BRENDON Goddard was yesterday being hailed as the biggest name Essendon has lured from a rival club in 40 years.
A host of ex-Essendon officials, former premiership players and recruiters from opposition clubs contacted by The Age yesterday said they could not recall the club landing such a marquee signing from another team since 1972.
That was the year Essendon poached Des Tuddenham, a Collingwood captain and best and fairest winner, to Windy Hill to become the Bombers' new captain-coach.
''I can't think of any other player who came from another club with that sort of standing that has gone to Essendon,'' said Alec Epis, a former chairman of selectors and recently-retired board member who has been at the club since the 1950s.
''Goddard is probably the biggest signing they've done since Tuddenham, and that was a big one at the time.''
Free agency took off on its first day in the AFL and it was Essendon that emerged as the major player yesterday securing the hottest property in the market.
Goddard, St Kilda's two-time All-Australian and former No. 1 draft pick, has signed a big-money four-year deal to switch from Seaford to Windy Hill.
At 27, he is almost certain to play out his career in red and black, completing one of the biggest trades in the past 10 years and one of the few of its kind for Essendon.
Another ''big fish'' the Bombers captured was Graham Moss, who crossed from Western Australia one year after Tuddenham.
Moss had been pursued by St Kilda before eventually going to Essendon in 1973 and winning a Brownlow Medal four years later.
In recent times, the Bombers have shown an aptitude for giving players up in return for draft picks, such as the famous deal with Fremantle in 1994 that saw Essendon trade Todd Ridley, Tony Delaney, Dale Kickett and Russell Williams for draft selections that brought Matthew Lloyd and Scott Lucas to the club.
When the Bombers secured the highly sought after Gavin Wanganeen in the 1989 draft, beating Adelaide for his services, it was considered a major coup for the club and Wanganeen lived up to the lofty expectations thrust upon him, winning the 1993 Brownlow Medal and playing in that year's premiership team.
For whatever reason, Essendon has had much less to do with luring high-profile players from opposition VFL or AFL clubs in the off-season than other leading clubs.
One of the better trades - in terms of bringing in players from rival clubs - completed by the Bombers in recent times came at the end of 1995 when they secured Sean Wellman from Adelaide and Paul Barnard from Hawthorn, who played a combined 318 games for Essendon, in a four-way deal that included club champion Paul Salmon going to Hawthorn and Darren Jarman moving to Adelaide.
Another former Essendon board member yesterday said the Bombers preferred to ''grow their own''.
Two recruiters contacted by The Age spoke about how the Bombers, historically, had also been difficult to deal with at the negotiating table.
''It was just never in the culture,'' said Epis, who played in Essendon's 1962 and 1965 premierships. ''You usually find that clubs that make those really big signings are trying to top up their list. The Bombers always felt that they had players from within that they could use.''