It’s time for Essendon to cut James Hird adrift

Date: March 27, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

One of the cornerstones of team sport is the fact that no individual is greater than the team.

That applied to James Hird when he was a player at the Essendon Football Club and it should still apply today as a coach on full pay whilst he awaits the end of an AFL-imposed 12-month suspension as a result of his role in the club’s drug scandal.

What transpired last Thursday night – when Hird’s wife, Tania appeared on ABC’s 7.30 – should see him denied the opportunity to return to the club in the role of head coach.

There is no doubt at all that Hird would have been aware that his wife was going to be interviewed.

She was not ‘door stopped’ as she has been regularly during this ongoing soap opera but rather had agreed to a pre-arranged, well planned media interview.

It went to air 24 hours before the Bombers were due to play their opening game of the 2014 AFL season.

The match, against North Melbourne, held special significance for the club as it saw Dustin Fletcher play his 379th game, eclipsing Simon Madden’s record with Essendon.

It was also the start of a brand new campaign.

Whilst there is still the not insignificant matter of the pending final report from ASADA still to come, Friday night should have been all about the club going forward and Fletcher’s milestone.

Instead, the media’s attention was not those two stories but the words of Tania Hird.

The timing of those comments was appalling and served only to remove the spotlight from the club and one of its greatest stalwarts and return it to the suspended coach.

Hird must surely have spoken to his wife about the interview in advance especially as he would have known how she felt about the treatment he had received, rightly or wrongly.

By making the comments she did all that was achieved was the fuelling of a fire that the club would prefer to have stayed smouldering in the background.

In essence, nothing positive was ever going to emerge from her media appearance.

In fact, if anything, it has further damaged her husband’s public standing.

The fact that the pair could not see that in advance is quite bewildering.

Whilst Hird is bound by a confidentiality agreement as part of the deal that was struck between the club and the AFL others in his immediate circle are not.

‘Team Hird’ has often been front and centre with its public support of its man.

His lawyer Julian Birnside, media advisor Ian Hanke, father Allan and wife have all been on the front foot in recent times strongly arguing publicly against what they perceive as an injustice that was levelled at Hird.

Their protestations will not change the fact that he will not return to the club in any capacity until finals time this season.

Given that Birnside and Hanke were personally engaged by Hird he should have told both that he did not want them making any public utterances.

He should also have made that clear to members of his family as well.

The fact that he did not resulted in the ‘Team Hird’ agenda hijacking the news cycle that should have been simply focused on Fletcher and the club.

The main thrust of Tania Hird’s interview last week – or at least the one that garnered the most oxygen – was her unswerving belief that AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou tipped off the Essendon Football Club ahead of the ASADA investigation.

Both Demetriou and the Bombers’ president at the time, David Evans vehemently deny such a conversation ever took place.

The rumour first did the rounds in the first half of last year, prompting an investigation by the Australian Crime Commission.

On 25 July last year the ACC announced that there was no evidence to support the claim.

In essence, it drew a line through it.

Yet, despite that finding by the ACC, Hird’s wife still felt the need to air it again on the eve of the club’s opening game of the season, guaranteeing of course that it would once again dominate the AFL headlines.

In the following days Birnside, Hanke and Hird’s father all added their slant on things.

There was no doubting the frustrations of current club president Paul Little over the unwanted focus on the club’s darkest period.

Later today he, and his board, will decide Hird’s future with the club.

There is no doubting that he still feels acutely aggrieved by the deal that was principally cut by Little and the AFL that resulted in him being handed a 12-month suspension from coaching.

And, while he is legally bound not to talk about it, those around him are not.

The fact that he took no steps to prevent the firestorm erupting a day out from his club’s first match of the season smacks of a man who believes he, and his plight, is more important than the club.

In team sport that is a heinous crime.

Hird is currently in Singapore, en route eventually to France, where he will undertake a club-sponsored six-month study course whilst still receiving his reported $700,000 salary from Essendon.

As part of the deal to get Hird to accept his penalty Little extended his contract, believed to be at a remuneration greater than he is currently receiving, and guaranteed his return to the club after he had served his penance.

His president’s support has been far less effusive since Tania Hird’s interview.

Hird may well be saved by the fact that letting him go could cost the club in the vicinity of $2 million.

But perhaps it is a hit that the Essendon needs to take.

Through his inaction Hird has allowed his situation to continue to float above the club’s and there is no guarantee that it will not continue that way.

The time is ripe to cut him adrift because the Bombers, its board, members and supporters do not need a repeat of last week’s ambush.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 26 March 2014