Essendon has been lauded for a stunning pre-game ceremony that celebrated its 150th anniversary – and it culminated in skipper Dyson Heppell leading one of the most significant moments in the club’s history.
The Bombers on Friday night notched their 150th birthday with a clash against one of its fiercest rivals in Carlton.
And the club set the tone perfectly in the lead-up to the first bounce.
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Narrated by Senator Briggs from the club’s spiritual home of Windy Hill, the ceremony began with a video highlights package that celebrated the club’s history and all the key moments along the way.
Attention then turned to the MCG live where Briggs picked up the story under darkness, with the club’s 16 premiership cups spread out around the field.
Some of Essendon’s inaugural AFLW players were introduced first, including marquee signing Maddy Prespakis. A few stray boos were heard around the MCG – thought to be Blues fans disappointed that Prespakis, the 2020 AFLW best and fairest winner, had left their club to join the Bombers – but the girls didn’t care, laughing as they waved to the crowd.
Club legends Michael Long and Gavin Wanganeen, who won the Norm Smith Medal and Brownlow Medal respectively in the club’s 1993 premiership year, were then presented to fans, followed by 2000 premiership heroes Scott Lucas and Adam Ramanauskas.
Bombers all-time leading goalkicker Matthew Lloyd was then introduced and, in trademark Lloyd style, picked up some MCG turf and tossed it into the air to check which way the wind was blowing – just like he did before every set-shot attempt during his playing career.
The Watson’s (Tim and Jobe) and the Fletcher’s (Ken and Dustin) were up next – then all four Daniher brothers (Terry, Neale, Anthony and Chris). As the crowd roared, there was a beautiful touch as the brothers helped Neale lift his arms into the air to acknowledge fans. In a few days, Neale will again be a proud watcher at the MCG for the annual Big Freeze slide.
Then came the main event – and in true WWE main event style, James Hird made an entrance.
In a rare outing at an official Bombers event, Hird walked onto the MCG turf with a footy under his arm after passing through a wall of smoke. As he waved to crowd and proudly held his Bombers scarf in the air, there were boos, predictably – but the cheers seemed to outweigh the jeers.
“How good was the reception for James Hird when he walked out? Unbelievable,” triple premiership Lion Jonathan Brown told Fox Footy.
“It was spine-tingling.”
Hird’s coach, Kevin Sheedy, made his way onto the ground down the aisles in the MCG grandstand.
And just like he did nearly 29 years ago after his Bombers beat West Coast at the same venue, Sheedy waved a piece of clothing amid the fans – although this time it was a scarf, not his jacket.
The final entrance saw the 23 Essendon players selected to face the Blues make their way onto the field, running past pyros and through a special banner.
“How good is that? That was brilliant. Well done to everyone that was involved,” Melbourne champion Garry Lyon told Fox Footy.
“If that doesn’t get you up and about, I don’t know what does.”
There was a heartwarming sight a minute later as the current players made there way to the Punt Road end of the MCG to greet and thank the club legends that had just been presented to the crowd.
Then came the a spine-tingling moment as the modern-day players linked up with, not just some of the greatest names in Essendon’s history but in AFL history.
And with dozens of men arm-in-arm in a circle, skipper Dyson Heppell stood up and addressed the group from the middle of the circle.
Heppell grabbed his jumper and spoke with great passion. He was heard referencing the “foundations of the Essendon Football Club”.
“That is a really big moment in the history of this club … It doesn’t get much more significant than that,” Lyon said.
“Irrespective of the result tonight, that’s going to remain one of the scenes of the season.
“It’s something those Essendon boys will remember for the rest of their footy lives.”
St Kilda legend Nick Riewoldt added: “That’s as symbolic as it gets.”
The Bombers’ pre-game ceremony was lauded on social media.