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James Hird losing support of Essendon directors

The Essendon board meeting that ratified coach Mark Thompson’s ownership of the team for the remainder of the season also debated whether James Hird should return at all as senior coach for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. 

The growing impression that Hird is hanging on by a thread to his Essendon coaching job has been reinforced by robust debate that took place among club directors infuriated at the suspended Hird’s controversial doorstop interview last week on his return from France. 

Hird said he “definitely” wanted to return to the coach’s box this season and followed undertakings earlier this year that neither he nor his wife Tania would depart from the club’s official company line.

 Hird’s comments left the door open to him working with the team on match days from round 23 this season, despite the club already deciding that would not happen. 

Hird’s employment agreement with Essendon involves clauses that could lead to his rich coaching contract being terminated should he break certain conditions. Some board members believed Hird’s comments last week fuelled more distracting speculation at a time when the team looks headed towards September. 

The club’s new head of football, Neil Craig, had already told the board Thompson must remain sole senior coach for the remainder of 2014. This was also Thompson’s preference and he had been promised full authority for the year when taking on the job. 


Hird is understood to have lost the support of up to three directors. The debate around the board table has involved the danger of one individual becoming bigger than the club. 

Some tension existed between Hird and Thompson during Essendon’s pre-season as Hird occasionally caught up with senior players, including captain Jobe Watson. After Tania Hird’s outburst on the ABC’s 7.30, Watson and his leadership group asked Hird to refrain from ongoing media commentary. 

On Saturday, News Limited journalist Mark Robinson attacked Essendon president Paul Little, calling the club “weak” and “pathetic” for removing Hird from coaching duties for the rest of the season. Contrary to the view being communicated by Essendon, Robinson wrote Thompson wanted Hird back alongside him.

Tim Watson, the influential father of Jobe, has twice stated in recent weeks that Hird should not be involved in those duties for the rest of the season. 

The impression that the Hird camp constantly briefed Robinson was reinforced last year by a detailed legal account from Hird’s former senior counsel Tony Nolan, which was delivered to former Essendon chief executive Ian Robson. Robson told colleagues the itemised account included time charged for a briefing to a News Limited journalist. 

Essendon came close to sacking Hird after Tania Hird spoke to the ABC, making strong accusations against the AFL and former Essendon president David Evans. Both Hirds gave Little an undertaking they would not refer publicly to the events of recent years unless sanctioned by the club. 

Now the club remains embroiled in a number of costly legal disputes with 34 past and present Essendon players facing infraction notices from ASADA.

 Hird’s future also remains contingent upon potential evidence surrounding his role in the club’s dangerous and experimental drugs program. 

The view from Little had been that Hird would deliver a public apology to Essendon stakeholders and the wider football community before returning to his coaching role. That now appears hampered at least for the time being by legal issues. 

Some directors are also frustrated at Little’s non-consultative approach to his presidency, a role that he has attacked with gusto, having spent up to 30 hours a week on Essendon issues. Little did not comment on Monday.