The dark clouds that hovered over Essendon for five long and treacherous years have cleared. A club that was threatened with its life by the AFL has managed to rebuild. Now almost all individuals that held a position of responsibility at Essendon during the dangerous supplements program of 2012 have departed the club.
In recent weeks, we have seen some of these faces re-enter the public fray, albeit in a limited capacity. Former Essendon coach James Hird has joined the Triple M commentary team on an infrequent basis, while his ex-assistant Mark Thompson was a surprise attendee at the Geelong 2009 premiership reunion. So, now that the media circus has gone, what has happened to those central figures of a seemingly never-ending drugs saga?
Where are they now?
James Hird resigned as Essendon senior coach after a particularly embarrassing 112-point loss against Adelaide in Round 20, 2015. This was Hird’s first season back as coach after being suspended by the AFL for twelve months for “putting the game into disrepute” – the AFL’s favourite and most convenient crime.
Since his coaching career ended, Hird suffered a drug overdose and spent five weeks in a mental health facility as he battled clinical depression. Through his new role in the media, Hird has been very open about his battle with mental health and his regrets about how he handled players who had similar battles during his coaching career.
Stunningly, there were media reports earlier this year suggesting that Hird may replace John Worsfold as Essendon coach, after the Bombers lost their first two games. This clearly is not going to happen. While Hird refused to rule it out – he does not need to.
Mark Thompson took the reins of senior coach in 2014, when James Hird was suspended from the AFL for 12 months. As part of those penalties, Thompson was fined $30,000. When Hirdy returned to Tullamarine in 2015, Thompson left the club believing he had no role remaining at Essendon. After departing the AFL in a club capacity, Thompson joined the media with special comments roles on Fox Footy and 3AW. However, his foray in the media did not last long.
At a drugs in sport forum in 2017, Thompson spoke openly about the effect the long-running Essendon drugs saga had on him. “And it just sits in my guts and churns and it still does and it’s going to probably end up killing me because I can’t let it go.”
Thompson’s lawyer has confirmed that he will contest a series of drug-trafficking charges at a hearing next month.
Dr Bruce Reid
Essendon’s club doctor, Dr Bruce Reid was the only Essendon figure to contest the charges laid against him by the AFL. Subsequently, those charges were dropped by the AFL at the drop of a hat. The AFL’s focus group research must have been satisfied with the bigger fish of Hird and Thompson, the lesser known Reid was not really necessary.
This is despite, Reid admitting in Chip Le Grand’s brilliant The Straight Dope book that it was a “significant failing” that he approved the controversial drug AOD-9604, without verifying its legal status beyond what Stephen Dank told him. However, due to the AFL dropping the charges against Reid he was allowed to continue working at Essendon.
In December 2018, Essendon announced that Dr Reid has been diagnosed with mesothelioma and will be on indefinite leave from the club.
Disgraced sports scientist Stephen Dank was the mastermind of the supplements program behind Australian sport’s greatest scandal. Since the scandal’s eruption in 2013, Dank has been banned from the AFL for life, but I’m not sure that job applications from AFL clubs would have been flooding in regardless. He failed to turn up to his own appeal hearing for his life ban citing illness to a relative. However, he missed the deadline to prove that this was actually the case.
Dank was the victim of a drive-by shooting in 2016, while in 2017, he was declared bankrupt.
Simon Goodwin was perhaps the one at Essendon who was least tarred by the events of 2012. Goodwin, an Essendon assistant coach in 2012, has managed to keep his reputation intact despite the Bomber implosion. Goodwin, such was the high regard he was held in at Essendon, was the caretaker coach for the final game in 2013 after James Hird was suspended. Furthermore, Goodwin was promoted to the role of senior assistant coach in 2014 when Bomber Thompson was head coach.
At the conclusion of that season, Goodwin signed a five-year deal with Melbourne to become their next senior coach in a succession plan with Paul Roos. He is currently in his third year in charge of Melbourne and last year ended a dozen year old finals drought, launching the club to the prelims for the first time since the Neale Daniher era.
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