James Hird, true to the whisperings of his camp for more than 15 months, did not really believe he was responsible for his football department or his players. Nor did Hird believe the club was genuinely self-reporting when it fronted the public in February last year and admitted its nasty and dangerous problem.
In fact the Essendon coach fronted the media alongside his fellow club chiefs and former colleagues David Evans and Ian Robson only because Gillon McLachlan suggested he should do so “for the look of the club and my reputation”. He finally agreed to sign a deal with the AFL “under duress, threats and inducements”. He was told by Evans, his former close friend, to omit evidence when being interviewed by ASADA and in fact was unwilling to be interviewed by the anti-doping body at all.
So the key question at some point for Hird is just what exactly was he responsible for? What did he truly stand for while he claimed to be acting only in the best interests of his players and at what point during this entire sorry saga did he actually think and act on his own behalf? If his apology behind closed doors to the AFL Commission was insincere then how can his club truly move forward with Hird at the helm?
Documents are wheeled into the court on Monday. Photo: Getty Images
As the Federal Court and Justice John Middleton continue to deliberate over the legality of the joint investigation carried out into Essendon by ASADA and the AFL it was also suggested in evidence on Monday that the Australian anti-doping body would simply re-issue show-cause notices to 34 Essendon players whether or not the work they have done already was valid. If that is correct the tactic by Essendon will serve to expose the inadequacies of last year’s processes but do nothing to save its players.
It has also served to devalue the reputation of the AFL and its past and present chiefs but there again the AFL remains certain it has broken no laws. The AFL has always disputed it definitively knew that Essendon was the club at the centre of doping allegations after it was briefed by the Australian Crime Commission. Both Andrew Demetriou and Gillon McLachlan have always stressed this despite having the strongest of suspicions that the Bombers were the club.
It is understood that both the current boss McLachlan and his predecessor still deny they left the meeting on January 31, 2013 with a definite answer and there is even genuine dispute as to whether the ACC’s director of operations, Paul Jevtovic, actually uttered the words “say no more” after McLachlan asked: “Is it Essendon.” The AFL Commission’s version of events is that the ACC refused to confirm the club involved.
Nonetheless it remains unfortunate that Demetriou chose the words he did when denying last year that he had tipped off David Evans. No one, except perhaps Hird, would have had a problem with an AFL chief giving counsel to a distressed club chairman concerned that his players were in trouble. Demetriou should have admitted he believed the club was Essendon and Evans, if Hird is telling the truth, should never have told the coach to hide anything from ASADA.
Not that the process changes the bottom line in this seemingly never-ending story. And that finally is the question of what the players took, or were given as they worked in this “pharmaceutically experimental environment’’.
On Tuesday, when Hird takes the stand again and continues to point the finger at an investigation he allowed himself to enter into, the AFL will again be forced to roll with his well-aimed punches.
It has not been a happy few days for the AFL, ASADA and the departed Gillard government. That a government was so concerned about the look of the process – and ASADA so incompetent in its willingness to make deals – should be a matter of concern to a sport-loving nation.
The AFL will do things differently next time and so they should. But it remains less and less likely that Hird will get the chance to redeem himself.
Hird knows that when he returns to Essendon later this month he will be doing so under the guidance of a board that remains divided as to whether he should be allowed to return or not. Judging by his performance on day one of the Federal Court deliberations he certainly doesn’t deserve that chance.
During his evidence expected to be put forward under examination on Tuesday by his own legal team, perhaps Hird will finally and unreservedly apologise for the damage his regime has done to his club. Then again perhaps not.