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Steady hand steered Dons to a better place

Some AFL club presidents could depart the scene and barely leave a ripple in their wake. Essendon perhaps wishes that was the case now. Saturday night's shock resignation of chairman David Evans will have a profound impact on a club which was gradually beginning to again assert itself as an AFL heavyweight.

It's rare that the resignation of someone from the front office of a club would spark the sort of emotional reactions Evans' announcement inspired among Essendon players and the club's support base. But in the nearly four years since taking over the role from Ray Horsburgh, Evans had banked plenty of credits with the faithful. And they are venting their frustration about now being short-circuited by the fall-out of the drugs controversy.

The "dream team" coaching panel of James Hird and Mark Thompson had been delivered, and was beginning to achieve results. The club is about to take a step forward with a new training and administrative base. Evans has been the pivotal figure in all of that. Yet, now he is gone.

Propriety is a word which means much to the Evans family. And as became obvious after Essendon's game against Hawthorn on Friday night, the accusations of his club's lack of it, that being the kindest of the torrent of criticism about the drugs scandal, it took a heavy personal toll.

Of course it helped Evans that he was the son of a much-loved figure at Windy Hill, former Bomber spearhead, president and AFL Commission chairman Ron Evans. At 48 he was also an approachable figure to the playing fraternity.

In his time at the helm, he managed to present a profile as a successful and driven figurehead who could get things done - the aim always to restore his club to the place he felt it belonged, but with a no-fuss, dignified manner not always shared by some of his peers. That wasn't always easy given some of the decisions overseen, like ending the tenure of former coach Matthew Knights with two years still to run on his contract. Even, for that matter, the club's move out of its traditional Windy Hill training base to new facilities near Tullamarine. In those cases, however, Evans was able to successfully sell Essendon's fan base the idea that to return to its previous status, this was a club which needed to move swiftly.

A favourite reference of his was to football's "arms race". It was recognition that the club had fallen behind its rivals in many areas. "Flags just don't come by talking about them. They come by building a great club," he said shortly after his ascension to the role. "Essendon is a great club, but the industry is changing so much on and off the field that we need to be responsive to that change and get ourselves in a position where we are financially capable of ensuring we have a significant future."

When that appeared threatened in the second half of the season during 2010, Essendon losing 10 of its last 12 games and watching its crowds dwindle, Evans wasn't slow to act. The procuring of Thompson was messy, the fall-out from the Knights sacking considerable, but Evans managed to make it at least explainable. He proved he could wear some flak for the benefit of the club.

Nothing, however, on the scale of what he has worn the past six months. Evans, in the end, had too many masters to serve. His lifelong friendships. His close ties to the AFL administration and in particular Andrew Demetriou. All the while his business interests took a back seat.

Essendon, said Evans in his resignation statement, was "a great institution that is bigger than all of us". But without the steadying hand of Evans at its helm, it now also looks a far more vulnerable one.

19 comments so far

  • When I saw the positive headline, I knew it was a Rohan Connolly article.

    The best you can say about Evans is that his custodianship was so poor that it allowed a scandal so serious it trashed one of Australia's great sporting brands.

    The worst you can say is that it may turn out that he was involved in a proactive role.

    Date and time
    July 28, 2013, 7:56AM
    • About 5 months too late but welcome at last. He did wear the top hat and for the" right thing" he had to go.
      What a disgrace this long drawn out star chamber has become, I felt for the players Friday night nobody whether innocent or guilty should have to handle so much for so long. Gambling should have been stopped on Essendon as just another unfair burden. I have gone full circle from disgust to thinking I will buy a membership in 2015 when they should be allowed to return. Spin Doctors should be taken to the middle of Bass Straight and allowed to swim home.. Please no more Star Chambers they diminish us all...

      Date and time
      July 28, 2013, 8:07AM
      • If Essendon and James Hird walk away with a slap on the wrist over all this then I'll be walking away from the AFL!

        Date and time
        July 28, 2013, 9:02AM
        • Thats good, we need to rid ourselves of the weak. You kind find netball memberships somewhere online

          Date and time
          July 28, 2013, 11:36AM
        • Yes the vicious media campaign is a joke isn't it and the length of ASADA investigation is also a joke. Seeings that you, the media and thousands of other readers already have a copy of the ASADA report, can you please enlighten us as to the findings, which have obviously informed your opinion?

          This rabid pack mentality is quite extraordinary and I have never seen as much acid-spitting hatred in any sporting issue as this on nothing more than (at this stage) rumours, speculation and gutless journalists participating in character assassination against people that cannot for legal reasons reply. Really quite disturbing and utterly gutless.

          I wonder what happens to this rabid pack if Essendon are actually cleared.

          Date and time
          July 28, 2013, 7:15PM
      • All the sanctimonious Bomber fans make me want to puke! You want everyone to feel sorry for your players? I feel sorry for the players of the 17 other clubs that have to take the field with the bombers.

        Date and time
        July 28, 2013, 9:21AM
        • Yawn. Most of these comments lack any genuine critical analysis. It's a pretty depressing state of affairs when peoples' views are formed by what the media tells them. Wait for the ASADA report. Read it. Think about it. Then comment from an informed point of view. Maybe your view will change, maybe it won't, but at least you'll be doing more than just regurgitating Wilson's bleating.

          Date and time
          July 28, 2013, 3:15PM
      • Evans has presided over the potential collapse of a long-standing institution, yet this article is praising him? I'm loathe to be cynical, but if the club involved was Carlton or Collingwood, I wonder whether the obituary would've been so kind? At no point does the colum have anything to say that is negative.

        Connolly has been conspicuous in his lack of questioning the club he supports, and this sugar coated offering is consistent with that history.

        I would suggest to Rohan that he has to accept the reality that if Evans is to be lauded for all the changes he's made to Essendon, he also has to bear the responsibility for the consequences.

        Date and time
        July 28, 2013, 9:23AM
        • Reads more like an obituary or a funeral eulogy, where misdeeds are glossed over as a matter of respect.

          Rohan, you're meant to be a journalist. Surely the story here is that under Evans' reign, the Essendon Football Club descended into chaos of the most dangerous kind... and under Evans' reign the Essendon Football Club adopted the philosophy of Whatever It Takes to such dangerous levels that it threatens to tear the club to pieces.

          And then, just before people genuinely need to become accountable, he walks away or is pushed (that's the story - which is it?) to preserve the image of James Hird.

          It's quite a remarkable saga... that one man (Hird) can be protected almost to the detriment of the entire club.

          So many angles to take: the messiah complex, the hold that ex champion players have over their clubs (throw Kernahan into the mix too)... yet you write about what a great bloke and what a positive influence Evans was and is.

          I don't subscribe to The Age to read that kind of simpering cheerleading. Grow some nuts, get over the fact that it's your own club you're writing about, or get out of the way and let Caro do her thing.

          Date and time
          July 28, 2013, 10:51AM
          • Boom! Well said...

            Date and time
            July 28, 2013, 8:54PM

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