It started out as a worthy and entirely commendable exercise to promote the game (and, of course, his club), but Kevin Sheedy’s decision to allow Channel Seven to mike him up during his three-quarter-time address last Friday night could end up costing him his job — watch it here.

For the speech to his Essendon players, who were trailing by five goals, contained none of the tactical brilliance or inspired oratory that Bomber fans had been hoping for; instead it was a drab offering which instructed his players to do the things they’d have had drummed into them since the under-15s. Run hard and fast from defence, take some risks, have a few bounces, don’t pfaff around with the ball, go direct and kick long to the forwards. There was a “bloody” or two thrown in, but the air was hardly turned blue, just a deep shade of bland.

With coaching, myth is more important than reality. It is assumed these men who guide elite sporting teams have a gift to inspire, the brain of a chess grandmaster who can foresee moves several plays before they actually happen and, of course, the ability to deliver a blistering bake – or the “hairdryer” treatment, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s sprays became known as at Manchester United.

But when the reality is laid bare like it was on Friday night, many punters are left wondering whether this coaching caper is a giant con. It confirmed the view among his critics that the game had passed Sheedy by, that the wily fox was reduced to platitudes and generalities at a time when tactical specifics were needed, a bit of eloquence, and a dash of old-fashioned fire and brimstone. And it begged the question: has the Windy Hill wizard lost his magic?

The address only lasted perhaps two-and-half minutes but a revealing two-and-half minutes they proved to be. Unless you believe the theory promoted by some, such as ABC commentator Stan Alves, that Sheedy was playing his cards to his chest and deliberately not revealing too many secrets to a live national audience which included the other 14 AFL clubs.

Whatever the reason, it has sparked six days of debate about Sheedy’s future. And the wily old codger, who has in turns infuriated and inspired Essendon players and supporters for the past 27 years, is now in the gun like never before.

Obviously, one broadcast speech would not be enough on its own to bring down the curtain on the maestro, his bowtie and baton. But he is in the final year of his contract. His Bombers have not been a premiership threat since 2001. After a strong start to this season, they have lost their last three matches, admittedly without captain Matthew Lloyd. And their young players, with the exception of Paddy Ryder, are serviceable without being great. If the season continues to spiral into freefall, then the jungle drums will really start beating.

In one sense the debate is unjust. Sheedy, the game’s greatest salesman and pioneer, was only doing what came naturally to him on Friday. He was being media-friendly. Unfortunately, the very same media have turned around and taken a great bite out of his a-se this week.

So when the definitive Sheedy biography comes to be written in years to come, historians may pinpoint Telstra Dome and 11 May as the pivotal moment in his downfall: the night the nutty professor tried one wacky experiment too many.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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