By Terry Mallinder
The Sunshine Coast Daily
It was as if the writing was on the wall behind them that their coach was about to be taking an enforced break from the game.
Gathering together in a circle for the traditional singing of the club song, Essendon players weren’t about to launch into “See the Bombers fly up, up” until James Hird joined them.
If the thrilling win over Carlton at the ‘G was to be the Bombers’ last under the embattled former great for some time, they were going to share it with him.
He arrived from a back room like a leader at a political victory party, met with clapping and cheering from the mass of fanatical faithful and flashing lights from press photographers.
Essendon has sung the song 14 times this season, but none with more gusto than it did after such a dramatic result – which followed the most dramatic week.
Coming back from being four goals down, the players probably knew it wouldn’t be a win for the four points, but one for themselves and their coach.
While it is clear he is still loved by ‘his boys’, Hird should fall on his sword today and accept the AFL Commission’s punishment for his part in what new club chairman Paul Little admitted on Saturday as “mistakes” when it came to allowing the players to be treated like sports science guinea pigs last year.
The use of any banned substances are unlikely to ever be proven, but the Bombers’ supplement program was clearly dodgy enough that their own head doctor, Bruce Reid, had major concerns about how close they were “playing at the edge” – and doing so without his consent.
Essendon and the league will continue their toing and froing over penalties today and hopefully come to an agreement that can put an end to the whole saga.
It should be noted that ASADA is still to complete its investigation into the Bombers’ doping practices – with the AFL purely passing judgement off the back of the interim report handed down 10 days ago – and can appeal against any penalties if it deems they are too light.
But what may satisfy all parties is Hird being suspended from coaching for 12 months, the club being stripped of its points and draft picks this year, and copping a fine of up to $2million. Taking the Anzac Day clash off the Bombers also has merit.
Essendon looked like digging in its heels before certain events changed their tough stance.
One was the presidents of the other 17 clubs uniting and publicly backing the AFL to uphold the “integrity of the game”.
The other was a clear wake-up call of just what is really at the heart of the issue – the well-being and health of the players – which came in the form of an painfully emotional phone call to a Melbourne radio station from a woman claiming to be a mother of one of the players.
Almost accepting of his fate, Hird made it clear in his ‘Last Supper’-type post-match press conference he would indeed resurrect his coaching career once any ban was completed.
And while there may have been an element of naughtiness about his role in the club’s 2012 supplement program, there is a chance he may yet prove to be the Bombers’ coaching messiah fans had hoped he would be … after he’s served his penance.