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In the end, Hird bows to pressure

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Hird still wants to coach at Essendon again

Senior sports writer Peter Hanlon analyses the key points from Tuesday night's press conference at AFL House.

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Precisely what transpired once the league's commission sat for a second extraordinary day - one that ultimately concluded with a football icon accepting a 12-month ban from a game - may never be presented in consistent detail. 

James Hird arrived at AFL headquarters on Tuesday morning just as he'd departed the night before: convinced an independent arbiter should rule on his serious misconduct charges and prepared, if pushed, to take his case to the Victorian Supreme Court.

Essendon coach James Hird and his wife Tania leave their Toorak home on Tuesday morning.

Essendon coach James Hird and his wife Tania leave their Toorak home on Tuesday morning. Photo: Penny Stephens

Privately, he was also said to be disgusted by some of what he'd witnessed at the Docklands offices of the AFL in the 24 hours earlier, but those stories - like so many Hird has not told this year - were for another time

Precisely what transpired once the league's commission sat for a second extraordinary day - one that ultimately concluded with a football icon accepting a 12-month ban from a game - may never be presented in consistent detail. But a constant for Hird throughout this seven-month sporting and political battle was his wife, Tania. After a frustrating Monday, she beeped the horn of the Hirds' sleek black car at a photographer blocking an exit from the carpark of Etihad Stadium. And on Tuesday night, she was again by Hird's side as he addressed the AFL Commission shortly after his fate was sealed.

Fighting serious misconduct charges, Hird prepared for a second consecutive sitting at AFL House determined that a commission he viewed as ''compromised'' should not judge his case. In that argument, a football deity had been aggressively backed by some of the best legal minds - human rights expert Julian Burnside, QC, and Steven Amendola of national waterfront dispute fame.

James Hird is said to be privately disgusted by some of the things he saw at AFL House during protracted negotiations.

James Hird is said to be privately disgusted by some of the things he saw at AFL House during protracted negotiations. Photo: Penny Stephens

Entering day two of negotiations at AFL House, the plan in Hird's legal camp was clear: if the commission refused to refer the coach's case to an independent tribunal, proceedings would continue in the Victorian Supreme Court.

Essendon was not authorised to accept penalties on behalf of the four individuals charged with conduct unbecoming, which meant Hird's options were to accept a sanction from the AFL, or disrupt the competition further by taking his grievances elsewhere. In the end, he chose the former, despite saying in a post-match media conference on Saturday night that he disputed "99 per cent" of the charges against him.

The coach had escalated his procedural grievance with the AFL a week earlier, lodging a writ in the Supreme Court that demanded the league's solicitors provide particulars around his charges. As of Tuesday morning, those details - and a request for a list of witnesses who would mount a case against the Essendon coach - had not been provided. Presumably they never will.

Two weeks ago, Hird's solicitors also lodged an extraordinary challenge to the commission by demanding a public hearing of the case against him in an independent tribunal no sooner than two weeks after the conclusion of the finals. Hird had been adamant that the commission was not the appropriate body to judge him after its members were provided with an interim report from ASADA containing evidence that he disputes. He was equally convinced that AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou, also a member of the commission, was a conflicted party who should not sit in judgment of the matter. Hird's lawyers argued that Demetriou has revealed on several occasions that he has formed an adverse view of the Essendon coach. In a now infamous public comment about the Essendon supplements scandal in April, Demetriou said standing aside was "an option he [Hird] has to consider".

Separately, Hird's lawyers had mounted a challenge of the validity of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority's 400-page interim report that was delivered to the AFL on August 2. That was based on the fact the coach was interviewed by ASADA and AFL investigators only once - in April - and that he was not given the opportunity to respond to evidence gathered in interviews with other parties before the interim report was produced.

By Tuesday night, however, none of this seemed to matter as much as the final result.

Had Hird's wish been granted, and his charges had been heard by a tribunal, such proceedings could not have practically commenced - let alone been concluded - before the end of September.

Now, an increasingly confused, impatient and frustrated football public will get its wish: the finals will be played unbridled. But no one - not even the game's purist fans - has emerged from this forever-tainted football season unscathed.

140 comments

  • I wonder how long his wife has been giving him legal advice, because, damn, she steered him in the wrong direction..

    And I hope Thompson isn't replacing him, because, damn, he gave some bad advice too by the looks of it.

    Commenter
    sarajane
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    August 28, 2013, 6:40AM
    • Lance Armstrong would have loved a 12 month suspension

      Commenter
      George
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 28, 2013, 7:35AM
    • For someone who appears to have no idea of how a partnership works your comment is either stupid, antagonistic or stupidly antagonistic. Going from past comments you have made I am in favour of the stupid.

      Commenter
      rastus
      Date and time
      August 28, 2013, 7:50AM
    • well, you do that rastus.

      Commenter
      sarajane
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      August 28, 2013, 8:18AM
    • Trotting the wife out is classic PR spin 101, pity it makes him look like a loser.

      Surprised he wasn't hiding behind his kids as well, because he couldn't possibly be a drug cheat if he's got a nice looking family right?

      Hird is lucky he only got 12 months, he's lucky no one will now look into his playing career when he was paying for "nutritional advice" from Shane Charters.

      The Essendon players are very lucky too, no other sport in the world allows players to take illegal drugs and not be sanctioned.

      There are so many parallels with Lance Armstrong here, massive ego, holding to the "I never tested positive" defence, the legion of deluded angry fans...

      Great to see their downfall.

      Commenter
      Blues man
      Date and time
      August 28, 2013, 8:59AM
    • I'm seeing the same similarities Bluesman. I love how they report that Hird 'backed down' for the good of his club. The way I see it, he was defiant until the eleventh hour. If he really cared for his club he would have done something sooner. All the supporters arguing that nothing was proven are just fanboys. Do we really need a document to prove that what they did was wrong??? I think we are all smart enough to see that all was not above board at EFC. The lack of medical records is enough to scream a degree of guilt.

      Commenter
      Ame
      Date and time
      August 28, 2013, 9:10AM
    • Truly ignorant comment Sarajane

      Commenter
      Tim
      Date and time
      August 28, 2013, 9:24AM
    • Bluesman, perhaps you would like to cut and paste where it is you found that the Essendon players have been taking illegal drugs? Even the AFL havent found that piece of evidence !

      Commenter
      Is don is good
      Location
      Windy city
      Date and time
      August 28, 2013, 9:27AM
    • @Blues Man What was even better was beating your less than average side last week ensuring you can't even make the finals when a team in the 8 is banned. Well done on your stellar management team once again bringing in an overpriced, loud mouthed, under performing coach. A truly pathetic side.

      Commenter
      Tim
      Date and time
      August 28, 2013, 9:30AM
    • I'm over this, just as I'm completely over sarajane's comments.

      How on earth s/he is able to be the first person to post a comment so frequently defies belief.

      Doesn't s/he have another life? Some people have work commitments, family life, and are time poor. Not our favourite commentator SJ. I'm over it.

      Commenter
      Roger
      Location
      St Kilda
      Date and time
      August 28, 2013, 9:41AM

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