There’s no doubt James Hird is a good man. He’s also a supreme competitor.
And therein lies the cause of Essendon’s serious dilemma.
Stephen Dank may well be trying to destroy his reputation but strangely the person most likely to harm Hird – albeit unintentionally – is his own wife.
In Hird’s 2006 autobiography Reading The Play, Tania Hird gave a surprisingly honest and intriguing insight into the nature of the Essendon great: “The four adjectives I believe best describe James are 1) motivated 2) hardworking 3) strong in character and 4) good, and not necessarily in that order”.
You could have forgiven her for opening with ‘good’ but that is not the primary trait of the extreme competitor and high achiever.
Hird’s gentle side has received plenty of publicity but his fame is based on his being a brilliant footballer – a Brownlow and Norm Smith Medallist and an Essendon skipper and premiership player – with exquisite skill and great courage despite being in possession of a body not suited to the brutal physicality of the game.
He arrived at the Bombers as a lowly number 79 draft selection already chronically injured and sickly looking with Kevin Sheedy describing him at the time as “too thin, verging on anaemic”.
But it was a willingness to embrace all forms of medicine that kept him in the game. In 1999 he sought “radical treatment” in the US to bring a debilitating stress fracture of the foot under control and in 2002 he was grateful a surgeon was on hand to reconstruct his face after a horrific collision with teammate Mark McVeigh’s knee.
More intriguing was his 2001 visit to Munich with the club’s fitness coach John Quinn to investigate the treatment methods of eccentric physician Dr Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt famous for his use of Actovegin, a calf blood and rooster comb extract, injected with mysterious “homeopathic substances” to treat chronic injuries.
Apparently the club refused to accept the recommendations of Hird and Quinn on their return from Munich. Geelong though didn’t hesitate to use the doctor to treat Max Rooke for a hamstring injury prior to the 2007 finals
During his playing career Hird, was a client to the controversial “fitness guru” Shane Charter who used legal treatments and methods but was also later convicted for importing pseudoephedrine, used to make amphetamines.
As a coach you would assume Hird has not lost his desire to succeed or his belief in the importance of medicine in sport. It was no surprise, therefore, to learn that he was a supporter of Stephen Dank’s intensive use of therapeutic and recovery aiding supplements.
The worrying moment for me came when Dank said he injected Hird more than once with the banned growth hormone stimulant Hexarelin.
Now apparently Hird has stated he was injected but didn’t know with what.
Unfortunately I find it difficult to believe that a highly intelligent and learned man who, in the words of his own wife, “recognises where he lacks expertise and ensures that he obtains it” would agree to being injected with a substance he knows nothing about.
Perhaps in his desire to succeed at all costs he has allowed a sports scientist who by all accounts is an extremely persuasive and enthusiastic spruiker of his supplement regimen to hijack his good sense.
If it is found that Hird knowingly received a banned substance from the man who had been given free rein to service the playing squad then surely he will be sacked.
And that would be a real shame considering the recent stirring victories. I’m sure his intention wasn’t to cheat or to put the players’ health at risk but to make the club, and himself, a winner again.