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Hird launches Supreme Court action

James Hird issues a writ against the AFL in the Supreme Court claiming he has been denied natural justice, demanding chief executive Andrew Demetriou be banned from taking part in any hearing.

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"Sarah", the emotional talkback radio caller and Essendon player parent who described the invidious position in which some of that club's footballers still find themselves, has painted an alternative picture to the one portrayed all season by the Bombers' most high-profile parent, Tim Watson.

Triple M remained certain after the Thursday morning call that "Sarah" was who she claimed to be — a shattered and concerned mother ordered by the club to keep her fears to herself.

With every dramatic hour that has unfolded since the AFL revealed the horrifying charge sheet against Essendon has come growing doubts and worse among the Bombers players and their families. "Sarah" symbolised them all.

Tim Watson's Essendon drugs 'fears allayed'

Until now only Watson has spoken publicly as a parent, and although he continues to insist he does not see himself as the parents' spokesman, the reality is he has been the only one. When he stepped out of the Tuesday night address to the players' families and virtually declared "nothing to see here", the AFL and the players' union lost patience.

It is one thing to support your old club but quite another to be the face of concerned parents whom the rest of the football community was starting to see were having the wool pulled over their eyes.

Unfortunately for all the other parents Watson is terribly conflicted, as he freely admits, and until now a member of Cult Hird. Like other cult members he sniffed conspiracy at every turn, believing the AFL somehow to be at fault from the start and bought into every new wacky piece of evidence put forward by recruited witnesses — most recently the Essendon medical consultant Andrew Garnham.

Garnham addressed the players' families on Tuesday night while an interview with him was simultaneously broadcast on Fox Footy, a channel overseen by one of coach James Hird's closest friends and devoted followers Rod Law.

For the AFL and the players' union it is one thing to mislead the media and key players such as Dr Bruce Reid with your conspiracy theories but quite another to mislead players and their families.

 

 

Unlike others, Watson has refrained from attacking Hird doubters — certainly publicly. And he frequently admitted his conflict. On his SEN breakfast program on Thursday there were even signs that Watson was taken aback at the previous day's events. He agreed for the first time that perhaps Hird should step aside from coaching due to the distraction of fighting to save his reputation.

But Watson, for all the difficulties of his compromised position and for all the hurt he must be feeling for son Jobe, was the wrong person to speak on behalf of the parents — something he did not see himself as doing but something the club asked him to do.

Not only are James Hird, Mark Thompson, Danny Corcoran and Bruce Reid his friends but Watson was also instrumental in the secret plot to place Hird and Thompson back together at the club. And he is the father of the captain, the club's champion and best player who during this season re-signed a lucrative new four-year deal.

He could never hope to represent the psyches of less secure Essendon players. Yes, Jobe Watson stood to lose his Brownlow but never his livelihood or his place in the senior side.

Watson's most moving performance came back in late June, when he sat along side Bruce McAvaney and moved many parents as he explained the many emotions going through his mind following his son's appearancer on On the Couch. He was a father first and foremost and the Brownlow did not define his son. There is no doubt the Watson family has suffered like all the families of Essendon players.

One player manager of some lesser lights at Essendon said on Thursday: "If those [unsigned or irregular senior] players didn't toe the party line they were frightened they would lose their position or not get another contract.

"The players' parents are still too scared to stand up and say: 'This is unacceptable'. They fear for their sons. What if he goes to work and feels isolated by the group because of what his parents said? What if no one talks to him? They've all been told to say nothing.

"Even when the AFLPA guys spoke to the players there were some in the group who questioned them when they talked about potential penalties. It was like: 'Are you with us or against us?' There were definitely some divisions.

"Things are starting to happen now though. The tide is turning and that happened when the AFL released the charges."

Essendon's institutionalised response to the 2011 and 2012 drugs scandal has reeked of tribalism from the start. The club and its henchmen have frequently and nastily attacked its detractors. The stench of cover-up has pervaded the Bombers all season, ever since it was revealed its players were forced to sign secrecy contracts regarding the drugs program.

But those brainwashed are showing signs of being de-programmed. The players' union boss Matt Finnis will likely receive a more united hearing when he takes the players Essendon allowed to be used as guinea pigs last season through the ASADA interim report, as he has been permitted to do.

Several of the more involved and influential player managers now have the ASADA report. One agent confirmed to Fairfax Media on Thursday that a class action could be launched against the club - and leading that charge were the families of those 34 players reported to have been injected with the unknown and unprescribed substance bought in Mexico.

And Tim Watson? You would have sworn listening to his radio show early on Thursday that he had read the AFL charge sheet against Essendon. And truly taken it all in.