James Hird arrived at Windy Hill a longshot – a seemingly brittle 17-year-old chosen with pick 79 in the 1990 draft, who went on to be one of the greatest Essendon players in history.
Now he appears set to leave in much the same way: Hird seems a longshot to return to the senior coaching role after being suspended for his part in the club’s supplements debacle. Just two days after stating he was looking forward to returning to the top job when his ban is complete in August, Hird, who has one of the sharpest minds in the game, must have known his wife’s appearance on ABC’s 7:30 Report to fire another shot across the AFL’s bow was the equivalent of committing footballing harakiri.
Tania Hird seems to have left Essendon little choice, and listening to the tiredness and resignation in Paul Little’s voice on Melbourne radio on Friday morning, it was clear from the latest turn in the saga that everyone has had enough.
Similarly, Hird must have known the timing of this interview. Aired on the night before his old team takes to the field for the first time in 2014, and his dual premiership teammate Dustin Fletcher breaks Simon Madden’s club record for most games played, it’s hard not to suspect it was timed to cause maximum disruption to the Bombers.
Hird’s fight to keep his own legacy untarnished has consumed him, to the detriment of the club and the game.
For too much of this saga, it’s been all about James. Hird’s fight to keep his own legacy untarnished has consumed him, to the detriment of the club and the game. From the moment he allowed himself and his football department to be seduced by that sweet-talking George Clooney of sports science, Stephen Dank, he was on a road he couldn’t get off. For a player so good in traffic it must have been tough to find himself on a freeway with the steering unresponsive.
Attending Essendon training last season while working in the media was an interesting, at times intimidating experience, as the diehards and true believers circled the wagons around Hird and club doctor Bruce Reid. But surely even they must realise that Hird, after his wife’s latest attack on the league, must be cut adrift.
Tania Hird’s claim the AFL was looking after its own interests (“it was all about the AFL brand”) is an interesting one. From day one this has been about ‘brand James’, the golden boy who could do no wrong. The Hird family’s bitterness seems to be about the fact he took the offer that was on the table. By agreeing to the suspension last season, James Hird must have thought he’d have been able to live with it, serve his time, and return to the game. Seven months on, clearly he resents the decision he made, or resents the pressure he felt making it.
Which is a shame – because had he been able to come back, he stood a chance of rebuilding his image and standing.
But, for now, the name Hird is a stain on the Essendon Football Club. It’ll fade with time, but may never wash out completely.