AFL Hall-of-Famer and Essendon coach James Hird has thrown his support behind bringing his Bombers to Canberra next season for a blockbuster centenary match at Manuka Oval.
One of Canberra's most famous footballing products, Hird also predicted that more ACT talent would rise into the AFL's ranks given the regular presence of the Greater Western Sydney Giants.
Hird took the points in the first contest against his former Essendon mentor Kevin Sheedy last night, the Bombers smashing GWS by 66 points in the Giants' debut home game at Homebush's Skoda Stadium.
And now Hird, born and raised in Canberra, is supporting the push to take the contest to Manuka next year. The ACT Government will seek a meeting with the AFL in the next month to ramp up its bid to have the Bombers play the Giants in Canberra in 2013.
The Giants will play three AFL premiership matches a year in Canberra for the next 10 years, this season beginning by drawing lowly-ranked teams the Western Bulldogs, Gold Coast Suns and Melbourne Demons. But the ACT Government is seeking a marquee match for next year's centenary celebrations and the Bombers are the No.1 target.
Sheedy has already publicly backed the move and Hird has now voiced his support.
''Having played a bit of football there as a junior, for the Bombers to come to Canberra, that'd be great if it could happen,'' Hird told The Sunday Canberra Times.
''We played a NAB Cup [pre-season] game there against North Melbourne quite a few years ago, but playing an AFL game at Manuka Oval would be very different.''
Hird was an Ainslie junior before he was drafted to the Bombers in 1990, going on to become one of the game's modern greats by winning two premierships and the 1996 Brownlow Medal.
Hird said he hoped the regular presence of AFL in Canberra would provide pathways for more local talent to progress into the AFL.
''No doubt with the Giants and the AFL spending a lot of money in the area to develop young players you'll only see more players come out of the area … it probably puts some of those players on the map more,'' Hird said.
''Canberra's always been a big AFL mecca and there's a lot of kids who play AFL football there so to have a team to identify with is really important and I hope it enhances the local league, which has been very influential in my career.''
The Giants won their first AFL match in Canberra, against the Suns, but Hird predicted it would only take a few years for the young club to develop into a finals force.
''You have to think that within two or three years when that talent matures and develops that it'll be a very good team pushing for a top-eight position and who knows what after that,'' he said.