New era begins now for Bombers

By Darren Moncrieff CAN the Essendon Football Club keep their winning culture alive after the era-defining departures of long-time mentor Kevin Sheedy and former captain James Hird? The Bombers will swoop on Ballina today with a new coach, Matthew Knights, and a new set of ideals.

The visit is part of the AFL’s annual Community Camps, where AFL clubs visit regional areas during the pre-season.

The long and productive ‘marriage’ between the Bombers and Sheedy had to come to an end some day.

And when it did in September last year, after a club record 27 years, it signalled the end of an era.

The union that began in 1981 had seen the little suburban Melbourne football club become one of the most recognisable, and perhaps most supported, in the national AFL competition.

Sheedy was also the club’s most successful coach. Up to September last year, Sheedy’s winning percentage was the best of all current coaches, at 61.34 per cent.

In addition, he is rated as the seventh most successful coach in the history of the game.

In his 27 years at the club, Sheedy took the Bombers to 18 finals series including seven grand finals for four premierships, the most recent in 2000.

Only a youthful and energetic Brisbane Lions prevented the Bombers winning back-to-back premierships in 2001.

The Bombers have missed the finals on just eight occasions since 1981. Interestingly, they missed the finals three years on the trot for the first time from 2005.

Sheedy’s departure from Essendon was followed by the retirement of perhaps the club’s greatest player, Hird.

Hird, originally from Canberra, seemingly moved to another tune. His timing and reading of the play were impeccable; his leadership peerless. Only injury in the late 1990s robbed us of more of his genius.

But like most professional sporting clubs, and with the help of the AFL’s ‘equalisation processes’, otherwise known as the salary cap and national draft, the Bombers will simply pick up from where Sheedy, and Hird, left off.

The visit to Ballina today will be the club’s first to the area. It is the first leg of their Community Camp where they will also visit the Gold Coast.

The Bombers are here because of the Kangaroos’ rejection of the AFL’s Gold Coast relocation deal, which involved a reported $100 million package.

It was, therefore, deemed no longer practical for the Roos to continue an association with the region, the Northern Rivers included.

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