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Hird future hangs in the balance

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Essendon players are anxious: Goddard

Essendon player Brendon Goddard says his teammates are anxious, amid allegations they were given performance-enhancing drugs.

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THE football future of Essendon's favourite son and the man who gave up a comfortable retirement to lead his club back to glory now hangs in the balance.

James Hird's survival as the Bombers' senior coach has become increasingly perilous in the six days that have passed since he publicly declared full responsibility for the practices that took place in his football department.

Now the AFL has confirmed, after brokering a deal with the federal government and the Australian Crime Commission, that Essendon is the club reported on Thursday to have potentially fed its players performance enhancing drugs.

'If James Hird survives as coach of Essendon, it will appear symptomatic of the old boys' club mentality that pervades all football clubs.

'If James Hird survives as coach of Essendon, it will appear symptomatic of the old boys' club mentality that pervades all football clubs. Photo: Pat Scala

The league's deputy chief executive, Gillon McLachlan, said on Sunday that the Bombers stood accused of doping their players ''without their knowledge or consent''.

This development is good news for Essendon's players. Club president David Evans has been in Canberra meeting officials from the Australian Sport Anti-Doping Agency, attempting to protect his playing list in a fashion the club failed to last season.

But it is bad news for Hird. On Tuesday Evans said he did not believe his players had taken performance enhancing substances. On Thursday Hird declared his club would fight to prove its innocence. Now it has become clear he cannot declare for certain anything of the sort.

The delegation he appeared to have turned into an art form now looks to be a monstrosity.

And about the time the crime commission went public with dreadful details of sports scientists administering to elite athletes substances not yet passed for human consumption and, in some cases, illegal substances without the players' knowledge, Evans, with close friend Hird alongside him, was compelled to front the playing list and admit he could no longer guarantee players had taken what they thought they had taken.

This is despite the fact Hird stood alongside his players as they signed consent forms accepting they were taking substances all legal in the eyes of world sport.

This is the most damning piece of evidence that has come to light regarding the AFL's links with performance enhancing drugs.

Hird himself has been exposed for having consorted with dubious substance providers.

Surely he of all former stars should have known the pitfalls of being a vulnerable target for potential criminals and underworld types.

Neither the president nor the coach has yet explained why they employed high-performance officials with suspect credentials without carrying out due diligence.

And club chief executive Ian Robson can surely not survive having been exposed as knowing so little or controlling virtually nothing of the laboratory activity at Essendon.

If Robson is one individual made to carry the can for Essendon's maverick activity, as he surely will be whether or not doping is proved by ASADA, then Hird's survival will appear hypocritical and symptomatic of the old boys' club mentality that pervades football clubs.

Hird's senior assistant, Mark Thompson, an Essendon premiership captain like Hird and dual premiership coach at Geelong, is even less likely to

survive given he recommended the now suspended and highly paid and empowered Dean Robinson to take control of the players.

Robinson in turn brought to the club Stephen Dank, the now-sacked fitness man who injected the players' stomachs and who was given such a big and clearly irresponsible say in shaping the bodies of so many valuable young men.

Thompson has gone missing - reportedly housebound pleading back pain. He was a good coach at Geelong who became a great one when that club stripped back his responsibilities and ordered him to focus upon one pursuit alone - coaching.

Hird, who deferred frequently to Thompson on game day and allowed him powers far beyond any other senior assistant in the competition, might have lost the chance to prove what sort of coach he could have been.

That is a great pity for Essendon. But the greater pity is for Australian rules football as the image of one of its greatest now stands tarnished.



  • If this plays out the way doping in cycling has, then AFL has twenty years of denial to look forward to before getting its house in order.

    Frankly, my feeling is that Australian cycling is probably the cleanest sport in the country right now. It's taken a long time to get the controls in place and shift the culture.

    And AFL is coming from a history of sex and recreational drug scandals too, they've got a lot of growing up to do.

    Date and time
    February 11, 2013, 7:03AM
    • Agree - cycling now looks to be the cleanest sport in Australia...also one of the best.

      Back to footy though - as a Geelong supporter I hope Hird isn't sacked...with him at the helm they have even less chance than ever...drugs or no drugs.

      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 9:57AM
    • No doubt people like you were saying the same with Old Lance Armstrong as well.
      That's the beauty of allows you to excuse someone for something really really wrong just because your in love with you appear to be for Hird. Fact.....something is up at the club. fact- Hird is a senior member of the coaching staff. Oh's entirely plausible he never knew anything about any of the doping and it was just some wild card lower level doctor that took it upon himself to start injecting all the players and get the to sign release documents. Oh wait...there's also a pink elephant flying by. Third one...I mean no one..offers to take the rap for something possibly illegal just because they are the coach. Therefore ill leave you to join the dots together. As for attacking Caroline which seems to be a favorites sport in here...maybe because she isn't a member of the boys club...all men goosing each other in the showers and slapping each other on the back she can say it like it is. And maybe that's what's been wrong wth the game...too many crawlers after free tickets and afraid to actually stand up to the bullies in the sport and say what is wrong. The scary thing is people like you two obviously would encourage it in your own children.

      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 10:28AM
    • What an extraordinary article - both for its pre-judging of the situation and for its complete lack of compassion and understanding. There are months of investigations ahead but already Caroline has necks in nooses. The outcome of the investigation may back up what she is saying but this is an irresponsible piece written without the slightest appreciation of the impact it may have on the lives of people who may turn out to be completely innocent.

      I am not one for the fundamentalist approach to responsibility. It seems to me that each case should be considered on its merits. James Hird may have been as duped as the players were. He may have taken the word of people he believed he could trust because he trusted the club to appoint respected, well-credentialed specialists. Would that have been irresponsible? He is the coach. Is it within his bailiwick as coach to do that kind of due diligence? Caroline may think so but I personally don't. But then the investigations may reveal evidence that he was responsible and that that was part of his job description. Either way, before publicly excoriating Hird and creating untold damage that may turn out to be totally unjustified, I would suggest a little more sober assessment by Caroline might be more appropriate.

      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 11:05AM
    • James Hird is a novice coach. Whilst a great of the club he is not nor will be a great coach. Why?, because he needs and accepts the advice from those "experts" around him blindly,so when the specialist's tell him something he has to believe them. This innocence has been rudely crushed by those he put trust in. A coach who's been apprenticed and coaching for years would be more diligent. If their not then there are no excuses

      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 12:11PM
    • Andrew,
      Time to climb down out of your ivory tower champ. A bigger concern than what might rub off on other people’s children is that your sanctimonious arrogance might rub off on yours!
      I don’t know what 'goosing' is but it sounds like you have been doing a bit to much of it with yourself.
      The reason you defend Caro is because you share the same distorted view of what a 'fact' is, in that you think in your arrogance that by you saying something is fact that that makes it so does not!

      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 12:22PM
    • @DJS; I agree that all should remain innocent until proven guilty, but if Essendon is proven to be guilty, then Hird must go (along with a raft of others).
      In my job, if a person injures themselves, (even in another state and by skylarking), being in a position of responsibility, I can personally be held liable (my assets can be taken and I can go to jail). The law states that I personally need to ensure the right systems and processes are in place to ensure compliance. No different for James - if he just trusted those around him without ensuring appropriate due diligence - then that is both naive and immature. He is still responsible.

      PS; Is Knights still available for a snr coaching position?

      Aussie Jim
      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 12:39PM
    • @ DJS
      You are 100% correct!

      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 12:39PM
    • Are you people aware of the role of a senior coach? Does he in fact control every single tiny aspect of what happens in the club? Does he make every single decision? Is he in every single place at every single moment of the day? Or does he have enough to deal with with game plans, training etc? Why does the possibility of someone pushing the limits of medical science and possibly doing something outside of the rules unbeknownst to players and coaches bring all of the blame on the man who have a million other things to do each day? Do you people even understand the idea of work being delegated and employment, and having to put trust in others?

      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 1:26PM
    • why should Essendon be punished when Demetriou was asleep at the wheel???

      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 1:32PM

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