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Hird, Malthouse make interesting contrast

By Roger Vaughan 10/03/2011 06:25:44 PM Comments (0)

James Hird has been Essendon coach for just over six months but it seems more like six minutes.

The comparison with Collingwood's Mick Malthouse, the grandmaster of current AFL coaches, was stark on Friday as they sat next to each other a day out from the pre-season final.

Malthouse is 57, bespectacled, silver-haired, a grandfather, as well-informed and as ruthless as they come in football - and a three-time premiership coach.

Hird is 38, a father of four youngsters and fresh-faced, still Essendon's "Golden Boy Jim" with the blond rock star hairdo.

Certainly the Brownlow Medallist and two-time premiership player has come into senior coaching with eyes wide open and an outstanding support staff.

Essendon's progression to the NAB Cup final against the reigning day premiers on Friday night at Etihad Stadium proves that Hird has made a great start.

But if the physical contrast with Malthouse was not enough, the veteran's comments at the pre-game media conference emphasised the point.

"This is not for James, this is for any other coach - it's an absolute honeymoon, the first couple of years," Malthouse said.

"The honeymoon sometimes extends even beyond that if you're a recognised champion from that football club."

Hird follows Matthew Knights, who lasted less than three years at Essendon, and Kevin Sheedy, who was there for 27.

"The first three games I've seen so far, there's great enthusiasm, Jimmy's held in high regard and so he should be," Malthouse said.

"If he's introduced new methods, which he has, they're going to get on board.

"At some stage, that will be tested - it won't be until probably year three, year four.

"If you're still there in year five and you have the players convinced you're right, you're on the way to being a reasonable coach."

So far, Hird is showing he "gets" the coaching gig.

He has spoken repeatedly of "improvement" through the pre-season and was smart when asked for a reaction to Malthouse's theories on coaching.

"We've made some early wins with our group and they're listening to us, but whether they listen to us for five years or not, we don't know," he said.

Hird was asked about Essendon's "success" so far under his stewardship.

"I wouldn't call it success - it's interesting, isn't it, NAB Cup, round four," Hird noted.

Hird's immediate priority is also sensible - given a choice between winning the NAB Cup or beating the Western Bulldogs in round one, he opted for the four premiership points.

With that opening game only a fortnight away, Essendon and Collingwood have beefed up their sides for the pre-season final.

David Hille will play his first game of the year and Dustin Fletcher will also return to the Essendon side, while Henry Slattery has a broken thumb.

Collingwood will give Alan Didak his first run and bring back Luke Ball, Heath Shaw and Chris Tarrant, while captain Nick Maxwell is recovering from his heavy bump last weekend.

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