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 Sports - AFL

Bombers take flight to airport site

Essendon are taking the drastic step of moving their training base to Melbourne Airport because they have fallen behind other AFL clubs.

Traditional AFL powerhouse Essendon are taking the drastic step of moving their training base to Melbourne Airport because they have simply "fallen behind" other clubs.

In a bid to match the ultra-modern training facilities of the past three AFL premiership clubs Hawthorn, Geelong and Collingwood, the Bombers will shift their training base to Melbourne Airport by 2013.

Essendon chairman David Evans told Thursday's club annual general meeting the airport precinct would include an MCG-sized oval and an Etihad Stadium-sized oval.

Construction is set to begin in 2012.

Essendon have a 37-year lease on the site with a 50-year option. The project could cost up to $25 million, although the federal government has approved a $6 million grant as part of Essendon's plans to share the facilities with the Australian Paralympic Committee.

Evans and Essendon chief executive Ian Robson were keen to stress the new plan will be part of a "dual vision" structure.

The Bombers have this year signed a 21-year lease at Windy Hill and plan to continue to use the venue for Bendigo Bombers' VFL matches.

"We would celebrate our next premiership at Windy Hill which remains our spiritual home whereas the airport is more functional for training purposes," Robson said.

Robson said the Windy Hill training facility had "slipped behind".

Other clubs such as Collingwood (Olympic Park) and Hawthorn (Waverley) have already made successful moves to larger, state-of-the-art training bases.

The Magpies will take exclusive ownership of their new MCG-sized training ground at Olympic Park next year.

"We know that we've fallen behind," Robson said.

"Does it (airport facility) guarantee premierships? No.

"But it gives us the best chance.

"There's no salary cap in this (airport) space.

"We could have come up with a solution for five to 10 years but we wanted to be a bit braver than that."

Essendon have been based at Windy Hill since 1922. Evans denied a dispute with the bowls club, who refused to move out to allow the Bombers to boost their ageing facilities, had prompted the decision to shift their training base the airport.

He said the airport site was more than twice as big as Windy Hill and "would deliver significant long-term benefits for the club from both a football and community perspective".

"The land size alone is approximately 100,000 square metres and will allow the club to build one of the largest and most flexible indoor training spaces in the AFL, with elite gym, medical, recovery and IT facilities," Evans said.

"We understand the importance of Windy Hill to our history, and as a result have made a commitment to maintaining a significant presence at the ground by opening up the facilities for greater community and local sporting use.

"Contrary to what some believe, the decision to move our training and administration base has not been made because of any particular user group at Windy Hill, but in fact with a long-term vision in mind.

"Something needed to be done to give the players a more professional ... training environment.

"We must not allow our great club to fall behind the rest of the competition, on or off the field."

Essendon plan to speak with new Victorian Sports Minister Hugh Delahunty, a former Bombers ruck-rover, about funding for the airport project.



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