Hird commands attention

James Hird has spent much of his time in Essendon colours at the heart of everything.

As a player, he drove them with not just a will to win but an almost pathological refusal to lose.

As coach, he arrived determined to elevate them above the mediocrity and ridicule that define them under his predecessor.

And yesterday, as the future of the club and 34 of its players went on the line in a packed court, there he was again, commanding the attention even as he tried to remain inconspicuous.

Two years of allegations, leaks, opinion, vitriol, interviews, reports and negotiations came to a head before Justice John Middleton with Essendon and Hird on one side and ASADA on the other.

The Bombers' case was relatively simple - that the doping agency acted illegally when it joined the AFL to investigate alleged dark arts within the club's sports science department.

They claim ASADA did not have the power to find out what it did and was then not allowed to tell the AFL.

After Justice Middleton joked he might well call for a "bounce of the ball", the legions of lawyers with trees-worth of files diluted the acrimony into succinct, and sometimes brutal, argument.

The club said its business could be destroyed if the charges against the players stood. Mr Hird's lawyers tagged along and the players' lawyer said they were press ganged into co-operating with the authorities.

And after genial openings, the spite came out as ASADA accused the Bombers of trying on an ambush with late evidence and demands for more material.

For court watchers and legal minds, it was fascinating.

But the ranks of Melbourne media and those beyond were waiting for Mr Hird, who in turn waited impassively with his staunchest ally, wife Tania.

The entree was club chief executive Xavier Campbell, who eluded questions of what he knew about a joint investigation.

Then James Albert Hird was called and lawyer Sue McNicol immediately put him on the spot about what he remembered about a news conference on February 5 last year when the Bombers admitted an inquiry was on.

He remembered saying he was shocked and that high-level people at the club should take "full responsibility" but he was more certain he was told to say certain things for the good of the club.

Watching a video of it, a stony-faced Mr Hird heard himself say: "We certainly don't want to be sitting here talking about this." He surely feels the same way now.

'We certainly don't want to be sitting here talking about this.'" *James Hird *at a news conference

The West Australian

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