Bombers eye the future
In 2009 Essendon made the finals for the first time in five years. Coffs Coast Advocate Chief Sports Writer BRAD GREENSHIELDS had a chat with their coach who is trying to take the Bombers back to the top.
A KNIGHT’S TALE
MATTHEW KNIGHTS: Yeah it seems to have been just the way that it’s evolved I guess but when a young coach comes in you start from scratch in a lot of ways.
We’ve still embraced the Essendon history and made sure that we’ve looked after the people that were already in place like Bruce Reid and Ian Reynolds as club doctors, Gary O’Donnell who’s a great champion of the club and assistant coach, Paul Hamilton in football operations is a past Essendon player so even though there’s been a lot of change we still have a really close link with our history and obviously then it is all about your vision moving forward.
That vision has been fairly aggressive and people are complaining at times but it’s very enjoyable most of it because the team last season played some extroverted, exciting football. It was good for our supporters and members to see the emergence of say a Scott Gumbleton even though he didn’t play a lot last year, Tayte Pears, Michael Hurley, Bachar Houli those kind of guys.
It’s been fantastic and I’m really enjoying working with this group at the moment.
BG: Even though I’m a Pies man myself Essendon are actually one of the few teams that I look forward to watching play each week because it is exciting and it is fast footy. When you came into the role was that faster brand of game style a major priority?
MK: I guess I probably did it on the flip side to maybe many coaches that look at defence first and we had the mantra that I wanted to see the guys play and see their creative side first.
We’ve slowly added defence in the first and second year and we’re adding more this pre-season. A part of coming up here to Coffs Harbour is to continue to mature the defensive side of our game and while we understand our strengths are probably when we’ve got the ball and our fast movement we want to get better defensively.
So yeah it’s been a mantra of mine to play aggressive football and I guess under Kevin Sheedy over a long period the Essendon Football Club was known for its fast, aggressive type of play so it’s similar to probably Kevin in a lot of ways, just maybe different personnel.
MK: They’ve both been a colossus of the game and huge up in the forward 50 so I guess it will be a mixture of Patrick Ryder, David Hille, Jay Neagle, Mark Williams, Scott Gumbleton and even a couple of the younger emerging guys like Michael Still and Darcy Daniher as we’re looking for a mix of players that can kick a number of goals each and share it around.
I guess that’s a bit different to the past as Lucas and Lloydy probably kicked 70 or 80 per cent of the team’s goals so we’re probably just going to look for a different spread.
BG: The young group that is coming through isn’t just about recreating a forward line. There’s a lot of midfielders as well. It’s essentially a midfield group that can really carry the ball as well as kick goals themselves.
MK: I guess Jason Winderlich coming back after a back operation helped that last year. Mark McVeigh had a lot of injuries last year so we hope to activate him and get him going again.
In the National Draft we added Travis Colyer, Jake Melsham and Anthony Long who are running type midfielders who like to get involved.
I guess we’ve looked to do that. I think the first thing we did was get our spine right by drafting Hooker, Pears, Hurley, Myers, Daniher and this draft I guess we’ve gone after the mids as there’s only one big in Jake Carlisle.
It’s been a strategy and a plan that we’ve had over three years with our drafting. We’re trying to bring a good group together and mould them and bring them through.
BG: It was 12 months ago that the club first came to Coffs Harbour. When I was speaking earlier to Paul Hamilton he said that this week is the same as last year in the way that it is a learning process, almost a classroom environment in Coffs Harbour.
MK: Pretty much.
We do some classroom then we go out and do some part training then whole training and back to the part so it’s very much a dedicated learning week with a real big ethos on our game style.
It’s a real saturation of our learning and our game style and we can achieve up here in a week sometimes what might take us three or four weeks in Melbourne in a normal program so it’s outstanding for our program, we love Coffs Harbour, we love the environment, we love the people and we get great co-operation when we come up here and we hope on the flip side that our players treat everyone with respect while they’re up here and that’s really important too.
BG: Probably the big issue in the media with Essendon at the moment is the fact that on Monday the club’s new captain will be announced. Has the captain actually been selected or is this week in Coffs a part of the selection process?
MK: Yeah part of it is this week and also part of it is the recommendation to the board so it won’t be done until even on Monday itself.
This week we’ve had initial discussions about the criteria and the framework and hopefully as the week goes on we get closer to a decision and then early on Monday we’ll take it to the board and get ratification before we run the player out on Monday at training.
It’s got to be done right and it’s got to be done under the right rules and constitution so it’s been part of this week as well as a leadership program that we’ve been working on.
MK: I think it has changed enormously.
The captains of today have to be a lot more holistic. I look at Matthew Lloyd and his role last year and the off-field activities where he’s representing the club and there’s the role model scenario with being there for all your players and your staff and all of your supporters so it’s a bigger role than when I was a captain I must admit.
All credit to the 16 captains across the league because it’s a great gig and a huge honour but it’s also understandably a tough gig at times.
Those people that can work under pressure are really good captains.
MK: We’d like to think we’re forever trying to develop and improve this side.
I guess we’re not going to put a ceiling on what we could or couldn’t do, I’ve never been one to do that.
We’ll play hard and we’ll go after our game style aggressively and keep generating young players and give them an opportunity.
Where that takes us we’re not quite sure but we played finals last year so it would be good to continue that theme and play some more finals next year if we could. That would be preferred.