Thought it was a joke, but nope.
JAMES Hird will be welcomed back to football with the honour of presenting the Norm Smith Medal to the player judged best on ground at this year’s Grand Final.
The gesture comes just four years after the AFL banished Hird at the height of the Essendon drugs saga, and two years on from his exit as Bombers coach.
The Herald Sun can reveal AFL bosses have written to Hird, inviting him to return to the spotlight on football’s biggest day.
Hird is holidaying overseas with his family and is yet to open the letter. The AFL confirmed it had issued the invitation, but was yet to hear back from Hird.
But tonight Hird said he would accept the honour, which will see him on the premiership dais come September 30.
“If they (have asked me), I would love to do it,” Hird told the Herald Sun from Europe.
“It would just be good to be out there on Grand Final day. It’s obviously the best day in the footy calendar, so it would be a nice experience.”
The league’s invitation will be viewed as the first significant step towards mending its fractured relationship with Essendon’s former golden boy.But the AFL is simply sticking to a hidden tradition.
The AFL follows the order of past Norm Smith winners to determine who presents the medal, which until today has been kept a secret outside of league headquarters.
Shannon Grant (1999 winner) awarded Western Bulldog Jason Johannisen his Norm Smith last year, Andrew McLeod (1997-98 winner) presented Cyril Rioli with his in 2015, Glenn Archer (1996 winner) gave Luke Hodge his in 2014 while Greg Williams placed the medal around Brian Lake’s neck in 2013.
As the 2000 Norm Smith Medallist, this season is Hird’s turn.
Even Hird was unaware of the AFL’s sequence.
“I didn’t know that was the way they did it — but I’m glad it is,” he said.
Hird is one of just six players to win both a Brownlow Medal and a Norm Smith — along with Jimmy Bartel, Chris Judd, Simon Black, Nathan Buckley and Greg Williams.
Bartel explained last Grand Final day how cherished his Norm Smith was.
“I value them both equally. But emotionally right now (on Grand Final day) I probably (prefer) the Norm Smith Medal,” Bartel said.
“Because it’s Grand Final day and at least I’ve played a little bit of a role in helping us win a premiership.”
Judd and Buckley won their Norm Smith Medals in losing Grand Finals.