Essendon Indigenous Player Development Manager Paddy Ryder, 2023. (Source: Essendon FC)

On the face of it, Paddy Ryder's appointment earlier in the week as Essendon's Indigenous player development manager seemed run of the mill.

Media inboxes are inundated with notifications of club football department appointments throughout the off-season. And given how transient the life of an off-field AFL employee has become, the press releases pile up.

But if one delves a little bit deeper into Ryder's return to his first AFL club, this hiring is a lot more significant than any old footy department hire.

Subtle as it might have been, it represented another huge step in the Bombers' healing process as a club.

Now it must be said that Ryder's return to Essendon hasn't been universally welcomed by every fan of the club.

While many were sympathetic to Ryder's decision to leave the Bombers at the end of 2014 as a result of the infamous drugs saga, and the media firestorm which perpetually engulfed the club for years, there are those who were not happy with the manner in which Ryder departed Tullamarine.

And those feelings of dissatisfaction would've been amplified five years later when the ruckman had the chance to rejoin the Bombers as a player, but opted against that prospect, instead crossing to St Kilda from Port Adelaide.

“I went back into the club (Essendon) last week and I wanted to see what it felt like and I just didn't really get a good feeling from going back there,” Ryder told AFL Trade Radio at the time.

Way to put a fire out with a can of petrol there, Paddy.

But three-and-a-half years later, Ryder's return to the Bombers is significant on two fronts.

Firstly, even though Ryder has stated numerous times in the past that the doping scandal is behind everyone who was involved (not entirely accurate, but let's run with the sentiment), seeing him back in the Bombers colours puts somewhat of a full stop on the 10-year-old saga, and any potential lingering psychological trauma for the club and its fans.

Secondly, Ryder's return displays how far the club has come in a short period of time.

Ryder saying he didn't “get a good feeling” at the club after touring The Hangar following the 2019 season actually makes sense in hindsight.

At that time, the club board was crippled by weakness, politics and self-serving members only concerned about protecting their patch of turf rather than looking out for the good of the club.

As they say, the fish rots at the head, and that dysfunction at board level was always going to seep downstream in the footy department and the players - and the results are there for all to see as Essendon continue to chase their first finals win since 2004.

Nothing personified the board's lack of spine more than the decision announced just a few weeks before Ryder's tour that John Worsfold would hand over the coaching reins to Ben Rutten at the conclusion of the 2020 season, ensuring a muddled 12 months of mixed messaging with Worsfold the nominal coach and Rutten the tactical coach.

Bomber fans - how would you feel about Ryder returning to the club? (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Rather than bite the bullet and do the tough, but right, thing – fire Worsfold and potentially get in the market for someone like Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir – the Essendon board took the incredibly soft option which spectacularly blew up in their faces three years later when Rutten was sensationally sacked.

Can Ryder really be blamed for opting against a romantic return to the Bombers as a player with that backdrop?

But his Essendon comeback, albeit in a staff capacity, in early 2023 strongly indicates that most, if not all, of the issues which have paralysed the club in recent years might have been resolved.

The club was slammed from pillar to post when new president David Barham sparked the tumult last August which resulted in Rutten's unceremonious sacking. The fact that the Bombers were publicly courting Alastair Clarkson while Rutten was still in the job was undignified to say the least.

But half a year on, that period in Essendon's history is looking more and more like the painful band-aid that needed to be ripped off for the greater good.

A much-needed broom has swept through the club, heralding a new era of change.

Essendon now has a new president, new CEO (after stuffing up the first attempt at filling that role), new coach, new captain and four new board members who make up 40 per cent of the board.

Bombers fans might not have been enthused by what their team served up against St Kilda last Friday (even though it was only a practice match), but the off-field developments are providing genuine hope for the future for the first time in a long time, and Ryder returning to the fold only reinforces that optimism.