James Hird is as confident about Essendon’s fate at the AFL anti-doping tribunal as he is adamant that no-one at the club has broken ranks.
As the Bombers deal with several issues surrounding the fallout from their 2012 supplements scandal, Hird also said on Friday he is too busy for now to repair his relationship with the league.
Essendon’s anti-doping drama, now into a third year, had its latest twist this week when four players from their 2012 list were picked for their opening NAB Challenge game on Saturday against St Kilda.
It was widely assumed that all 25 current Essendon players who were at the club in 2012 would sit out games until the anti-doping tribunal verdicts are known.
That is to protect the anonymity of the charged players among them.
About 18 of them are facing charges relating to the 2012 Essendon supplements scandal and they are sitting out games to protect potential backdated suspensions if they are found guilty.
But Nick O’Brien, Jackson Merrett, Elliott Kavanagh and Lauchlan Dalgleish will play against the Saints.
That immediately led to some strong media commentary about an Essendon backflip and players breaking ranks.
“The whole club and the leadership group were happy with it,” Hird said.
“So talk about breaking from the ranks or whatever was said in the paper today – it’s a ridiculous comment.
“The group is united on that decision and, obviously, we want the identity of those (charged) players protected.
“But we also want the individual careers of players to go ahead.”
Essendon did not volunteer what 2012 players were in the Morwell squad when it was announced on Thursday, but Hird said they had not tried to keep it a secret.
The anti-doping tribunal is weighing up verdicts on 34 current and former Essendon players.
Despite the charged players sitting out the pre-season in case they need to preserve the option of backdated suspensions, Hird is upbeat about their fate.
“We’re not thinking they (their top-up players) will be required in the regular season, because we’re very confident with the way the tribunal will go with our players,” Hird said.
“We’re concentrating on the fact we’ll have our best team out there in round one against Sydney and that’s our plan.”
It has also emerged that captain Jobe Watson and fellow senior players Brendon Goddard and David Myers met last week with AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan.
“I know what they wanted to do is improve relationships between the club and the AFL,” Hird said.
“That’s important for everyone.”
No-one at Essendon has a more fractured relationship with the AFL than Hird.
When asked if he might think about trying to rebuild burnt bridges, Hird replied: “I’m trying to coach our football team – it’s a very busy job.
“I’m trying to do the best possible job I can to get our football team ready for the (season).
“That’s where my focus is and a time down the track for that to happen? Maybe.”