James Hird and Mark Thompson in their coaching days at Essendon.
James Hird and Mark Thompson in their coaching days at Essendon.

We were let down by Essendon: Hird

JAMES Hird has revealed the extent of psychological damage the Essendon sports supplements scandal caused him and Mark Thompson, saying he reached out this week to his one-time premiership team and former coaching panel member in the wake of his drug-trafficking charges.

An emotional Hird said he and Thompson received barely any support from the Bombers during the drugs crisis that rocked the game.

And he detailed how he believed what the pair went through at the time had contributed significantly to their ongoing issues since.

He told the Crawfy and Hird podcast this week that he met Thompson on Wednesday, a day after he was charged with seven drug-related offences - including trafficking and possession following a raid on his Port Melbourne home in January.

"That was the tipping point for a lot of us," Hird said of the sports supplement saga.

"My issues have been well documented and now he is going through something that hopefully he can get through and that it doesn't go any further.

Mark Thompson and James Hird together.
Mark Thompson and James Hird together.

"We all thought he had a problem in that area, personally, but no one thought that it was any more than that.

"A lot of people have reached out to try and help. I thought he had come out the other side, and obviously he was very scarred by the ASADA stuff."

He described Thompson's situation as "extremely sad" but said the meeting between them this week left him with the impression that the man who was a senior assistant coach with the Bombers during Hird's time as senior coach was now "pretty determined to get himself to a good place again".

"From Bomber's point of view, there is only one person who can turn his life around," Hird said.

"A lot of people are there to help him ... but he also needs to take some responsibility himself and say 'I am going to get myself right.'"

He also suggested he was presuming Thompson's innocence on the trafficking charges, saying: "I really hope he is innocent."

Hird, who suffered clinical depression and reached a breaking point when he took an overdose of sleeping pills in January 2017, said he and Thompson had desperately tried to shield the players from the pressures of the  supplements scandal.

But he said the club's hierarchy gave them little support back at the same time, given the high turnover of staff and the swirling media focus on them all at the time.

"They weren't (offering any support)," Hird told this week's Crawf and Hirdy podcast. "The people inside the club at the time were not about supporting emotionally the people who were going through those times.

Mark Thompson and James Hird together. Picture: Michael Dodge
Mark Thompson and James Hird together. Picture: Michael Dodge


"The president left, we had three CEOs in the space of six months, we had HR people go.

"It was really us - myself, "Bomber" (Thompson), Danny Corcoran, Bruce Reid and some other staff. We weren't equipped to deal with it.

"Hopefully, we got the players through, but Bomber and myself, we didn't get through, and I know Danny has had his (difficult) times as well."

He said he had a "deep connection" with Thompson during their playing days, but sensed Bomber was emotionally drained from football when he returned as an assistant coach with the Bombers in 2011.

"He was absolutely spent. The first period at Essendon he seemed very tired and that the job had worn him down," Hird said.

"I think ASADA, for me, was the catalyst that kicked my issues off. People said we were cheating ... and didn't care about the players.

"That cut me, and I know it cut him as well.

Mark Thompson and James Hird together at the Bombers.
Mark Thompson and James Hird together at the Bombers.

"Football, rightly or wrongly, was our identity ... over time (the controversy) stripped away our identity, our value and our worth.

"When people do that to you, you are vulnerable to go down a path ... that maybe you wouldn't have gone down otherwise."