Sport AFL Hird: the sliding doors moment that triggered my fall

Hird: the sliding doors moment that triggered my fall

James Hird looks dejected as he leaves the field.
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James Hird claims the team Essendon chose to run the AFL club’s controversial supplements program led the club down the path to ruin.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport this week upheld the World Anti-Doping Agency’s appeal against the AFL tribunal decision to clear players of taking the banned substance thymosin-beta 4 while Hird was coach, handing 34 past and present players a 12-month ban from the sport.

Hird revealed in a Herald Sun column that the club wanted to hire Australian Darren Burgess from English Premier League club Liverpool to run the program but, when he could not join the team before May 2012, fitness coach Dean Robinson and sports scientist Stephen Dank were engaged.

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“Had we secured this preferred applicant then the experience of the Essendon Football Club and 34 young men would have been very different,” he said.

“Instead the sliding door we walked through introduced Essendon to the worlds of Dean Robinson and, at Robinson’s suggestion, Stephen Dank.”

“Robinson had made contributions to two premierships at Geelong and Manly. He was also appointed by the AFL itself to oversee the fledgling Gold Coast Suns’ strength and conditioning program.

“He presented as a cross-code success story. It satisfied the due diligence.

“It followed that the club would also agree to his suggestion that Dank must come with him as sports scientist…this is how Robinson and Dank started their roles at Essendon.”

Hird said he was comfortable with the supplements program if supplements were AFL and ASADA approved, players would not be harmed and gave informed consent and that club doctor Bruce Reid gave final approval.

He said that in 2012 the protocol was not always followed and that in meetings after the Anzac Day match of that year, he supported a suggestion that Dank and Robinson should have been removed from the club.

“(There was) a meeting in which (club doctor) Dr Reid and (general manager of football) Danny Corcoran expressed to the club president and chief executive that Dank and Robinson should be sacked. A request I supported.”

Dank, who “had assured the club the supplements were compliant”, was later sacked and Robinson’s role scaled back as the supplements program was modified so that only Dr Reid could administer injections.

Hird also said that Essendon’s players “absolutely do not deserve this fate.”

He is expected to reveal more in another column for the Herald Sun on Saturday.

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