VFL football in Bendigo will always hold fond memories for Matthew Knights.
Knights spent three seasons as coach of the Bendigo Bombers between 2005 and 2007, and will go down as both the longest-serving and most successful coach of Bendigo’s VFL era that encapsulated the Bendigo Diggers, Bombers and Gold.
After 17 seasons, the city’s VFL era ends on Friday night when the Bendigo Gold plays its final game against Collingwood at the QEO.
“I’m very disappointed to see Bendigo playing their last game on Friday night,” Knights said on Thursday.
“I look back to the great people who were involved through my time there... from a playing point of view, guys like Nick Carter, Simon Rosa and Jordan Doering were heart-and-soul VFL players.
“To see them be able to get an opportunity to play in a local area that was dear to them was very important.
“But off the field, I’m disappointed for guys like Warren Driscoll (former Bombers chairman) and Paul Seery (fitness coach), who has put an endless amount of time into Bendigo’s VFL team from day dot.
“Guys like Warren and Paul really believed in a VFL team in Bendigo and they backed it up with everything they gave to the club.”
In what’s a touch of irony, while Bendigo will always be special to Knights, the history books will show that he was the coach who inflicted Bendigo’s biggest VFL loss.
Nothing epitomised the on-field challenges the stand-alone Gold faced more than the final round last year when Geelong - coached by Knights and featuring 16 AFL-listed players - crushed Bendigo by 201 points at the QEO.
“What’s tough is those big key position players and ruckmen have been really hard to attract to Bendigo,” Knights said.
“Bendigo Gold has been able to attract their share of good flankers and midfielders, but it’s a lot harder to get the bigger-type players.
“That’s the luxury the clubs with the AFL lists have got, they draft those big players, they don’t have to recruit them as such like a Bendigo.
“And that makes winning on a regular basis, and even competing, very difficult.”
While the Gold copped a 201-point hammering off Geelong a year ago, in the opening round this season Bendigo was much more competitive with the Cats in a 47-point defeat.
“Earlier in the year the Bendigo Gold’s form was quite good, albeit they didn’t get any wins,” Knights said.
“But against us that night, they played with some real ferocity and were fantastic, but over the course of the year it becomes very tiring if the same players have to do it week in, week out. If you haven’t got the depth and you get a few injuries, it becomes very tough to compete.”
In Knights’ three seasons as coach of the Bendigo Bombers, they made the finals twice, including a preliminary final in 2005.
“We played some great footy during those years and had some great support at the QEO,” Knights said.
Following his three-season stint with Bendigo, Knights was appointed the successor to Kevin Sheedy at Essendon, coaching the Dons for three years.