The coach at the centre of a supplements scandal that resulted in the biggest punishments in the history of the Australian Football League remained defiant yesterday, saying he did nothing wrong and had agreed to a year-long ban only to bring the long-running saga to an end.
Essendon were excluded from the upcoming AFL finals series and fined A$2 million (HK$13.92 million) for bringing the game into disrepute by running a programme of injecting players with experimental supplements.
The club were also stripped of early draft picks for two years and had sanctions handed out to senior staff, including a 12-month suspension for head coach James Hird.
Further punishments, including to the club's players, could be imposed once the national and international anti-doping authorities lodge their final reports arising from a seven-month investigation. That will hinge on a final determination of the legality of the supplements used.
Essendon have always maintained they acted within doping guidelines, and Hird was standing by that defence yesterday.
"I didn't break the rules ... we've agreed to move on," Hird said. "We're all disappointed at the level of sanctions that have been put on the club.
"The way [we have] been treated, I don't think is fair."
Hird launched a court case against the AFL last week, but has dropped the legal proceedings without conceding he was in the wrong.
"Fighting a battle in the Supreme Court against the AFL on a matter of principle I just think was probably not the right thing to do for our players and even for myself and my family," he said.
Hird, who himself was injected with some of the same supplements the players received, did concede he should have done more to control the programme overseen by sports scientist Stephen Dank.
"I should've known what was going on. I should've done more and I'm very disappointed that I didn't," Hird said. "There were things that went on at our football club last year that shouldn't have happened and as senior coach I have to take some responsibility for what happened and not doing more to stop it."
Along with Hird, football manager Danny Corcoran was suspended for six months and senior assistant coach Mark Thompson - the top candidate to fill in for Hird as senior coach next season - was fined A$30,000. Club doctor Bruce Reid is contesting undisclosed punishments.
Reid had protested in writing last year to senior figures at the club about the "ludicrous" supplements programme, saying drugs were given to players without his knowledge and that "we are playing at the edge".
Yesterday, Hird promised the AFL supplements saga would not go away anytime soon. "I would definitely tell my side of the story," he said. "You need to give me a few days just to catch my breath and work through that."