Tim Watson has moved to address reports of a sad falling out between he and former Essendon premiership-winning teammate James Hird. The pair won a flag together as part of the Bombers' 1993 premiership side, before Hird went on to coach the club after his playing career ended.
Both players were named in Essendon's Team of the Century in 1997 but recent reports from the The Herald Sun indicate their relationship is “right now at least beyond repair”. The report goes on to suggest that the supposed falling out came after Watson's son Jobe was stripped of his 2012 Brownlow Medal for his role in the supplements saga, during Hird's time as coach of Essendon.
Hird coached Essendon for three years before serving a suspension during the entire 2014 season after being charged by the AFL with conduct prejudicing the game in relation to the infamous supplements scandal that led to the suspensions of 34 players. He returned to the role in 2015 but resigned in August that year after the club slumped to a 5-14 record.
The 50-year-old missed out on a return to the head coaching role at Essendon last September, with Brad Scott getting the job instead. Tim Watson warned the Bombers against any romantic notion of luring Hird back into the head coaching role at the time, suggesting it would be better for the club not to revisit its painful past.
“I think for a lot of people it would drag back all those things that happened and occurred during that period of time that he was there as coach,” Watson said on SEN last year. “He hasn’t coached since 2015, he wasn’t a successful coach back then when he did coach, although there were these unusual circumstances around all that.
Speaking on SEN for his new podcast series, Watson denied that there was any "ill-feeling" towards Hird and that his comments were made purely as an AFL analyst and as someone with the best interests of the club at heart. When asked whether his relationship with Hird was beyond repair, Watson revealed that while they were not close, there had never been a falling out between the two.
“I don’t have any ill-feeling towards James Hird. Absolutely none,” Watson said. “I’ve been in his company a number of times and we had a 1993 premiership lunch last year and he was there.
“We’re not best friends and we were friendlier back in the day, but this whole thing happened, and I’ve reached out to him, I’ve reached out to Bomber (Mark Thompson, former Essendon coach) and I understand people are moving through this emotionally and mentally in their own time and in their own way and I respect that.”
Essendon's decision to interview Hird for the head coaching job last year raised eyebrows at the time, given he was in charge during the infamous supplements scandal. However, Watson says his reservations about the 50-year-old returning to the head coaching hot seat, had nothing to do with any reported feud between the pair.
“When you have been a teammate of somebody and then you have to make a comment around something they might be doing because you hold a position in the media and you’ve got to have an opinion on these things, my opinion about him being the next coach of Essendon had nothing to do with what happened in that ASADA period,” Watson said.
“It had nothing to do with that. I just didn’t think he was the right person for this time and the club needed to move forward and it was as simple as that.”
James Hird's coaching future up in the air after GWS exit
Questions have been raised about whether Hird will ever return to an AFL head coaching role after he recently left his role as an assistant at GWS. Hird won't be returning to the Giants in 2023 after he became a full-time assistant coach last year.
Speaking about Hird's departure from GWS, Port Adelaide champion Cornes said he doesn't think Hird will ever be a head coach again. “This was always my issue with James Hird going for the senior job. I didn’t think he’d done the work to get into a position to have success in that senior role and when I say ‘do the work’, just by the very nature that he’s been out of the system,” Cornes told SEN.
“When you’re out of it for a while it’s hard. To go back in for a little bit and then take a new senior job I thought was going to be difficult for him.
“Now that he is out of the system completely, is that James saying ‘okay, I’m giving up the job of being a senior coach’ because there would’ve been 10 clubs that would have hired him as an assistant coach.
“That would’ve been great. If he had gone back, worked in the midfield, coached them and then went to different areas like Michael Voss did at Port Adelaide.”
North Melbourne legend David King agreed, saying: “Will he coach again? Probably not. I think the opportunity was there at Essendon, he took a risk, he put himself on the line, maybe he was given advice to do that and that advice didn’t turn out to be correct.
“I think he’s a wonderful asset. If he was working with your leadership group, I’d still have him involved. You speak to any of the players that he works with … it’s an absolute investment.
“I think some of the work he did with Stephen Coniglio was really impactful. He was in trouble as a player Coniglio and I think Hird helped him get back to his best AFL form.”
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