Hird credits Bombers' strength of character
Watch James Hird speak after Round one of the NAB Cup
WHILE Essendon remains at the centre of an investigation into its supplement use in 2012, coach James Hird has praised his players for their fortitude throughout the unfolding saga.
The Bombers have been under fierce scrutiny since the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority launched the investigation last week and there were questions over how the saga would impact the club's preparations.
On Friday night at Etihad Stadium a few of those questions were answered.
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The Bombers were too good for the Western Bulldogs in the opening game, winning by 26 points, before being overrun by Collingwood in the final game of the night, losing by two points after seemingly having control of the contest.
However, Hird said he could not have hoped for a better response from his players.
"I've been so proud of the players at the Essendon Football Club for the last 10 days," he said.
"They have just shown a strength of character not many people have, and they have been resilient, they have been focused on their footy when, I can imagine, they would have just liked to be focused on themselves.
"Tonight's performance, with everything that was going on in the background, was terrific."
Although unable to discuss the specifics of the investigation, Hird elaborated on the mental state of the club, admitting there was some relief to be back playing footy, but "we'd rather be playing footy without this hanging over our head…but that's not going to happen for a while."
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The third-year coach also suggested the Bombers could hopefully be able to separate the off-field issue from on-field performance.
"We've got two things going on at the moment: one's a footy season and one's the other thing," Hird said.
"So we try to concentrate on one while we're doing one, and one while we're doing the other. The training has been at a really high standard so I wasn't surprised we were able to play a certain amount of football at a good standard."
Dustin Fletcher, Jake Carlisle, Michael Hibberd and Tom Bellchambers were several Bombers to take the coach's eye against the Bulldogs and Magpies, with a more experienced side set to take on Richmond in Wangaratta on March 1.
Jobe Watson, David Zaharakis, Jason Winderlich, Ben Howlett could all be in line to play that game, and Joe Daniher might also be in the mix to make his debut in Essendon colours.
Follow AFL website reporter Callum Twomey on Twitter at @AFL_CalTwomey.