James Hird: Retired AFL Player & Ex Coach Essendon
James Allan Hird, a former professional Australian Rules Footballer and coach of the Essendon Football Club (AFL).
Born on 4th of February, 1973, Hird has played as a midfielder, but was known to be given free permission to play wherever he thought necessary by the former Essendon coach, Kevin Sheedy.
He won the 1996 Brownlow Medal with Michael Voss, who was the Brisbane Bears midfielder at the time.
James Hird is also considered to be one of the greatest footballers of the modern era and is a member of the AFL Hall of Fame.
Moreover, he was listed as one of the top 50 players of all time by journalist, Mike Sheehan.
Life Before AFL
Hird was born to Allan and Margaret Hird in Canberra, where his father worked in the public service while his mother worked as a teacher. His parents had met in Melbourne and had moved to the Australian Capital in 1969.
Along with two siblings born three years after him, he had lived most of his starting life in the suburbs of Ainslie before moving to a house in Latham in the northern suburbs.
James Hird was an active yet shy child and because his mother wanted him to be well rounded; he took piano as well as ballet lessons, but both didn’t last very long. He also participated in the soccer and rugby league as the Australian Rules football wasn’t as popular in those days.
However, because Hird was a small child in the seventh grade, he often got knocked around while playing rugby league.
During the 1990 AFL draft, James Hird was recruited from the Ainslie Football Club in Canberra. However, he was not selected at first because he had a serious hip injury along with other injuries in his junior football career. In fact, he wasn’t chosen until pick 79, one of the last in the draft.
Life as an AFL Player at a Glance: 1991-1996
At the beginning of his career as an AFL player in 1991, Hird was not able to play on the field because of constant injuries that hampered his performance.
Because of this, after the 1991 season had ended, a vote was cast on whether to delist him. Now even though the majority votes were in favour of Hird leaving, coach Kevin Sheedy decided to keep him. After this, Hird made his senior debut against St. Kilda in 1992 and spent the rest of the season in the Essendon Reserves, which won the premiership.
In 1993, Hird managed to achieve regular selection in the Essendon Senior team and was one of the members of the “Baby Bombers” Club, which consisted of young players. Hird’s winning streak started to show when he won the three consecutive Best and Fairest awards in 1994, 1995 and 1996. He was also jointly awarded the Brownlow Medal for the League’s Fairest and Best player along with Michael Voss, the midfielder for the Brisbane Bears.
Because of several injuries, James Hird only managed to play seven games in 1997.
In 1998, even though he was named captain of his team, he was restricted to thirteen games that season. The situation got even worse in 1999 when he could only play two games that season because of stress fractures in his foot.
Hird did manage to return to the field at the start of 2000 because of a radical specialist treatment, but the injury, though technically cured, still needed careful management for the rest of his career.
2000 was a reasonably good season and year for James Hird as he had managed to recover from his serious injury and received a couple of honours such as the All Australian Team and Norm Smith Medal for the best on ground performance in the AFL Grand Final.
That same year, Essendon also won the Ansett Cup in the pre-season competition and brought home the premiership. Aside from Hird, 2000 marked a year of great success for his team as it became known as the only team which had been most successful in the history of AFL and had lost only one game against the Western Bulldogs.
Unfortunately, 2001 and 2002 were years of great disappointment for Hird as he collided with teammate Mark McVeigh’s knee and sustained a horrific injury in 2002 that fractured or broke most of the bones in his skull. Because of medical complications, Hird was not able to fly home to Melbourne and missed most of the starting games for 2003 as well.
Even though he had missed eight games in the 2003 season, Hird received the Essendon Best and Fairest along with Scott Lucan and narrowly missed out on a second Brownlow Medal. However, that couldn’t dampen his spirits as Hird did manage to win a place in the 2003 All-Australian team, which was a great achievement after his almost fatal injury.
Sadly, while 2003 was a great year filled with accolades, it also featured a huge controversy around James Hird when he launched a surprising attack on the standard of umpiring. His comments, that were during his regular panel appearances on The Footy Show were directed towards Scott McLaren and attracted quite a lot of media attention. Because the comments were made on live television, the matter went straight to the AFL Commission and on 14th April, Hird was handed down a penalty.
Under that penalty, Hird was fined $20,000 and was forced to contribute to a 3-year umpiring development program. Later, in the 3rd round of the 2004 against West Coast, Hird made a winning comeback and played a memorable game for the team.
Hird’s captaincy was handed to Mather Lloyd in the 2005 season, an act that proved to be quite disappointing as the team missed the finals for the first time since 1997. Hird came back to captaincy only briefly when Lloyd was injured during Round 3 of 2006, but was later replaced by ruckman David Hillie.
Though Hird continued to be an outstanding performer in his utility role, his age and the toll of frequent injuries forced him to miss quite a lot of games.
Even though it was speculated that he would retire by the end of the 2006 season, Hird managed to play out the 2007 season and concluded his career by winning a fifth Best and Fairest award. Moreover, Hird received further recognition when the Archer-Hird Medal was created before the 2008 season in honour of Hird and a former North Melbourne Football Club Star, Glenn Archer.
Life As A Coach
On 28th September 2010, James Hird was announced as the senior coach of the Essendon’s team by CEO, Ian Robson, and Chairman, David Evans. Hird’s coaching career started with a bang when his team won against the triple preliminary finalist the Western Bulldogs in the first round. The team also won against St. Kilda, the Gold Coast, West Coast and the Brisbane Lions.
However, one of the biggest achievements of Hird’s coaching career was when his team won while playing against the previously undefeated Geelong in round 15. Prior to this, Essendon had the worst records among current AFL clubs when it comes to playing against Geelong, and had beaten them only once since 2003.
Hird also served as a commentator and football analyst for the Australian Rules football on Fox Sports after he retired in 2007 and up until the start of his coaching career. Moreover, Hird became a writer for Melbourne’s Herald Sun, marking himself as one of the former Essendon players to take up media roles since their retirement.
Hird’s Personal Life
Hird had a family of footballers as his Grandfather, the late Allan Hird Sr., was a recognised player and president for the Essendon Football Club. Meanwhile, his father, Allan Hird Jr., had a brief playing career with the team that he played for himself, Essendon.
On 11 October 1997, Hird married Tania Ponyton (sister of former Young Talent Time performer, Greg Ponyton), and had four children: a daughter, Stephanie, and three sons, Thomas, Alexander and William.
Because James Hird had managed to complete his studies for a degree in civil engineering in 1998, he worked as a consultant on the CityLink project.
Even now, though he is greatly involved in football related media work, he spends a considerable amount of time working for stockbroking firms. These aside, he co-owns a restaurant called the “Red Mullet Fishcaf”, which is located in Glenferrie Road, Malyem. As if all this wasn’t enough to keep him busy, he actively partnered with Gemba, which is a sports marketing and media consultancy firm based in Melbourne.
Overall, even though James Hird had undergone a lot of serious injuries, his success lies in the fact that he didn’t let these injuries change his passion for football. He was not only a successful AFL player, but a caring and experienced coach as well as a prominent media personality when it comes to talking about sports.