He was the golden boy as a player who was meant to turn into Essendon’s saviour as a coach.
Instead, James Hird will be forever remembered as one of the key figures who dragged the Bombers into their darkest hour.
Hird finally fell on his sword on Tuesday – more than two years after the supplements drama first broke.
He did well to hang on that long.
Hird wasn’t the quickest or most naturally skilled player during his glittering 253-match AFL career.
But his decision-making was impeccable.
That attribute deserted him during key moments of his ill-fated coaching career, and it proved to be his downfall.
Controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank arrived at Essendon armed with a plan – to turn Bombers players into the fittest and strongest in the competition.
But as the number of injections surged, so did the suspicion within club headquarters.
Giving Dank free rein to implement his supplements program was a bad call.
But not dealing a swift end to those practises despite growing concerns about its legality reflects even more damningly on Hird.
Once the supplements saga was made public, Essendon’s hierarchy dropped off one after another.
But like he did for much of his playing career, Hird stood his ground.
It wasn’t the first time he faced adversity.
In 2002, Hird was left with gruesome facial injuries after falling into the knee teammate Mark McVeigh during a game against the Dockers.
His injury was so bad, it was likened to what someone would receive in a serious car crash.
Eight weeks later, Hird was playing again – albeit with metal plates in his face.
By the time Hird finished his playing career in 2007, he was an undoubted legend of the game.
His resume included two premierships, a Brownlow medal, five All-Australian guernseys, five best and fairest awards, and a North Smith medal.
Hird, whose dad and grandad also played for the Bombers, is officially ranked the third best player in Essendon history, behind only Dick Reynolds and John Coleman.
Although his poise and skill on the field won over legions of Bombers fans, his affable and humble nature ensured he had admirers all over Australia.
He was hard not to love.
Hird had given his heart and soul to the Bombers since bursting onto the scene in 1992, and now was his time to ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of his labours.
But Essendon wanted more.
With the Bombers floundering under then-coach Matthew Knight in 2010, Essendon powerbrokers did everything they could to convince Hird to take over.
Hird was reluctant initially, but finally caved into their request.
After all, how could he deny such a fairytale reunion?
But by 2013, the fairytale was over as the Bombers became embroiled in doping allegations.
Despite copping a 12-month ban for his part in the saga, Hird not only managed to hold onto his job – but he also earned a contract extension.
And a fresh start beckoned earlier this year when the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal cleared 34 past and present Bombers players of doping charges.
But WADA’s decision to appeal that verdict proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The load was simply too much for Essendon players to carry, and the losses started to mount.
And once the size of the losses increased to embarrassing margins, it became clear to Hird that his time was up.
So much for happy endings.