Sport AFL Hird: from untouchable to unmentionable

Hird: from untouchable to unmentionable

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There’s a job going at Essendon.

No, not the senior coaching role, which James Hird is clinging on to by his fingernails.

Rather, the club is looking for a digital imaging specialist – someone who’ll be charged with the task of removing all trace of Hird’s flowing locks and number five guernsey from the archives at Windy Hill.

James Hird’s two years of hell 
Hird still Essendon coach … for now

That seemed to be the message from Wednesday night’s best-and-fairest count.

The Crichton Medal was a decidedly Hird-free zone.

It was as if the golden boy was an unfortunate victim of Soviet revisionist history, removed from pictures by censors and never to be spoken of again.

From the outside, Thompson seems the preferred candidate of the Bombers players. Photo: Getty
From the outside, Thompson seems the preferred candidate of the Bombers players. Photo: Getty

Outgoing (we think) interim coach Mark Thompson – in a rambling, 20-minute soliloquy – effectively delivered the board an ultimatum that he’d stay if he were made senior coach, nothing less.

Chairman Paul Little addressed the crowd for 15 minutes, declared Essendon would not appeal Justice John Middleton’s decision that the ASADA/AFL investigation into the club was legal, and didn’t mention Hird once.

On Thursday things degenerated into farce – with Hird sacked by The Age and reinstated by The Herald Sun an hour later.

When it was announced Hird would take over as Essendon coach in September 2010, the returning king said he was putting his reputation on the line by taking the post.

“There is no better time to come onto the Essendon Football Club than right now. It probably doesn’t get any more rock bottom than this,” Hird said.

Well, it can and it has.

Essendon’s membership slogan at the time was ‘Stand as One’, but it’s hard to imagine a club more fractured.

Relationships have been burned as Hird hurtles, seemingly, toward a Shakespearean climax.

However and whenever the axe finally does fall, the cautionary tale of the Essendon Football Club will be riveting reading.

David Evans, Bruce Reid, Dean Robinson, Danny Corcoran, Thompson – so many reputations tarnished and friendships broken.

Yet among all the carnage, and just like he did as a player, Hird continues to skate above it all as the cracks in the ice get wider.

James Hird leaves Essendon's Tullamarine base on Thursday. Photo: Getty
James Hird leaves Essendon’s Tullamarine base on Thursday. Photo: Getty

And there’s something almost heroic in the sheer gumption of the man, still fighting though everyone around at Essendon wants him to lay down his guns.

But it was a line in his statement released on Thursday that rankled most of all.

“If we don’t appeal our players may be stained forever by the innuendo, misconceptions and falsities,” it read.

Does anyone really blame the players for what went on at Essendon in 2012?

The players want this to end, and so does the club.

Hird obviously feels as though he’s been hard done by, but you get the feeling his fight for justice will be too much for Essendon to bear.

Somewhere along the line, Bomber Thompson – whose comments at the Crichton medal were astounding – has manoeuvred himself into pole position for Hird’s job.

Was this his aim all along?

Bomber is happy to play the court jester at media conferences, but has his ambition been piqued by just what these young Bombers could be capable of?

Speaking in the Channel 7 documentary The Chosen Few, journalist Martin Flanagan says coaches have to be “alpha males”.

“When they come into a room, that’s him – that’s the man.”

There’s no doubt Hird commanded the respect of Essendon’s players, members and supporters. But does he still? After what has transpired, can he still be ‘the man’?

Bomber Thompson said on Wednesday night he still fancied himself as ‘the man’.

We’ll find out in coming days.

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