Pressure: Essendon coach James Hird. Photo: Getty Images
The threat of a Supreme Court injunction by James Hird's legal team has been alleviated at the 11th hour with the AFL granting the Essendon coach extra time to fight his conduct unbecoming charges.
While the Bombers' board would not rule out facing next Monday's hearing of the AFL Commission, Hird has fought for and won an extension against charges that include the allegation he helped oversee a program that allowed illegal drugs to be injected into his players.
Sorry sign: Essendon's banner against North Melbourne on Saturday. Photo: Joe Armao
The decision by the AFL to grant an extension was greeted on Monday night as a victory by the Hird camp. It is understood the other individuals facing charges - Danny Corcoran, Mark Thompson and club doctor Bruce Reid - were also planning to take up the AFL's offer of extra time.
Essendon is determined to take part in the 2013 finals series, and the decision by the AFL to grant the four individuals extra time may allow for that possibility. However, Essendon as a club neither sought nor received an extension.
The club would not confirm last night whether it would face the commission next week or take its fight into September. Hird's advisers said the AFL decision to extend the legal fight was an indication the club could play finals and that it was a backdown by the competition's governing body.
The commission did not respond to Hird's attempt to have his charges heard by another body. Nor was there a public response to Hird's push to remove AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou from the commission panel.
Chairman Paul Little indicated to Channel Seven on Monday night that his club was still working towards a resolution with the AFL, although the club remained determined to fight any charge that stained the Bombers with drug cheating.
The AFL would not comment on the legal manoeuvering on Monday night as key executives, led by the AFL's legal counsel Andrew Dillon, remained locked in talks working towards some form of resolution. But it appeared that Hird was pursuing a separate legal strategy to that of the club.
It was unclear whether Demetriou's wish to have charges against Essendon, Hird, Corcoran, Thompson and Reid made public would be granted this week.
In a separate development, Essendon has also indicated its regret that a banner poking fun at the mystery drug injected into some of its players was accidentally passed fit by the club before the clash with the Kangaroos on Saturday.
Fairfax Media revealed last week that Essendon was unable to clarify the drug purchased in Mexico by a Melbourne man suffering from muscular dystrophy and left at a South Yarra clinic. The substance was injected into several Essendon players and later prompted health concerns among those players and their relatives.
On Saturday, the Bombers' banner read: ''Ole Bombers keep up the fight we're behind you day and night''.
A club spokesman said banners were generally scrutinised by Essendon's membership department, but that last Saturday's slipped through the normal process. Some Essendon fans at Etihad Stadium wore Mexican-style costumes.
The club has called a special meeting of parents and partners of players on Tuesday night as it faces a backlash from some concerned families - including some players' partners who became pregnant over the past two years. Some concerned players have acted upon the advice of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and AFL investigators and sought independent medical advice.