As hopefully few enough people in Melbourne have had to learn, the Federal Court building in Melbourne also houses the Family Court. There on Monday, the juxtaposition could not have been more painfully poignant. In the Federal Court, it was James Hird and Essendon versus ASADA and the AFL.
But the rawness and soreness it immediately exposed bore all the characteristics of a family break-up. It wasn't Kramer versus Kramer, but it was Bomber versus Bomber. The AFL was the third party, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority a fourth.
Hird gives evidence at Federal Court hearing
Stevie J lured Deledio to Giants
Michael Barlow opens up on delisting
AFL trade period 2016: The trades that matter
Has Nat Fyfe grown?
Wright: Mitchell always heading to West Coast
AFL trade period explained
AFL Women's teams ready to train after first draft
Hird gives evidence at Federal Court hearing
James Hird faces a grilling on the stand as the long running supplements saga between Essendon Football Club and ASADA comes to a head.
At day's beginning, lawyers for Hird and Essendon agreed they were essentially arguing the same case, that ASADA and the AFL acted illegally by jointly investigating the so-called supplements scandal. That made it a joint protest of a joint investigation. But that was pretty much where the fraternity stopped. When his turn at last came in mid-afternoon, Hird took the stand and the dirty linen began to air.
The court was taken to a replay of a fateful press conference on the day this whole saga began, in February last year, in which then Essendon president David Evans announced that the Bombers had called in ASADA and the AFL to investigate. Hird said he took issue privately with Evans, then chief executive Ian Robson and then deputy AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan about much of what they revealed that day, but did not say so publicly. "I was told what I needed to say," he said. "I was told to say those words."
What, memorably, he did say at the time was that he took full responsibility for Essendon's conduct. On Monday, he said: "Gillon McLachlan said that it would be a very good idea for the look of the club and my reputation." Pressed by Dr Sue McNicol, QC, for ASADA, he paused for a while, then said: "I did have an opportunity [to disagree]. It would have been a very difficult thing to do."
And so it began. Four days later, Evans and Robson had flown to Canberra to see ASADA. "They didn't tell me what they were going for," said Hird, "and they didn't tell me what happened." Later, at Evans' request, ASADA gave the Essendon players a confidential briefing, in which concerns for their health were raised. An Essendon lawyer taped it.
Duly, Hird was summoned by the investigators, whereupon Evans advised him to tell the whole truth, except for one detail: that then AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou had rung Evans the night before the press conference to forewarn him of ASADA's interest. This had been the subject of much claim and counter-claim. Now it was in Hird's sworn testimony. So were overtones of the fall-out between Hird and Evans, who once were close.
In the body of the court, Hird and his wife,Tania, sat in an opposite corner to Essendon president Paul Little and chief executive Xavier Campbell. This may have been incidental, but also was symbolic of the strains between all parties. Little had replaced Evans by the time Essendon and Hird agreed to draconian AFL sanctions in August last year, including forfeiture of a place in the finals for the club, and a year's suspension for Hird. "I signed that deed of settlement under great duress and inducement," said Hird.
In a sense, all this was merely the bitching. The case will turn on the status of the joint investigation. Hird and Essendon argue that it was not legal, and that ASADA should not have issued "show cause" notices to 34 players, whatever evidence they contain. Their lawyers argue that the right decision made the wrong way is still wrong in law.
ASADA is arguing not only that Essendon, Hird and the players agreed at every stage to a joint investigation, but that it was the only way ASADA could have proceeded, legally and sensibly. To conclude otherwise, said Tom Howe, QC, would be "nonsense on stilts".
Opening proceedings, Justice John Middleton said: "I'm not going to say 'bounce the ball'. But off you go." True to the modern game, there was immediately a series of stoppages. It's going to be a long game.