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It's time for Essendon to cut James Hird adrift

Expert
25th March, 2014
81
2657 Reads

One of the cornerstones of team sport is the fact no individual is greater than the team.

That applied to James Hird when he was a player at the Essendon Football Club and it should still apply today, as a coach on full pay while he awaits the end of an AFL-imposed 12-month suspension for his role in the club’s drug scandal.

What transpired last Thursday night – when Hird’s wife, Tania appeared on ABC’s 7.30 – should see him denied the opportunity to return to the club in the role of head coach.

Hird would have been aware his wife was going to be interviewed. She was not ‘door stopped’, as she has been regularly during this ongoing soap opera, but rather had agreed to a pre-arranged, well-planned discussion.

It went to air 24 hours before the Bombers were due to play their opening game of the 2014 AFL season. The match, against North Melbourne, held special significance for the club as it saw Dustin Fletcher play his 379th game, eclipsing Simon Madden’s club record.

It was also the start of a brand new campaign.

While the significant matter of the pending final report from ASADA is still to come, Friday night should have been all about the club going forward and Fletcher’s milestone. Instead, the media’s attention was on the words of Tania Hird.

The main thrust of Tania Hird’s interview – or at least the one that garnered the most oxygen – was her unswerving belief that AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou tipped off the Essendon Football Club ahead of the ASADA investigation.

Both Demetriou and the Bombers’ president at the time, David Evans, vehemently deny such a conversation ever took place.

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The rumour first did the rounds in the first half of last year, prompting an investigation by the Australian Crime Commission. On 25 July last year, the ACC announced there was no evidence to support the claim.

In essence, it drew a line through it.

Yet, despite that finding by the ACC, Hird’s wife still felt the need to air it again on the eve of the club’s opening game of the season, guaranteeing it would once again dominate the AFL headlines.

In the following days, Burnside, Hanke and Hird’s father all added their slant on things.

The timing of those comments was appalling and served only to remove the spotlight from the club and one of its greatest stalwarts and return it to the suspended coach.

Hird must surely have spoken to his wife about the interview in advance, especially as he would have known how she felt about the treatment he had received, rightly or wrongly.

By making the comments she did, all that was achieved was the fuelling of a fire that the club would prefer to have smouldering in the background.

In essence, nothing positive was ever going to emerge from her media appearance. If anything, it has further damaged her husband’s public standing and the fact the pair could not see that in advance is quite bewildering.

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While Hird is bound by a confidentiality agreement as part of the deal struck between Essendon and the AFL, others in his immediate circle are not.

‘Team Hird’ has often been front and centre with its public support of its man. His lawyer Julian Burnside, media advisor Ian Hanke, father Allan and wife have all been on the front foot in recent times, arguing against what they perceive as the injustice levelled at Hird.

Their protestations will not change the fact he will not return to the club in any capacity until finals time this season.

Given that Burnside and Hanke were personally engaged by Hird he should have told both that he did not want them making any public utterances. He should also have made that clear to members of his family as well.

The fact he did not resulted in the Team Hird agenda hijacking a news cycle that should have been focused on Fletcher and the club.

There was no doubting the frustrations of club president Paul Little over the unwanted focus on the club’s darkest period. Later today, he and his board will decide Hird’s future with the club.

Hird clearly still feels aggrieved by the deal, principally cut by Little and the AFL, that resulted in him being handed a 12-month suspension from coaching.

The fact that he took no steps to prevent the firestorm erupting a day out from his club’s first match of the season smacks of a man who believes he, and his plight, is more important than the club.

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In team sport that is a heinous crime.

Hird is currently in Singapore, en route eventually to France, where he will undertake a club-sponsored six-month study course while still receiving his reported $700,000 salary.

As part of the deal to get Hird to accept his penalty, Little extended his contract, believed to be at a remuneration greater than he is currently receiving, and guaranteed his return to the club after he had served his penance.

His president’s support has been far less effusive since Tania Hird’s interview.

Hird may well be saved by the fact that letting him go could cost the club in the vicinity of $2 million. But perhaps it is a hit that the Essendon needs to take.

Through his inaction, Hird has allowed his situation to continue to float above the club’s and there is no guarantee it will not continue that way.

The time is ripe to cut him adrift because the Bombers, its board, members and supporters do not need a repeat of last week’s ambush.