Date: August 28 2013
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.
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.
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.
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