Why Would Essendon Keep the Faith?

Get past the irony that Essendon gave their 2013 membership campaign the slogan ‘whatever it takes’, they were only late by a year; and the laughter ceases and everything begins to get serious.

Their fate has been handed down but the fallout from it will continue for years to come.

In meting out punishments to Essendon, the AFL and the AFL Commission have slammed the club with some harsh sanctions. Those who aren’t really in the know, (Anna Meares) are comparing it to a drug cheat being pushed to ninth place.

I’m not going into semantics but Essendon Football Club have never been hit with a drugs infraction, until that time, they are not drug cheats, but they have more than pushed the boundaries and have indeed brought the code into disrepute, and they have only themselves to blame for their current plight.

There was an unbelievable failing at a management level at the club to implement procedures to prevent what happened, the use of peptides, whose legitimacy remains in question;(if they were caught using those substances now, they would be sanctioned under the WADA code and hit with drug bans). Essendon played with fire, they have now been burned irreparably, those in power have shown themselves to have made poor decisions and have been punished.

The punishments: A $2 million fine for the club, no draft picks for two years, a $30,000 fine to assistant coach Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson, a four-month ban for Danny Corcoran and a twelve-month ban with no pay for senior coach James Hird.

Yet despite this and Hird’s role in the scandal (if you believe Stephen Dank, Hird knew exactly what the players were taking, if you believe Hird he thought they were vitamins), the Essendon Football Club have decided that once Hird’s twelve-month ban is over they will reinstate him as head coach of the Essendon Football Club.

Although Chairman Paul Little wouldn’t elaborate as a deal had not been signed he responded in the affirmative when Herald Sun lead AFL writer Mark Robinson asked if the club were going to extend Hird’s contract.

The question has to be asked, why? Why would Essendon extend Hird’s contract.

Hird has been front and centre in this scandal of that there is no doubt, he had a working relationship with Dank, again this isn’t in dispute and he was along with others culpable in mismanagement at a high level, mismanagement that in regards to Dank and the supplements program bordered on ignorance if not incompetence.

As a coach he hasn’t exactly led Essendon to massive amounts of success either. This year they may have been finals-bound but the only top four side they beat was Fremantle, they did so by four points all the way back in round two and were hammered by true premiership contenders Sydney, Geelong and Hawthorn.

In 2012, despite Jobe Watson winning the Brownlow and achieving the game’s ultimate individual honour, the Bombers led by Hird finished 11th and in 2011 in his first season as coach they finished eighth. Hardly a huge amount of success or a reason to continue to have faith in a coach who has been suspended by the AFL, no matter how good a player he was, at an administration level and at a coaching level he has been shown to have significant shortcomings, after all Essendon do possess a very talented list.

That the Essendon hierarchy are somewhat sweet on their former poster boy is of no doubt, after all Hird is a Brownlow Medallist and a two-time premiership player, but as a coach he has been mediocre and it has to be wondered aloud if another coach, perhaps not a club champion were in the same situation of they would be afforded the same goodwill? It’s highly unlikely.

Time will tell if continuing to stand behind Hird will serve Essendon well, but as far as seeing his potential as a coach goes, Essendon won’t be expecting to win any flags too soon, the draft sanctions they have been hit with will hurt them, as will the stigma the club has attracted.

Paul Little says he doesn’t think players will seek an out, but should star recruit Brendon Goddard be deflated or disillusioned enough to seek one after coming to the club this year from St Kilda (and there would be plenty of clubs keen to snap him up) it would be just as devastating.

James Hird and the club have their work cut out for them in rebuilding a shattered culture and changing the way they do business, because what they have all done thus far simply isn’t good enough and they have been justifiably hammered.

The full charges relating to Hird from the scandal are the following:

The AFL and James Hird agree that in 2011/2012 EFC implemented, while Hird was Senior Coach of the club, the Program, which was inadequately vetted and controlled.

It is agreed by the AFL and James Hird that:

- he contributed to the Essendon FC’s failure to take sufficient steps to ensure the health, welfare and safety of players in relation to the Program;

- when he became aware of facts that suggested that unsatisfactory practices were occurring, the action he took was not sufficient to stop those practices;

- he did not take sufficient steps to avoid there being a risk that players may have been administered substances that were prohibited by the AFL Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code, and any such risk is an unacceptable risk;

- as Senior Coach, he shares responsibility for the inadequate governance within EFC’s football department,

and in consequence, Hird accepts that the Essendon FC breached Rule 1.6 of the AFL Player Rules.

Sanction

By reason of the matters referred to above:

the AFL will impose a 12 month suspension from the AFL effective from 25 August 2013;

James Hird will not work with any AFL Club in any capacity during this period; and

James Hird accepts this suspension.

The AFL and James Hird consider that the best interests of the game and its supporters are served by a resolution of this matter now given James Hird’s willingness to resolve the matter.

The AFL acknowledges that:

- No breaches of the AFL Anti-Doping Code have been established to date;

- James Hird did not set out to implement a supplements program that would result in players being administered WADA prohibited or harmful substances;

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