Never has the retirement of a player left a bigger gap in the structure of an AFL side than Matthew Lloyd retiring in 2009, leaving the Bombers without a proper key forward for the better part of the last decade.
AFL-starved fans have been offered a glimmer of hope by Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell, who is confident that the premiership season will restart by July at the latest following the coronavirus shutdown.
The Bombers boss offered the optimistic assessment on the club’s podcast Working Through It on Wednesday, which featured former coach James Hird and retired skipper Jobe Watson.
Hird’s appearance has been hailed as a homecoming for the club great, who stood down as coach at the end of 2015 amidst the ongoing fallout from the supplements saga.
But it was Campbell who made the biggest splash on the podcast’s debut episode.
“I feel relatively confident that in July we’ll be back playing football, at the latest,” Campbell said.
“I don’t say that with any great insight or as an educated insight but I feel confident.
“It’s not going to be in front of crowds obviously, that’s going to be a really challenging aspect for our members and our players who thrive off that, but hopefully it’s not too far from that.
“Again you can’t hold me to it because we just don’t know because it’s out of our control, but I feel relatively confident on that.”
The AFL sent a memo to clubs on Tuesday outlining the state of play just over a fortnight into the shutdown, with the league hopeful of having a return-to-play plan in place by the end of the month.
Watson was stripped of the 2012 Brownlow Medal and suspended for the 2016 season along with 33 teammates who participated in the club’s ill-fated supplements program.
Having experienced the jarring reality of that doping ban, he feels for people in the AFL industry and many others who have lost their jobs and are dealing with isolation due to COVID-19.
“I remember feeling sick and not wanting to leave the house and having no idea about what I was going to do, just feeling like I would never come through it and that it would never end,” Watson said.
“I think that’s a very normal experience for people to be going through.
“That fear and uncertainty can be really crippling and I think the ability to talk through how you’re feeling with people (is important).
“Everyone is going through the same thing and you can lean on each other.
“People are suffering in different degrees, but the ability to reach out to others and connect is going to help everyone get through it.”