The inescapable conclusion from Tania Hird’s ill-timed 7.30 Report attack upon the AFL was that the Essendon Football Club can never truly put the past behind it until it severs its ties with James Hird.
Not as a club legend and not as a favourite son although the scars will take years to heal before Essendon people will forgive his selfish and cavalier treatment of both the club and the players he promised to protect by becoming their senior mentor. But Hird is finished as Essendon’s coach.
Essendon must sack him and accelerate what has been a lumbering attempt to rebuild the club, which still has no chief executive, no football operations boss and a caretaker coach. Mark Thompson has been saying for at least a month to some confidantes that Hird would not return.
On Friday morning, the day of the Bombers’ season-opening game - Thompson and his assistants believed Hird faced the sack and that the decision could come before the weekend. The view of this columnist has always been that he would not return to coach next season.
Chairman Paul Little must move because Hird cannot meet his promise to put the club first. His private stand has been one of bitterness and anger and while his friends and supporters at Essendon - notably stand-in CEO Xavier Campbell - insist he has moved on and is at peace with his fate, this is not the case.
Little had already suspected as much. Hird’s appearance on his club’s Fox Footy show The Hangar was self-serving and clearly came at his insistence. Having already unofficially warned the James Hird camp to stop undermining Essendon’s 2014 season, the furious Bombers’ chairman and his board was early on Friday examining the club’s legal position following Mrs Hird’s Thursday night ABC TV attack upon the AFL and her insistence her husband had done nothing wrong but had agreed to be a scapegoat following threats and bullying.
While it remained unclear whether Hird, through his wife, had breached his contractual agreement with Essendon - which re-signed him until the end of 2016 before he agreed to cease his legal proceedings - Little and his board must cut their losses.
The chairman has cut Hird so much slack, having paid him for 2014 against the AFL’s wishes and largely funded his family’s French sabbatical, but there was always going to be the moment the Hird camp, in return, pushed Little too far.
The signs on Friday were that Tania Hird’s interview, which blindsided the club, had done just that. Little, the Essendon fan, adored Hird and Little, the rebuilding chairman, believed Hird’s redemption was crucial to Essendon’s brand, but he remains an astute and tough negotiator and now it seems even Essendon fans have turned on Hird in disturbingly significant numbers. Perhaps moving upon Hird now will be less harmful to the club’s membership than Little had feared.
Little has always insisted that Hird would be Essendon’s coach again after he served his suspension so it is telling that on Triple M on Friday he could no longer guarantee that. The board was already disenchanted with the public utterings of Hird and his camp this year and another critical move by Tania was her suggestion that former chairman David Evans had coached Hird to omit evidence in his ASADA interview.
The Evans family must feel so betrayed by Hird, once David’s close friend. Tellingly, too, commissioner Bill Kelty broke his silence, defending Andrew Demetriou early on Friday on ABC 774, defending the AFL’s process last year and clarifying that it was his strong ties with Evans, not Hird, which saw him step away from the Essendon case. Kelty’s view that no person is bigger than a football club has not been understood by the Hirds.
Little told Fairfax Media in early February that Hird would return to the club a ‘‘better person’’ and that he needed to abandon his legal threats for the club to move forward. The view of the club then was that Hird needed to become his own man and stand on his own two feet. Telling, because our view has always been that Hird’s refusal to accept responsibility for the welfare failings of his football department in 2011 and 2012, has been fuelled disproportionately by his wife.
That became all too clear on Thursday night on the ABC. If Hird thought he was smart allowing his wife to speak for him then he has outsmarted himself. If Tania Hird thought it was smart to continue her campaign against Andrew Demetriou, then her focus only underlined her stupidity. That ship has sailed.
If Hird wanted to fight to clear his name - as was his right - he should have held firm last year. But if he still believes the senior coach of a football club is not responsible for the welfare of his players and if he still cannot see it was his responsibility to stop all those needles and mysterious and potentially dangerous drugs, then he does not deserve to be a part of the AFL.