- GREG BAUM: Dons take their medicine
- JON PIERIK: Hird will be seen again
- SAMANTHA LANE: Hird bows to pressure
- MICHAEL GLEESON: It could have been worse
- PETER HANLON: 'No one is above the game'
- BRENT DIAMOND: No sanction for Dons' VFL team
Essendon coach James Hird has dramatically backed down and accepted a one-year ban from the game as his club was expelled from the 2013 finals, stripped of draft picks and fined $2 million.
After the most dramatic day in AFL history, one of the game's most revered figures admitted he had contributed to Essendon's failure to ensure the welfare of its players and abandoned his Supreme Court action against the league and its boss, Andrew Demetriou.
''This is the most significant sanction in AFL history,'' Demetriou said of the unprecedented penalties.
AFL Commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick said: ''The AFL Commission shares [AFL fans'] anger, and frustration that the 2013 season has too often been dominated by headlines we'd rather not see.''
''The issues involved in the Essendon Football Club supplements program are deeply disturbing. The investigation undertaken in the past six months and the actions we have taken today reflects this gravity.''
The Hird backdown concluded a season of vociferous denials from the Essendon coach that he would accept any wrongdoing in the risky and experimental drugs program instigated at the end of 2011 and carried out through the 2012 season.
Hird's senior assistant, Mark Thompson, has also accepted a sanction in the form of a fine. The case of club doctor Bruce Reid was yet to be concluded.
Hird agreed that as senior coach he shared responsibility for Essendon's inadequate governance and for his role in the Bombers breaching the AFL's rule 1.6 in conduct unbecoming or likely to prejudice the interests or the reputation of the AFL or to bring the game of football into disrepute.
In an unprecedented fall from grace for a Brownlow medallist, Hall of Famer and Norm Smith medallist, Hird has become the first senior coach in the game's history to be forced out of football for 12 months. Hird can hold no role at the club for the next year and cannot be paid by the club.
Essendon has been banned from the 2013 finals series and the opening two rounds of the 2013 draft and slapped with a $2 million fine for the derelict failures of its football program.
This is the most significant sanction in AFL history.
It will also miss the opening round of the 2014 draft but its role in next year's second round of draft picks remained unclear. The Bombers reportedly will be allowed to trade back into the draft's early rounds.
As late as 7pm Hird was still pushing to have his 12-month ban include a suspended component that would allow him to return to coach the Bombers by the middle of next season. The commission, however, would not budge.
It has emerged that Essendon chairman Paul Little had warned Hird last Thursday against pursuing legal avenues against the AFL, which included a threat from Hird's legal representative, Julian Burnside, QC, to subpoena the telephone records of AFL executives Demetriou and Gillon McLachlan.
Little is understood to have told Hird the club could not continue to fund Hird's legal case indefinitely, although the club appeared prepared to continue to financially support club doctor Reid.
Reid's letter of warning addressed to Hird and former football manager Paul Hamilton in January 2012 was a key part of the evidence gathered in the six-month investigation into Essendon's risky drugs program, which began in late 2011 after Hird was warned by the AFL to stay away from implementing a peptides program to his players.
Shortly after that warning, discredited biochemist Stephen Dank was employed by the club to begin the program, which sees Essendon players still at risk of bans from anti- doping authorities.
Little has previously guaranteed Hird would return to coach the Bombers beyond 2014, although that would require the signing of a new contract with Hird's current deal expiring at the end of next year.
Last night Little said the club was negotiating with Hird to extend his contract - and that he would coach in next year's finals, should Essendon make them.
''We recognise that failings occurred at our club during this period,'' Little said. ''We must and do accept accountability and apologise for them.''
Essendon football boss Danny Corcoran has accepted a four-month suspension from the game.
In the deal, the AFL appears to have abandoned a historically significant push to strip Essendon of points from 2012.
Little said the Bombers VFL team would not be thrown out of the finals.