They’re a happy team at Essendon

Townsville Bulletin - - Bizfi Nd -

THE most i mpor­tant f ac­tor i n Essendon’s en­cour­ag­ing AFL pre­sea­son has also been the most in­tan­gi­ble – team spirit.

Bombers vet­eran Mark McVeigh said new coach James Hird had worked hard on morale and the club’s off-field en­vi­ron­ment.

Essendon pushed Colling­wood be­fore los­ing the pre-sea­son grand fi­nal last Fri­day and much has been made of their bet­ter team de­fence and im­proved fit­ness.

But McVeigh noted the play­ers were per­form­ing bet­ter be­cause they were happier.

Asked how long it had been since things had felt this buoy­ant around t he c l ub g o i ng i nt o a s e a s o n, McVeigh ad­mit­ted, ‘‘ prob­a­bly three or four years’’.

McVeigh has been at Essendon since 1999 and has seen the very best and worst of times at Windy Hill.

Af t e r t h e Bo mber s won 2 0 0 0 pre­mier­ship, they steadily de­clined un­til Kevin Sheedy was sacked in 2007 af­ter a re­mark­able 27-year stint as coach.

Matthew Knights was the tran­si­tional coach and he led Essendon into one fi­nals se­ries, be­fore last year’s dis­as­trous 14th plac­ing and his dis­missal. Hird’s lofty sta­tus at Essendon from his all-time great play­ing ca­reer gives him plenty of credit, but the new coach has been smart enough to know that will take him only so far.

‘‘ When ‘ Knighter’ first came in with his coach­ing group, we were re­ally buoy­ant and we didn’t win as ma n y g a me s a s we ’ d h o p e d , ’ ’ McVeigh said.

‘‘ Matthew worked re­ally, re­ally hard to get us into po­si­tions to be able to win foot­ball games and it just didn’t work out.

‘‘ Now James has come in, ob­vi­ously he’s played here and a le­gend of the club, play­ers just look at him in a dif­fer­ent light.

‘‘ A lot of young play­ers are in awe of him, which I think helps, and of course Bomber ( as­sis­tant Mark Thompson) – those two guys just com­ple­ment each other re­ally, re­ally well.’’

Hird and his wife Ta­nia hosted the play­ers and their fam­i­lies for a bar­be­cue last Satur­day and McVeigh said those sorts of ges­tures were build­ing a strong at­mos­phere around the club.

‘‘ That type of en­vi­ron­ment cre­ates a re­ally good bond among the play­ers and the wives and girlfriends,’’ McVeigh said.

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