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.