Essendon drug saga: James Hird’s father claims ‘Sarah’ interview on Triple M was fake

One of the turning points in Footy’s greatest saga came on the morning of August 22, 2013. But was “Sarah” really who she said she was?

James Hird’s father claims “Sarah” – the distraught Essendon mother who was made public by Eddie McGuire at the height of the Dons drug scandal – is “almost certainly a fake”.

One of the turning points in Footy’s greatest saga came on the morning of August 22, 2013, when a caller pretending to be the mother of a Bombers player called McGuire’s Triple M breakfast radio show and aimed Hird squarely.

“It’s okay for James and the Essendon board to say they didn’t cheat,” Sarah said.

“(But) the whole question is not about cheating. The whole question is about morals, it’s about ethics and it’s about the trust that parents put in the club.”

The emotionally charged call came at a critical point in the scandal, when the AFL executive has come under fire for her own conduct and interference in the drug investigation.

The previous afternoon, Dons chairman Paul Little had declared war on league bosses Andrew Demetriou and Gillon McLachlan during a press conference at the Olsen Hotel in South Yarra, urging the AFL Commission to step in and “take charge of this process as I along with a A significant percentage of the football public has lost confidence in the AFL executive branch to handle the matter.

McGuire later admitted the woman called Triple M on a private number and refused to reveal any information about her identity.

“I spoke to her before she went on the air extensively,” McGuire explained.

“I was confident enough to get it on the air at a very volatile time. If she was an actress, she was Australia’s best actress.”

But 10 years later, Hird Snr said there was little doubt his son was the victim of a scam.

“The problem with ‘Sarah’ is that to this day nobody knows who she is,” he said.

“What we do know is that she was not the mother of an Essendon footballer. Eddie McGuire admitted he didn’t know who she was. Essendon interviewed the parents of all the players and they all denied they were “Sarah”.

“It’s almost certain she was a plant… a fake to undermine James Hird and Essendon.”

Hird Snr said McGuire, like Bombers chairman David Evans, betrayed his son.

“James considered David Evans and Eddie McGuire friends — you know, friends like people you can trust. people behind you. Unfortunately, Hird was wrong,” he said.

Hird and McGuire’s relationship dates back to the mid-1990s when the former Collingwood president hosted The Footy Show.

“Eddie McGuire was perhaps the biggest media personality associated with the AFL … and that relationship led to Eddie being a guest at James’ wedding in 1997,” said Hird Snr.

“But in August 2013, he (McGuire) became involved in the AFL’s pursuit of James Hird.

“James and Essendon sought to have the AFL charges against them heard in a court of law rather than the AFL Star Chamber and Collingwood under McGuire, along with the other 16 clubs, supported the AFL rather than Australia seeking the truth justice system.”


Mark Robinson and Michel Warner

Former anti-doping chief Ben McDevitt says Essendon’s “denial and lawsuits” meant the 34 players missed a Cronulla-type result, which would have resulted in the players being suspended for around six months.

Some of the suspension would have been served in the off-season.

Unlike Cronulla, Essendon did not accept that they had been on performance-enhancing drugs, which blew up the saga by four years and eventually resulted in players being banned for 12 months.

McDevitt, who joined ASADA in May 2014, said a Cronulla situation was available for the bombers.

“At that point, the opportunity was open to Essendon, but the whole question of whether you call it a deal is that you actually had to admit that you had a banned substance,” McDevitt said.

“This is the opportunity and framework open to all athletes, but that was the decision Essendon made.

“Their strategy was denial and trial, and it didn’t work.

“It would have been a much better outcome for them and a lot cheaper not only in terms of money but also in terms of the emotional toll it has honestly taken on them.

“It could have been a lot shorter…probably on the order of six months.”

Cronulla players pleaded guilty to ingesting banned substances, received a 12-month retrospective ban and missed just a handful of games.

McDevitt, a former Australian Federal Police detective who oversaw the police component of Australia’s peacekeeping operation in the Solomon Islands and the investigation into the Bali bombings, replaced Aurora Andruska as CEO of ASADA.

A month after McDevitt took the helm, the 34 Essendon players were served with plea charges before the Bombers and coach James Hird launched an unsuccessful federal court counterattack.

In October 2014, the exhibition cause notices alleging the use of the banned peptide thymosin-beta-4 from China was reissued.

McDevitt told the Herald Sun the suspensions are the right outcome.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“It was entirely their own fault and the unfortunate thing is that the club decided it was going to go into denial and into litigation.

“So we went to every court in the country and ended up before the ultimate sporting authority in the world (the Court of Arbitration of Sport) and they found the case against 34 players proven.

“That they had basically entered a regimen…this wasn’t a one-off or random act, it was an orchestrated strategy that allowed them to win by taking Thymosin Beta-4.

“They knew they were on the limit, they didn’t tell the club doctor about it.

“Was the result correct? Absolutely.”

Despite allegations of a corrupt investigation, McDevitt said he would do nothing else in pursuing the players.

“I played it all the way,” he said. “I had nothing against Essendon. I believe in the three years that I was with ASADA we prosecuted about 160 athletes from 15 different sports.

“My job has been to apply the rules and framework and once there is an allegation, people make decisions and those decisions were made by Essendon every step of the way. “Essendon’s strategy was to deny and sue.

“I wouldn’t have done anything differently and I couldn’t have done anything differently because if I did, and depending on what I did, I would be accused of perverting the course of justice or whatever.”

The 34 players were initially cleared of doping by an AFL tribunal before CAS reversed the decision in January 2016 and issued two-year retroactive bans, suspending them for the season.

McDevitt is now a consultant on leadership, law enforcement, counter-terrorism, and safety and sports integrity.


Top silk Julian Burnside has declared former Essendon manager James Hird the “most honorable person I have ever acted for”.

Burnside, 73, represented Hird during the AFL commission’s “hearing” on the drug scandal in late August 2013.

It was the top human rights lawyer who informed the league in the AFL House boardroom that Hird had agreed to a 12-month sentence after weeks of threats and backroom negotiations.

“At first I had no idea who James Hird was,” Burnside recalled.

“I don’t think I heard his name, but at the end of the case I thought he was the most honorable person I’ve ever acted for.”

In the days following the commission hearing, Burnside admitted he was troubled by the handling of the drug investigation.

“I don’t like what I saw … not a great sense of natural justice,” he said.

“What I saw worried me a lot. It was amazing how much sensitive material was leaked to the press. I’m not sure who leaked it but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the players or the club.”

Originally posted when James Hird’s father claims ‘Sarah’ interview about Triple M during drug saga is ‘almost certainly fake’ Essendon drug saga: James Hird’s father claims ‘Sarah’ interview on Triple M was fake

Ryan Sederquist

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