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Winning's not the cure-all for malaise at Essendon

Backed by the Essendon faithful: James Hird.

Backed by the Essendon faithful: James Hird. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

We now know of the restorative powers of pigs' brains and bovine colostrum. But, if you want to be transformed, there is an even more potent potion. It's called winning.

Before he won the US Masters, Adam Scott was an urbane clothes horse with a liquid swing, a casting agent's eye for the female form and the worst case of putting palsy this side of a D-grade chook run. But sink that last putt and – hey presto – Scott is a calculating, cold-blooded wedge-wielding assassin. At least in some minds.

Of course, like the pigs' brains concoctions, winning can be a cosmetic remedy. In Scott's case, failing to win a major had created a false perception. Defeat at the British Open, particularly, propagated the myth of a supposedly nonchalant, self-satisfied character. It obscured the dedication and determination that had brought him to the brink of triumph. Winning the Masters changed Scott's image. It did not change him.

No one has ever questioned James Hird's heart or desire. In two premiership teams and, symbolically, in the fiercely contested Anzac Day blockbusters against Collingwood, Hird was at his best. As player, businessman and family man, the Bombers' coach seems the ultimate winner. Articulate, measured, well groomed and always at the top of his game.

Even with Essendon the subject of an Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigation, and AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou wondering publicly if Hird should step aside, he did not break his winning habit. Incredibly, given the distractions it had endured, his team came from six goals down to beat Fremantle in Perth last Friday night. Only those with severe alopecia did not feel the hairs on the back of their neck stand up.

But, as Hird was grilled by the ASADA investigators on Tuesday, that win was merely a placebo. A psychological pick-up for supporters understandably angry and emotional about the plight of their club. One that emboldened some vociferous fans who confused victory on the park with vindication in the laboratory.

Just as a green jacket did not change Scott, winning did not change what happened at Essendon. It did not remove the needles from the players' stomachs, nor alter the contents of those syringes. Regardless of whether the supplement program had been as innocent as inoculation day at your local school, or involved processes and substances that breached regulations.

The emotion created by Essendon's unbeaten start to the season has, however, muddied the water in the political game surrounding the ASADA investigation and the club's internal review. Some Essendon fans would now not merely consider Hird's removal to be shooting Bambi. It would be kicking Bambi's corpse and dancing on the grave while eating a venison sandwich. Now, even if the Bombers' board was compelled to stand down Hird due to overwhelming evidence, it would be reluctant to pull the trigger.

At the same time, sports scientist Stephen Dank has not proven the convenient scapegoat some clearly thought he would be. Dank has played a clever game, selectively revealing details of his time at the Bombers to credible sources including the ABC and Fairfax Media's decorated investigative reporters Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker. The man cast in AFL circles as a "rogue scientist" was even described as a "man of honour" by Fairfax columnist Danny Weidler because he had not accepted money for his story.

Of course, the canonisation of Hird by the Essendon faithful, and the contrasting images portrayed of Dank – as both perpetrator and victim – are symptomatic of a story that, at least in some reporting, has overtaken the facts. We don't yet know the side effects of pigs'-brain potions. But one side effect of the ASADA investigation has been to expose those without the patience, clarity of thought or reason to understand the process taking place.

We still have an NRL and an AFL club accused of running systematic supplement regimes that, at the very least, pushed the rules to the limit. Several other individuals are also under the microscope. Evidence is emerging of middle men shopping illegal substances, some not cleared for human consumption, to clubs. Criminal connections are alleged.

Yet reporters and some club officials bay for information that, patently, cannot be provided because the investigation is still running. ASADA, which was initially not sufficiently staffed to perform such a widespread investigation, is pilloried. As if the failure to envisage such a consuming task somehow makes the accusations being investigated less serious.

There are clearly no winners in this whole sorry mess. But those unable to separate personal agendas from due process have lost the plot.

Twitter: @rdhinds

39 comments so far

  • Very lazy, and attempted inflammatory journalism, read below, many animal organs etc are found in our medicines and supplements, there are a million stories like the one below.

    "A drug containing purified brain proteins derived from pigs may yield modest improvements in patients whose dementia is caused by a lack of blood flow to parts of the brain, according to a new analysis".

    Find a new sport to run down.

    Gazza from Charnie
    Date and time
    April 16, 2013, 6:49PM
    • Garza, didn't realise the Bombers were suffering dementia symptoms. Come on fella, take off the rosé coloured glasses, there's a place for such drugs, but not on the footy field. Nice try at vindication though.

      Johnny the boy
      Date and time
      April 16, 2013, 9:57PM
    • The article wasn't running down AFL football. How many Essendon players have dementia?

      Go Doggies
      Date and time
      April 16, 2013, 10:55PM
    • I didn't realise that the whole of the Essendon team was suffereing from demetia. That might explain the fade out in the second half of last year.

      the sky
      Date and time
      April 17, 2013, 1:15AM
    • Lazy? The early references he makes to pigs' brain are clearly ironic and the main one is to the fact that Cerebrolysin - the drug in question - is not yet approved, hence, "We don't yet know the side effects of pigs'-brain potions." Try reading the article with both eyes.

      Tyger Tyger
      Doncaster East
      Date and time
      April 17, 2013, 10:26AM
  • Credible article however what is wrong with pushing the boundaries within the legal framework of WADA and ASADA. Further the paranoia surrounding using an injection vs oral administration of supplements is really what this is all about. Who gives a damn that Hird or Goodwin injected Hexa, whatever, they are not performing on the field, total furphy. Of course the AFL read, Andrew Demetriou is more concerned with his $2million salary continuing unabated. His call for Hird to consider standing down whilst suggesting he has additional information we are not privy to is a disgrace and Mike Fitzpatrick should tell him to pull his head in until all the necessary inquiries have run there course. While I am at it what happened to due process and Innocent till proven guilty. Hird has done the right thing and stood his ground under immense pressure, good on him, his stocks have risen in my eyes. We never hear Demetriou complaining when players during a game get pain killing injections to keep playing, would never be allowed in Horse racing.

    Date and time
    April 16, 2013, 7:44PM
    • Due process when people are in positions that require high levels of integrity, such as doctors, directors, police and others, is that they stand down while investigations into allegations against them are carried out. As for innocent until proven guilty, Hird is already guilty of not having a clue what his players were injected with.

      the sky
      Date and time
      April 17, 2013, 1:22AM
  • You haven't asked yourself the key question. Why is Essendon unable to categorically state its players were not supplied with or injected with banned substances? I'll tell you. Because they do not know. They believe not but cannot prove it.

    The budget the club provided for supplements in 2012 was blown in two months and reportably exceeded by $100,000, a state of affairs for which Stephen Dank was sacked. It has also been reported that banned substances were charged to Essendon's account. Whether the club ever saw these substances, whether they were used on players or whether they were on sold no one seems to know, or if they do know they're not saying. It could be, however, that Essendon has been fleeced to the tune of one hundred grand.

    In addition it's known that Stephen Dank was interviewed by the ACC while he was still employed at Essendon. Why?

    I don't think this affair is about winning or cheating. I think it boils down to greed and that a respected football club has been brought to its knees by a sports scientist who possibly disregarded clear guidelines from the coach concerning the use of supplements, or by a person who purchased $100,000 worth of substances on Essendon's account and sold them to other clients at a good profit.

    Philip Maguire
    Date and time
    April 16, 2013, 8:00PM
    • Have to agree gazzafromcharnie these so called AFL reporters are doing nothing but killing our great game. What ever happened to innocent before proven guilty why are they so quick to tear down this great club and James hird who in is playing days was as fair as they come. Let's hope when all allegations are false you Richard hinds have the integrity to apologize to James hird and not hide behind your desk!!!!

      joe frompirie
      Date and time
      April 16, 2013, 8:09PM
      • talk about shoot the messenger. This journo is not trying to kill the game, the dons or hird's reputation. Its an opinion piece that is considering all the various issues about this whole mess.
        in fact he states that some reporting, has overtaken the facts. . And. '"But those unable to separate personal agendas from DUE PROCESS have lost the plot", which addresses your guilty/innocent comment.

        down the mine
        Date and time
        April 16, 2013, 9:06PM

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