James Hird did a lot of classy things on football fields during his stellar, much-decorated career as a player. But he saved his very best performance till last.
The Essendon champion finally gave in to the many forces that have been gunning for him for the best part of three seasons by announcing his resignation on Tuesday afternoon with style and grace.
Those who watched any of his 253 AFL games would not have been surprised by this. After all, style, grace and courage were the hallmarks of his game.
Those who watched pretty much any of the moments since February 2013, when the supplements scandal first broke, wouldn’t have been surprised either.
Whether it was ASADA grillings, 100-point defeats, front-porch media scrums or almost daily calls for his resignation, Hird maintained his dignity throughout.
No wonder Essendon chairman Paul Little, who sat at Hird’s side at Tuesday’s press conference, called him “one of the most resilient men I have ever met”.
As the playing group looked on, the two men swore the decision for Hird to leave Essendon, 25 years after he first walked in there as a teenager, was arrived at over a period of weeks jointly and without rancour. I’ll leave others to pick over the details of that.
If you like this article, you should also read this piece:
James Hird played the starring role in Essendon’s disaster movie
What’s clear is that as Essendon sank further into a mire of heavy defeats, front and back-page controversy and even on-field acrimony, the coach and board agreed the only chance the playing group had of getting “clear air” was for him to go.
At Tuesday’s press conference Hird stuck pretty much to a script that was as notable for its omissions as its inclusions. While many of his supporters and Essendon fans would have liked, even expected, to hear broadsides aimed at ASADA, the AFL, and assorted commentators, the outgoing coach resisted.
That would only prolong the agony by giving his enemies even more headlines and increase pressure on the players.
But there were one or two moments when his true emotions shone through.
One was when he was asked if he’d been made a scapegoat.
“I don’t feel like a scapegoat,” Hird said, adding: “What I feel like is an Essendon person who wants his club to be successful.
“I want these players to be able to play … I want the supporters to love coming to games again. I want us to win. I want us to be a great club again.
“I don’t want us to be the centre of attraction when it comes to drugs in sport.”
But the most emotional moments came at the mention of his family.
He gave us an insight into what they’ve been through when he offered his wife and four children a direct apology – “I am truly sorry for what you’ve had to endure” – before promising a better, brighter future ahead.
“Making this decision, I hope we all get a chance to move on and enjoy our life and how wonderful life is,” Hird said. With that, his eyes grew moist.
Seeing him talk and look this way, I was reminded of something American essayist Calvin Trillin once observed about families.
“Your children are either the center of your life or they’re not, and the rest is commentary.”
With his decision to go, Hird finally gets the chance to put the things that really matter back at the centre of his life.
And no one, not even his fiercest critics who’ll no doubt deride him into the future, would deny him that right.
Have you read today’s other top stories?
A scathing article about the horrors of working for Amazon triggers a strident defence from staff, and a memo from billionaire owner Jeff Bezos. Read more.
The banks are bracing for sudden falls in house prices. The RBA is worried. But these people are not the least bit concerned. Read more.
Lonely Planet has compiled a monster list of the top 500 travel destinations in the world. We profile the top 10, including Australia’s own Great Barrier Reef. Read more.