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AFL NEWS: Hird back at Bombers, crackdown on player dissent eases, Fyfe eyes forward role in return

James Hird is set to return to Essendon in an official capacity for the first time since leaving as manager, taking part in the club’s AFL 150th anniversary celebrations this week.

The Bombers will mark the occasion on Friday night when they face former rivals Carlton at the MCG.

Hird quit as Essendon coach in 2015, after resigning for 12 months amid the fallout from the infamous supplements scandal.

The 49-year-old has worked with GWS this season, initially as a part-time manager.

He took on an expanded coaching role in support of interim coach Mark McVeigh following the departure of Leon Cameron last month.

The move sparked suggestions that Hird could eventually take on another senior coaching role.

There has also been speculation that Hird could return to Essendon full-time, with Bombers general manager Xavier Campbell saying the two-time premier is “always welcome” at the club.

Former Essendon manager Kevin Sheedy says Hird will be warmly welcomed by the club’s fans when he takes part in the pre-match festivities leading up to the Carlton clash.

“It will be absolutely fantastic for our fans to see Hird back at the club,” Sheedy told the Herald Sun.

“He’s been an incredible player for our club and unfortunately he’s led the team through the era of the supplement saga.”

Essendon have picked up just two wins in a disappointing 2022 season and will need to pull off a huge upset if they are to topple top-flight Carlton.

AFL softens player dissent

The AFL has told referees to soften their stance on player dissent in a recalibration of the previously hardline stance.

There was a strict crackdown on any form of dissent at the start of the season, with players often being penalized for simply sticking their arms out in reaction to referee decisions.

But last week the league privately asked referees to leave a small level of emotion unpunished as long as players show restraint.

It comes as the AFL says the dissent rule has already succeeded in changing player behavior at all levels of football.

“The players have continued to adapt and are adapting well, as have the referees,” an AFL spokesman said.

“It has the desired effect of reducing referee dissent on the pitch and has the positive impact at junior level that we wanted.

“Everyone plays their part as the season progresses.”

Moments like the ninth-round Jordan De Goey incident, when the Collingwood star showed frustration at a refereeing decision but held back, will no longer result in a 50-yard dissent penalty.

Magpies coach Craig McRae has given his approval for the adjustment.

“It’s just a natural progression,” McRae told Fox Footy.

“You can see the players are really trying. They are.”

Nat Fyfe. (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Fyfe eyes striker role

Fremantle superstar Nat Fyfe is set to spend plenty of time in attack when he returns to the AFL this week.

Barring unforeseen setbacks, Fyfe will play his first game this year for the Dockers in Saturday’s clash with Hawthorn at Optus Stadium.

It comes after two-time medalist Brownlow made a successful comeback from shoulder and back surgeries with WAFL affiliate Peel Thunder last weekend.

On the eve of the season, Fyfe insisted that his time experimenting with a role in the forward line was over.

But the Dockers’ hot form in his absence has moved the goalposts as Fyfe looks for where he can offer ‘net added value’ to the team.

“There’s no point in me going back to midfield and playing a role that Will Brodie, David Mundy, Caleb Serong or Andy Brayshaw have played so well all season,” Fyfe told Fox Footy.

“Also, I will be quite rusty and will need several weeks to get back into shape, which would indicate that there would be a fairly significant forward component where I play.

“But what exactly does it look like, we are only a week away from winter, we have a lot of heavy work to do during the end of the year.

“My role will be flexible and adaptable as the year progresses.”

Fyfe laughed off his pre-season appeal that he wouldn’t return to the line until 2022.

“It just shows the myopia of radical statements,” he said.

“There is new information now, we are a different team than we were at the start of the year in terms of what we have been able to build.

“I’m very open to playing as a striker, I started my career as a striker, but more than anything I’m very open to playing within our system.

“Where it best suits the team and where we can identify my strengths adding to that mix.”

Fremantle (9-3) surprised critics by sitting third in the standings after wins over Melbourne and Brisbane in the past two weeks.

Williamson takes time

Carlton defender Tom Williamson has taken indefinite leave from the AFL club to deal with personal issues.

The 23-year-old has had one senior game this season, coming as an unused substitute against Richmond in the first round.

In a club statement on Monday evening, the Blues said they had supported Williamson for several months as he dealt with “a number of personal issues”.

“It has been agreed by all parties that it would be best for Williamson to be away from the football club for a long time to focus on his well-being and ultimately resolve his personal issues,” the statement read.

“The welfare, health and safety of everyone remains the club’s priority and due to the sensitive nature of this matter the club are unable to provide any further comment at this stage.”

Williamson has played 44 games with Carlton since being selected as the No. 61 pick in the 2016 national draft.

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