Essendon coach James Hird could be sacked as early as Thursday after he decided to appeal the Federal Court ruling over the joint AFL-ASADA investigation into the 2012 supplements program in defiance of the club.
The Essendon board had called an emergency meeting for Thursday morning to discuss Hird’s tenure, with 2014 coach Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson seemingly first in line to take over.
In an extraordinary night at the Bombers’ best-and-fairest count, chairman Paul Little, previously a staunch supporter of Hird, did not mention the Essendon legend once by name during a 20-minute speech.
Thompson, who was a popular stand-in coach in 2014 while Hird was under a 12-month suspension, indicated that he would remain at the club only if he were senior coach.
“You don’t go backwards in this world,” he said to rapturous applause. The club had previously been looking at offering Thompson a role in the football department under Hird.
But Thompson drew a comparison with players returning to the VFL after being dropped from the AFL. “Players hate that. That’s a little bit how I feel.”
Little told the faithful that the club had accepted Justice John Middleton’s September 19 ruling and urged Bombers supporters to “move on”.
Many in the room appear to have done just that. As Thompson returned to his seat, a chant of “Bomber, Bomber” – Thompson’s nickname – went around the Crown Palladium. Hird, meanwhile, was not in attendance, reportedly asked by the club to stay away.
Little remained adamant that none of the Bombers players were administered harmful or banned drugs in 2012, and reiterated the club’s intention to clear their names.
“Our priority throughout this process has always been our players,” Little told the audience, after walking on stage to the tune of John Newman’s Love Me Again.
“As a result, the board has decided not to pursue an appeal against the Federal Court judgment.
“We are of the strong belief that if there is no appeal, the show cause process will recommence immediately and both ASADA and the AFL will undertake to move with as much expedition as possible.
“It is therefore my recommendation to all of you here tonight and our supporters generally, that it is now time to accept the Federal Court’s decision and move on.”
He added: “Our priority remains the welfare of our players and protecting their rights. Through no fault of their own, the players and their families continue to live with the uncertainty of this investigation.
“Based on two years of extensive internal investigation plus re-examination of all the evidence and information available, we at the club maintain our confidence, that neither harmful nor banned substances were given to our players.
“We have incurred the most severe penalties of any AFL club. The club, its members and supporters have all felt the pain of this stressful chapter of our recent history.
“For the players’ sake, it is time for the club and its directors to place our collective energy and resources into expediting this process, and not stop until we have cleared our players’ names, once and for all.”
For his part, Thompson did not confirm his future at Essendon after speculation on Wednesday he would replace sacked Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna.
“The thing that I am really struggling with right now, is taking a step back,” he said.
“I haven’t talked to the Gold Coast.
“The plan was to leave, after this year. I don’t really want to because I do love this football club.
“But I can’t do a job that doesn’t really fill the need. That’s my situation.”
Essendon and Hird went to court together, arguing the joint investigation was unlawful.
They were confident of success, but Justice Middleton ruled decisively against them and ordered them to pay ASADA’s costs.
ASADA announced last week that if Essendon and Hird decided not to appeal, the national anti-doping body would proceed with revised show-cause notices against 34 current and former Bombers players accused of using banned drug thymosin beta-4.
It is not clear if the players will try to strike a deal with authorities on the grounds that they were duped into participating in Essendon’s supplements program, or if they will challenge the show-cause notices.
Hird did not receive a show-cause notice, but did accept a 12-month suspension as coach over a failure of governance at Essendon.
The show-cause notices are the first step in the anti-doping disciplinary process.
AFL legend Leigh Matthews on Sunday said that Hird should stand down from the Bombers so the club could make a fresh start.
– with AAP