I was like a giggly kid on Sunday. For the last 7 months I have like every Essendon supporter keenly awaited the opening of the 2011 football season. The return of the most beloved player in living memory as the team coach was every supporter's wet dream come true. Delightful as that was the list of top-line and legendary coaches joining James Hird as assistants left all of us wondering if we would wake up to find it was just a dream.Was it too good?
It was no dream though, there they were living and breathing and injecting hope into the multitude of passionate supporters. In that there was a danger I think everyone Essendon supporter felt deep in their heart. What if it was a disappointment, like Voss? What if all our hopes would be dashed and revealed as childish dreams? What then, what would we feel, how would we recover? What if the great man has feet of clay?
There's a lot of naive hope in following any football team, but then that is one of the great pleasures of being a supporter. We suspend disbelief and occasionally common sense in barracking for the team we grew up loving. It's not about common sense or even pragmatism. The church may not like it, but following a team hard is like being part of a religion in which you all share a common faith. It is all about rituals and symbols and blind adherence to the word – and the word is the club.
Following a footy team will often test that faith. From week to week and season to season hope surges and retreats, it causes us to blaspheme sometimes, to question and doubt; our faith ebbs and flows, but rarely if ever is it broken.
In that context then James Hird has returned to the club less as the prodigal son than as the messiah with his band of apostles. As coach he said the right things and guided the team through a pre-season that was impressive and demonstrably better than previous years. There was reassurance in this, some relief. It was not the real thing though, not yet: that would come with the season proper.
The season proper began for us on Sunday. We went in as underdogs against one of the powers of the competition. I wanted a win, but I was happy to see effort, performance, improvement. For all the hype James in the end is only human (allegedly), and it was my more prudent self suggesting to keep a lid on it, it's a long journey, let's just take it one week at a time…
And Essendon took the field and wiped the opposition from it.
I watched laughing often with delight and the sort of ecstasy that bubbles up unexpectedly when you really it isn't too good to be true. I yelled and clapped and hollered as my beloved team played with an authority I have not seen for many a year. They were quick, they were bold, they were tough, they were exciting, they were disciplined and they were ruthless. And they won big.
I doubt Hirdy could quite believe it himself. I know it is only the beginning; I know it is a long season. I know there will be disappointments along the way. Nothing is certain, yet I also know now what is possible with this team. And I know as I was never sure before that we are on the right. And I even wonder now if James might not just be the messiah after all.