Tonight, Essendon veteran Dustin Fletcher will break Simon Madden’s 22-year-old games record when he runs through the banner for the 379th time. Fletcher has been an institution in the AFL over three decades, his gangly frame defying the logic of age.
Much of social media runs with gags poking fun at Fletcher’s longevity, such as his telling defensive efforts during Essendon’s inaugural premiership/round robin victory in 1897.
But one statistic that is overlooked is Fletcher has played with – or against – approximately 14 father and son combinations. This must surely be a record.
Tonight, the football public should be focusing on a two-time premiership player, a best and fairest, a dual All-Australian and one of the Essendon Football Club’s greats.
It should be focusing on an Essendon favourite son, one who debuted as teenager in the early 1990s and whose father also gave great service to the club.
While the eye of the football public is on one such player, it’s not the right one. And that in itself is why the contract of James Hird as (suspended) coach should be torn up today.
On the eve of a new season, Hird has continued to put himself in front of the club that adores him, through his pointless and ill-timed appearance on The Hangar to the continued protestations from his wife Tania, who everyone seems at pains to point out is a lawyer herself.
Her appearance on 7:30 last night was ill-advised, and almost pointed to a sense of ‘going down fighting’. Surely, Tania Hird would have realised that, on the eve of a new season, with a new coach at the helm and with plenty of optimism coming from head office, that her accusations levelled at Andrew Demetriou would not end well.
Paul Little and his board will meet today to discuss the future of James Hird. In my view, his position at the Essendon Football Club is untenable. Little came to the club with a reputation for being tough and making the difficult decisions and his business background would point to that. But this is where he needs to make the right decision for the betterment of the football club.
Whether Tania Hird believes that her husband was bullied into signing the contract expelling him from the game for 12 months, the fact is that his ink is on the paper.
Tania Hird thinks her husband is a scapegoat? If she could point me in the direction of any other ‘scapegoat’ who is paid $1 million to go to a prominent business school in France and generally have a holiday, then maybe I could understand it.
As the inflated ego of James Hird becomes more prevalent, so too does the Essendon faithful become sick of their once-loved leader. They, like the rest of the club – and by extension football fans everywhere – want this saga to end.
As late as Monday night, Essendon had viewed tonight’s match as a fresh start for the club – Mark Thompson said as much on AFL 360. But the idiotic and ignorant airing of the Hird interview the following night immediately derailed any hope of that, and Tania Hird’s media blitz last night compounded it further.
Meanwhile, Stephen Dank has in his possession a show-cause notice alleging 34 anti-doping breaches. Ultimately, that is the most concerning. The careers of players that we have admired, growing to admire or eagerly anticipate a lengthy career may be in danger.
Hird, who has showed no remorse since February 7, was a part of the process that led to an uncontrolled, ill-governed and potentially harmful supplements program.
He should have gone this time last year. Now is as good a time as any for the Essendon public to say goodbye to James Hird.