. Already we are seeing positive improvements that for whatever reason weren‘t happening under Hird. Carlisle up forward and Hurley down back. Chapman in Red and Black (would we have seen that without Bomba as coach?). Leroy Jetta looking like he might amount to more than a tragic case of what might have been. A forward line that is somehow looking more potent despite the loss of leading goal kickers Alwynn Davey and Stewart Crameri (who can now look permanently indignant and injured at the tin-rattling Bull Dogs). Most exciting is the news filtering out of the club‘s open training sessions (yes that‘s right open training sessions!) with sessions not over until Bomba is satisfied that goals have been completely met. Meanwhile last year‘s back to the wall recruiting is already looking impressive with young Zac Merrett already being discussed as a starter for Round 1.
Yes last year was painful. Yes I will continue to cop ridiculous remarks from supporters of other teams. But no I don‘t care anymore. We don‘t owe the AFL public, competition or media anything and when we win our next Premiership I look forward to ramming it down all their throats. Go Bombers!