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James Hird speaks out over Essendon saga
In his first live interview since Essendon players were suspended over banned substances, the former coach says the 34 men were 'sacrificed' to send an anti-drugs message. Courtesy ABC News 24.
To this day, it remains baffling as to why a letter written by club doctor Bruce Reid in January 2012 outlining his concerns that supplement-injecting protocols were not being followed – and addressed to James Hird and former football manager Paul Hamilton – was not read by Hird at the time.
And Hird's explanation of events in his News Corp column last week are odd, to say the least. The implication was that if Hird had received this letter, he would have acted with greater urgency to find out what really was going on in the program run by Stephen Dank and Dean Robinson.
Hird wrote that he first learnt of Reid's worries in January 2012 and "I encouraged Dr Reid to put his concerns in writing to Hamilton".
"These concerns were written in a letter from Dr Reid addressed to Hamilton and myself. Unfortunately, I was not given a copy of this letter and did not see this letter until over a year after it was written," Hird wrote.
There was little or nothing new in Hird's column. But, again, it did raise the question why Reid had not asked Hird whether he had read his letter. Wouldn't it have made sense for Reid to follow this up in person with Hird – the most powerful figure at the club?
Incidentally, the letter was left on Hamilton's desk a day after the Bombers leadership group raised concerns among themselves about the supplements program, having already done this with Hird.
Just what happened from this point on remains unclear.
Hamilton insisted to Fairfax Media on the day before the saga broke in 2013 that nothing illegal had been given to the players. In his interview with ASADA, Hamilton said he did not remember reading the letter but remembers Reid detailing his concerns in a meeting, prompting Hamilton to relay those to chief executive Ian Robson.
Robson, though, said in his meeting with ASADA that he had no memory of either a meeting with Hamilton or of the letter.
So serious was the issue that it's bewildering Reid didn't directly alert Robson, despite the so-called official lines of communication being Reid reporting to Robinson and Hamilton.
Reid, in part, had written: "I have some fundamental problems being club doctor at present. This particularly applies to our administration of supplements. It is my belief in the AFL that we should be winning flags by keeping a drug-free culture … I think we are playing at the edge."
That's as serious a statement as any club official can make and, remember, it came with Reid, as the CAS report found, not knowing the full details of a peptides program so secret that even he had been kept on the outer by Dank.
In his column, Hird also wrote that there had been a series of meetings in the weeks after the 2012 Anzac Day game (held on April 25) "to try and get to the bottom of the matter" – that matter being the ad hoc practice in which players were being injected.
At these meetings, Hird says he, Reid, Hamilton and his senior assistant Mark Thompson reminded Dank that injections could only be given with Reid's approval. There was also a meeting where Reid and former department chief Danny Corcoran told Robson and former chairman David Evans that Dank and Robinson should be sacked – a move Hird supported.
Ultimately, says Hird, they agreed that Dank would not be recontracted, and Robinson's role would be reduced, despite his legal threats.
Going on Hird's explanation, Reid had still not mentioned the letter he had written and sent in January. Surely, Reid would have taken a copy of that letter to those two meetings almost four months later, and re-iterated those concerns?
The first Evans was to hear of the letter was in February 2013, three days before the crisis meeting at his Hawthorn home where he received what was to become a controversial telephone call from Andrew Demetriou, and it became clear the club was under investigation for taking performance-enhancing drugs.
Hird only found out about the letter at that stage, despite his urgings of 12 months earlier. Baffling. Had the letter been immediately acted upon in 2012, and the injecting program abandoned, the Bombers most likely would not be in the mess they find themselves in.
As Hird said in an interview on the ABC on Sunday: "We all should have done more and Bruce would admit he should have done more as well."