James Hird believes WADA’s appeal has cast a cloud over his players after the Bombers slumped to a listless defeat at the hands of Geelong.
Hird was “astonished” at how well his side performed early in the season after the AFL anti-doping tribunal’s March verdict clearing 34 past and present players of any wrongdoing over their involvement in the club’s controversial 2012 supplements program.
But Essendon have lost three out of four games since the World Anti-Doping Agency announced its decision to appeal that finding, which Hird feels is a factor in the Bombers’ deteriorating form.
“After beating Hawthorn (in round two) I thought this group had come through probably one of the worst times for any group and performed exceptionally well,” Hird told Triple M on Sunday.
“But where we sit at the moment, after the WADA decision after the Fremantle game, the players have been through such a journey that I feel perhaps … to a certain extent that cloud has come back over them and is causing a bit of a fog around their brains and their decision-making in a game.
“They don’t specifically run out there thinking about WADA but when you go through a journey like these guys have for two or three years and then you know that this journey has got maybe another year to go it makes it harder rather than easier to play AFL football.”
The Bombers sit in 12th place on the ladder after 10 rounds, with their season precariously balanced at four wins and six losses.
Hird described his side’s second quarter in the 69-point loss to the Cats as the worst of the season and the first time his players had let themselves down in terms of effort this year.
He feels the players have taken a few steps backwards in terms of their mental state, but that winning games of football was the only way forward while the appeal process plays out.
“It’s no excuse for what’s going on and Essendon supporters don’t really want to hear about ASADA or WADA any more. I know the players don’t,” he said.
“To me, and this is what we spoke about after the game, the only way out of what we’re in is winning games of football.
“The players want to be remembered as a playing group that played competitive football, that wins games of football … we can talk about ASADA and WADA all we want but it’s not going to help us play football.
“All these players want to do is perform on the field. It’s not a sense of loyalty – they don’t owe me anything and I don’t owe them anything – but what they owe themselves is to play and train to the best of their ability.”