Essendon coach James Hird has dramatically backed down and accepted a one-year ban from the game as his club was expelled from the 2013 finals, stripped of draft picks and fined $2 million.
After the most dramatic day in AFL history one of the game’s most revered figures admitted he had brought the game into disrepute and abandoned his Supreme Court action against the league and its boss Andrew Demetriou.
The Hird backdown concluded a season of vociferous denials from the Essendon coach that he would accept any wrongdoing in the risky and experimental drugs program instigated at the end of 2011 and carried out through the 2012 season.
Hird’s senior assistant Mark Thompson has also accepted a sanction in the form of a fine from the AFL after 24 hours earlier declaring he was a long way from a deal. Only the case of club doctor Bruce Reid was yet to be concluded.
Hird was found guilt of the AFL’s rule 1.6 that he had engaged in conduct unbecoming or likely to prejudice the interests or the reputation of the AFL or to bring the game of football into disrepute.
In an unprecedented fall from grace for a Brownlow Medallist, Hall of Famer and Norm Smith Medallist, Hird has become the first senior coach in the game’s history to be forced out of football for 12 months.
Hird can hold no role at the club for the next year and cannot be paid by the club.
Earlier on Tuesday it became clear that Essendon had been banned from the 2013 finals series and the opening two rounds of the national draft and slapped with a $2 million fine for the derelict failures of its football program over the 2012 season.
The club will also miss the opening round of the 2014 draft but its role in next year's second round of draft picks remained unclear as the club completed a plea bargain with the AFL late this afternoon and avoided a contested hearing of the league commission.
Hird's legal representative Julian Burnside QC appeared close to a deal with the AFL late on Tuesday although the coach's position had not yet been resolved as Essendon chairman Paul Little agreed to the sanctions being presented as the AFL's final offer.
Danny Corcoran has accepted a four month suspension from the game with club doctor Bruce Reid and senior assistant Mark Thompson still resisting the charges levelled against them.
Essendon's VFL team was earlier also expected to be banned from the finals.
Essendon avoided fronting the AFL Commission and facing harsher penalties following a second day of frustrating talks between the AFL's legal team, Essendon and the four individuals charged with conduct unbecoming to the game.
An agreement between the AFL and Essendon chiefs appeared imminent before nightfall on Monday before senior coach Hird refused to accept the wording of the charges against him.
Hird's one-year ban was a non-negotiable for the AFL but the coach was still fighting the length of time his suspension and threatening to take on league chiefs Andrew Demetriou and Gillon McLachlan in the Supreme Court.
It also emerged that Essendon could retain its points for 2013 but simply banned from the finals in a reworded penalty that would ensure the club received no favours in even the later rounds of the 2013 draft.
In the deal the AFL appears to have abandoned a push to strip Essendon of points from 2012.
With the Bombers' VFL team almost certain to also be thrown out of the finals, the VFL had not yet settled its finals fixture in a move that would see Carlton's aligned VFL team the Northern Blues scrape into the VFL finals on percentage ahead of North Ballarat. Carlton's senior team could also take Essendon's place in the finals.
AFL Victoria bosses told the Northern Blues on Sunday to remain on standby for a finals berth. The team trained on Monday night with the Northern Blues reserves side which has qualified for the finals.
The VFL view on Tuesday was that it would follow suit with the AFL in terms of banning Essendon from the 2013 finals.
While Essendon had fully accepted its coach would be banned for 12 months, Hird would not accept he was broadly culpable for failing in his duty of care towards his players from late 2011 through the 2012 season.
With the majority of the AFL clubs privately willing the competition's governing body to demonstrate leadership, cease negotiations and take a strong stand against the Bombers' drug practices — a push strongly reflected on talkback radio early on Tuesday — patience appeared to be wearing thin at head office over the Bombers' tactics.