Essendon players and coach James Hird belt out the team song in the rooms after the come-fron-behind win over Carlton.

Essendon players and coach James Hird belt out the team song in the rooms after the come-from-behind win over Carlton. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

James Hird will coach Essendon again; that much was all but guaranteed by president Paul Little on national televsion on Saturday night. It might be as soon as against Richmond next week, or as distantly as 2015, depending on a sanctions deal now being hammered out between Essendon and the AFL, perhaps to be signed off as soon as Monday.

But Hird never again will lead the Bombers in such weird, warped and ultimately wonderful circumstances as at the MCG on Saturday night. Undermanned and inaccurate Carlton was playing unloved and out-of-form Essendon for the Bombers' soon-to-be-forfeited finals place, but in a somehow fitting outcome between teams who both could be said to have had "performance" issues this season, the Blues could not seal the deal, yielding a 20-point lead to lose to David Zaharakis' 11th-hour goal.

It meant that for all the understandable and life-affirming euphoria that seized the committed of Essendon on both sides of the fence at the final siren, at length both teams will be seen to have walked away from the MCG as losers, and the only true lucky loser might yet be North Melbourne.

Essendon fans celebrate a goal at the MCG. Click for more photos

AFL Round 22 Carlton vs. Essendon

Essendon fans celebrate a goal at the MCG. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

There was a postscript, also bitter-sweet. In a long post-match media conference, Hird simultaneously accepted the probability that he would be suspended and protested it, saying that he could take responsibility for laxity, but not cheating. Having spoken minimally about this for six months, Hird now overrode Essendon's media officer to submit himself to further questioning. In the image of his team, it was a brave performance and good enough to win him PR points on the night, but will count for nothing when the reckoning is done. It had been that way all night.

Essendon was booed on the ground by the markedly pro-Carlton crowd, and captain and Brownlow Medallist Jobe Watson was booed for his every early touch. This is football's newest and most infantile perversion, also exercised against Collingwood's Harry O'Brien earlier this season. It falls somewhere between schadenfreude and bullying. It petered out anyway; after 27 possessions and two goals, booing began to sound a bit silly. Watson's last laugh was anyway louder.

Where was Hird in all this? Where he has been throughout., and intends to remain, and might yet fight the AFL - separately from Essendon - for the right to stay: at his post. Before the match, that entailed time in the middle of the MCG, once his stage and still now his haven, drilling passes at his players in the warm-up and otherwise moving with a langour that brings back pleasant memories for fans and - it has to be said - colours their judgment now. "In Hird We Trust", can mean no more than "In Hird's blind turn and kick across the body we trust".

Hird's demeanour also was as it has been all this strange year long, focused, intent, outwardly unflustered. The last player he spoke to before jogging from the ground at the start was, as fate would have it, Zaharakis. Thereafter, he was seen only in televisual glimpses through the coaches box window, pulling faces and strings. This surreal match would have looked and felt to him supremely real as the Bombers fell behind, but never impossibly, and in the last quarter surged and stole the notional points from under Carlton's nose.

These are natural-born rivals, for whom there is no such entity as a match that does not matter. From accounts, this whole unedifying supplements scandals began to come to light after a thumping Essendon victory over Carlton early last year. The most recent chapter was at the start of this season, when the Bombers again put one over the Blues in the shadow of the final siren. Then, it appeared to affirm the Bombers as a team to beat in 2013. Saturday night's doubling up merely identified them as a team that cannot win, even in stirring victory.

But wherever and whenever James Hird next coaches the Bombers ...