It was the speech that “burnt a hole” in the hearts and minds of Essendon’s crestfallen players on the night of September 24, 1983.
Fresh from an 83-point humiliation at the hands of fierce rival Hawthorn, the Bombers family – players, staff, partners and supporters among them - had gathered for a post-Grand Final function, with some paying decent coin to be there.
Little did they expect, however, what was to come when coach Kevin Sheedy took the microphone.
“It was time for Kevin to say something,” then-president Greg Sewell recalled in episode four of The Bombers: Stories of a Great Club.
“Well, you could have heard a pin drop after five or six words. He said, ‘If I see anybody in this room with a smile on their face, I’ll throw you out’. There was silence, and he just went on. He gave all of us the biggest serve ever about how we’d let ourselves down.”
Sheedy, who had seen his side embarrassed in his first Grand Final at the helm, remembered the moment vividly.
“It burnt a hole in their hearts and their minds,” Sheedy said.
“I didn’t hold back. I got an absolute baking from my wife because it probably hurt the players a little bit, but I think it hurt the girlfriends and wives more as well as the supporters.
“I mean, why would you want to go and celebrate the worst loss in VFL Grand Final history? You’re kidding yourself [if you do].”
But Sheedy wasn’t done there.
“We had the post-mortem at Windy Hill on the Monday,” champion midfielder Tim Watson said.
“He made us watch the whole Grand Final again and he would pause, and rewind, then fast-forward. It went for a long, long time.”
While Sheedy’s post-game approach may have come as a shock to some, there was a method to it.
The master motivator’s intention was clear - let the loss linger in the players’ minds and spur them on to go one step better.
And spur them on it did.
Rather than fall into the abyss after the embarrassment of that Saturday in September 1983, the Bombers rebounded in glorious fashion, turning the tables on their arch-rivals to defeat the Hawks in the ‘84 and ’85 Grand Finals.
A famous era had indeed begun under Sheedy – an era that would take the Bombers from a strong suburban football club to a national icon, with four flags under Sheedy’s 27-year reign.
Their success was built on a tough, blue-collar approach that Sheedy had built from the moment he arrived at Windy Hill ahead of the 1981 season.
Out went some of the teachers in the playing group as Sheedy, a former ‘back-pocket plumber’ for Richmond, got to work.
“I was a teacher back then. I think he thought we were soft. He liked his plumbers, his tradesmen,” dual premiership player Simon Madden said.
Watson, then a 20-year-old who had just won his first Crichton Medal, could sense a shift at Windy Hill at a time where the club was reeling from a fruitless decade in the ‘70s.
“There was a sense of urgency he (Sheedy) brought from day one. He was like some sort of drill sergeant,” Watson said.
“He was like a whirlwind. The moment he came through that door, the whole thing was changing. For me, that was exciting.
“We were a wild bunch of blokes, but [became] a blue-collar team.”
Imposing, passionate and unpredictable, Sheedy wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers.
Madden recalls several “face-to-face arguments shouting at each other”, while star wingman Merv Neagle, angry about being asked to do extra laps at training one night, stormed off the track and destroyed the coach’s locker.
But for all the mad moments, there was a deep respect for a man often referred to as a messiah, with champion goalkicker Paul Salmon among his many devotees.
“Kevin became this hot gospeller … and I became a disciple,” Salmon said.
“If he said, ‘Paul, it’s time to jump off a roof’, I probably would have done it.”
Salmon, who set the VFL alight with 63 goals from 13 games in 1984 before suffering a season-ending knee injury, was relegated to a spectator on Grand Final day as the Bombers reversed the heartbreak of ’83.
Like many of the red-and-black persuasion in the stands, he would have been fearing another whitewash for the Hawks, who kicked the opening four goals in a blazing start.
But this was to be ‘Sheedy’s Premiership’.
Staring down a 23-point deficit at three-quarter time, Sheedy rallied his men, drawing on his legendary motivational skills and tactical nous.
And his players, who had a deep-bone trust in their coach, responded.
“Kevin comes running out and he’s pointing at Hawthorn,” triple premiership player Mark Harvey said.
“He said, ‘Look, they’re absolutely stuffed. They’ve given it their all, they’re all getting massages, they all look shot and spent’. He was making us believe subconsciously that they’d played the game with a quarter to go.
“With Kevin you always had to be flexible. He started to change the team subtly. Some of the defenders finished up forward, and a couple of the forwards finished down back. In particular, Billy Duckworth and Paul Weston who were playing defence went forward, and to their credit, started hitting the scoreboard.”
A nine-goal final-term avalanche ensued for the Bombers, who snapped a 19-year premiership drought in a Grand Final forever etched in club history.
And when it was time for Sheedy to take the microphone at the post-Grand Final function that night, the speech from the year before hadn’t been forgotten.
“I know how I can destroy a night very quickly,” Sheedy joked.
“It’s very difficult being an extroverted coach in a conservative community.”
The start of the Sheedy era features in episode four of The Bombers: Stories of a Great Club, which will air at 8pm AEDT on Tuesday exclusively on Fox Footy and Kayo. Episode four follows episode three, which will begin at 7:30pm.