Dear Joe, I’m writing this on behalf of Essendon fans everywhere and would like to say, once and for all, goodbye, old chap.
Yes, I’m fully aware we are four weeks into a new season and that you requested a trade from Windy Hill late in 2020.
But this week’s game between your exciting Brisbane Lions and an emerging Essendon makes it all very real that you are now part of someone else’s furniture, and that you – and everyone – have all moved on.
It sounds cliche but sometimes things just don’t work out. I can only imagine what kind of intense pressure weighed you down, playing for a big Victorian club like Essendon, a club that has the Daniher DNA all over it and the expectations that come with that.
I get it.
One minute, you’re an All Australian great kicking barrels from 70 metres and winning Anzac Day medals; the next, you’re the unfulfilled talent who can’t get on top of your injuries. No one said being an oft-injured and highly-touted Essendon player was easy. Just ask Courtney Johns. Or Scott Gumbleton.
I’ve been watching your games.
It’s been awfully similar to how you played at Essendon: good in patches, often quiet, but lethal when on-song.
This year, in four games, you’ve booted seven goals. It’s not exactly ‘putting Brisbane on the map’, something you said when you joined the Lions, but there’s still a long way to go. Anything is possible, I guess.
Seeing you kick 3.3. against Collingwood, with eight marks, in the 73-72 win made me feel sick in the stomach that you were showing Coleman Medal form and that the Bombers would rue the cost of losing Joe Daniher. But those butterflies were short lived.
A few days later the Bombers kicked 22 goals against the Saints and won by a whopping 75.
From the outside looking in, you’re now just a cog in the machine. No longer are you the glue that holds the Essendon forwards together.
You have Eric Hipwood (eight goals in 2021), Charlie Cameron and an army of medium forwards to work with. On Saturday, they’ll be hard to stop.
But it gives you a licence to wheel-and-go at will. Although the Lions are 1-3 they’re likely to play finals this year – that’s something you haven’t done since 2017.
Fine, I’m jealous that your new teammates are guys like Brownlow Medallist Lachie Neale. And Chris Fagan: he’s a coach that seems to be able to read the room. He gets people.
As good as your new team is and what that means for you, I feel this should make Bombers fans jealous. But it doesn’t.
The real tragedy, Joe, is that you were a good fit at Essendon. Everyone still remembers the tragic souls you buried when you landed on their backs. That Jake Carlisle hangar is fried into my brain.
Although it infuriated me when you lined up from 15 metres out directly in front of goal in the snap pose (god knows where the ball would go!), you did it your way. You were an original and I respect that.
I’m still in awe of how you can make it look easy kicking goals from inside the centre square. Sometimes in traffic.
Sometimes you sold candy. The ball went miles. And you knew how to celebrate in a way that evoked the masses: hands in the air combined with the roll of your wrists facing the fans.
That’s all in the rearview mirror.
All of it: the aborted Sydney trade, the fact you played 15 games in three years, the vision of you sitting on a fence during the 2020 Eagles match. The good and the bad, all gone.
It’s a funny thing.
We all thought Essendon might turn into a basket case after you left. No one thought the Bombers would kick goals without you.
Then the Port Adelaide game happened – 119 to 65 – and the collective hearts of the Essendon faithful sank.
But goals can be kicked without you, Joe.
Did you watch last week’s Swans game? You should watch last week’s Swans game.
You wouldn’t recognise the team anymore. Cale Hooker and Jake Stringer combined for six of the 12 goals. Nik Cox jagged one on the run opposite foot from 45. Harry Jones has kicked four this year. You get the point.
In October, 2020, when it was made public that you’d be seeking a trade, we said our unofficial and heartfelt farewells collectively.
You were a lot of fun to watch. When you were on, no one could stop you. But you needed more balance and a life away from the spotlight.
The Bombers needed durability. You needed a clean slate. The Bombers needed a functioning forward line.
You look happy now.
The Lions aren’t so bad. After Saturday at the Gabba, we’ll all finally be at peace because we’ll see, for the first time, that you and Essendon both got what you wanted.