They’re a happy team at Essendon
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.