James Hird has held onto his job as Essendon coach – for now – despite defying the wishes of the AFL club to continue his legal battle against the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.
Hird lodged papers with the Federal Court on Thursday against the decision by Justice Middleton last month that the joint investigation by AFL and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority was legal.
Essendon have decided not to appeal the decision, with Hird further distancing himself from the club by taking the opposite approach.
The Essendon board met at the club’s training headquarters at Tullamarine on Thursday, before deciding to reconvene in the coming days to consider Hird’s position.
“We would have preferred James had not appealed,” said chairman Paul Little.
“He took the decision to do that and we’re still talking to him about that decision.”
Earlier on Thursday, Hird released a statement detailing his reasons for breaking ranks with Essendon and its playing group by continuing to pursue legal action.
“I have been advised and believe that there are strong reasons why that decision is incorrect and that this is the proper and appropriate course to vindicate the legal rights of the EFC and its players,” he said.
“The challenge to the lawfulness of the joint investigation was and is an important step in showing that the Essendon Football Club, its players and staff were submitted to a compromised investigation and were treated unfairly.
“If we don’t appeal our players may be stained forever by the innuendo, misconceptions and falsities that resulted from an investigation that we believe was conducted unlawfully.
“It is important that an investigation based on unlawfully gathered information never occurs again to any person, sporting club or organisation.”
I do believe we just witnessed someone going all in on the number 5. Let the wheel spin.
— Richard Ings (@ringsau) October 2, 2014
Hird did not attend Wednesday night’s club best-and-fairest function, where Little and caretaker coach Mark Thompson made lengthy and emotional speeches.
If Essendon sack Hird in the coming days, it could pave the way for Thompson to reject a potential offer from Gold Coast and stay with the Bombers.
While Thompson is favourite to take over from sacked Suns coach Guy McKenna, he made it clear in his speech that he loves Essendon and wants to stay.
But Thompson also said he did not want to take a step back in his next role – a comment that strongly suggests he wants to continue as a senior coach.
Thompson left Melbourne on Thursday for a holiday in the United States.
Hird said it would have been simpler for him to accept Justice Middleton’s ruling, but he was compelled to appeal because he did not believe that any Essendon players had been exposed to any banned supplements or drugs.
“I am extremely sorry for the pain this saga has caused the players of the Essendon Football Club, their families, the Essendon Football Club staff, the Essendon Football Club supporters and the football industry as a whole,” said Hird.
“I am requesting expedition of this appeal and will not ask for a stay of the notices.
The short term simple approach would be to acquiesce and plead guilty to ASADA even though the players, the club and myself do not believe we have breached the rules.
“The players and ASADA will be able to continue with the show-cause process whilst a full court deals with the legality of the investigation.
“I have not taken this decision lightly.
“I believe this is the right course or action and is in the best interests of the Essendon Football Club, its players, the supporters and the game.
“The short term simple approach would be to acquiesce and plead guilty to ASADA even though the players, the club and myself do not believe we have breached the rules.
“It would be a lie as would pleading out of the proceedings when I, my lawyers and the Essendon Football Club lawyers firmly believe that the investigation was conducted unlawfully and an appeal will be successful.”
Last week, ASADA announced they were ready to proceed with revised show cause notices against 34 current and former Essendon players.
ASADA said they would only go ahead if Essendon and Hird decided not to appeal.
AFL Players Association chief executive Paul Marsh has urged ASADA to issue the show-cause notices, regardless of what Hird decides.
“The players welcome the club’s decision (not to appeal) and urge ASADA if it indeed intends to issue amended show-cause notices to do so as a matter of urgency,” Marsh said.
“This matter has dragged on for far too long.
“It is essential for all parties involved to take steps to expedite the process and bring it to a conclusion.”