Essendon coach James Hird has praised Jobe Watson’s leadership during the AFL club’s long-running supplements saga.
Watson has been at the forefront of the scandal, which reached a climax on Tuesday when 34 current and former players were handed not-guilty verdicts by the league’s anti-doping tribunal.
The 2012 Brownlow Medallist has shown both his authority and vulnerability across the two years, speaking on behalf of players and uniting the group despite their great distress.
He earned many plaudits for his address in the aftermath of the not-guilty verdicts.
Ahead of Essendon’s season-opening match with Sydney on Saturday, Hird added his voice to those praising the midfield warrior, saying he was much more than a fantastic person and a great footballer.
“Off the field, his leadership over the last two years has been outstanding,” he said on the eve of Saturday’s round-one clash with Sydney at ANZ Stadium.
“Obviously, when you see people deal with hardship, you see what they’re really like as leaders.
“He’s stood up and, done more than stood up. He’s been terrific.
“I think the Essendon Football Club is very fortunate to have a person like Jobe Watson as a captain.”
While the tribunal’s verdict allows Watson and other senior players to take the field on Saturday, ASADA boss Ben McDevitt says an appeal remains a “very live option”.
Asked about his thoughts on McDevitt’s comments, Hird said he’d paid no attention to the chief executive.
“I haven’t read a paper, listened to Ben McDevitt in the whole time he’s been there, so I don’t think I’d start now,” Hird said.
AFL great Leigh Matthews weighed into the saga on Friday, suggesting the ASADA investigation was flawed.
“While a kind of reasonable justice may be the current end result, no evidence under oath from Dank – a mickey mouse investigation,” he wrote.
But while ASADA’s investigation has failed to produce a guilty verdict, another body might.
News Corp Australia reports occupational health and safety law enforcer WorkSafe Victoria has written to the 34 Essendon players in question to request interviews.
Worksafe cannot compel the players to do so and chose not to comment on the “ongoing” investigation.
It seems to be Hird’s view that Tuesday’s verdict provides a full stop to the saga of more than two years.
“We’re just going to play footy,” he said.
“The events of earlier in the week are finished. We can move on.
“We really haven’t spoken about it since Wednesday and we’re ready to move on.”