Former Essendon coach James Hird has accepted an invitation to present the Norm Smith Medal after this year’s AFL grand final.
The league and Hird had been at odds over the Bombers’ ill-fated 2012 supplements program, but AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan confirmed the move on Thursday.
“(It’s) obviously significant, we appreciate him accepting the offer and we look forward to welcoming him back into the fold,” McLachlan said.
The medal, awarded to the player adjudged the best grand final performer, is presented each year by a former winner.
Hird, an ex-golden boy of the competition, coached Essendon from 2011-15, but was suspended by the AFL for the entire 2014 season for his part in the club’s supplements program.
Thirty-four current and former Bombers players were suspended for the 2016 season for anti-doping breaches that occurred under the controversial program.
In one of the darkest chapters in Essendon and AFL history, the Bombers were fined $2 million, docked draft picks and barred from the 2013 finals series for bringing the game into disrepute.
Retiring champion Jobe Watson ended up handing back 2012 Brownlow Medal.
AFL wants fans to welcome Hird back
McLachlan accepts Hird’s involvement on grand final day will divide opinion, but is hopeful of a warm reception by the MCG crowd.
“I think we’ve got a mature football industry,” he said.
“I know there will be mixed views but I think, on the day and in the moment, I hope that people are accepting (of him).”
Hird played 253 games for Essendon, including the 1993 and 2000 grand-final wins, and was awarded the Norm Smith Medal in 2000.
He has had no official involvement with the AFL since leaving the Bombers in August 2015, citing the need for the club to move on from the supplements saga.
He was admitted to hospital in January this year after overdosing on sleeping pills and spent time in a mental health facility to battle clinical depression, brought on by the stress of the supplements scandal.