Steady hand steered Dons to a better place

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.

Rohan Connolly

Rohan Connolly, a senior football writer for The Age and radio broadcaster with sports radio station 1116 SEN, has been covering the game since 1983. A multi-AFL Media Association award-winner known for his passion and love of the game, he analyses the AFL for the newspaper and contributes a blog and weekly video, "Footy Fix", for The Age's football website, Real Footy.

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