James Hird is ranked as the third best player in the club's history.

While he admitted to not being the quickest or most naturally gifted player, Hird's ability to read the play, assert his will on games and lift his teammates set him apart. He became one of the most valuable and admired players in the League, despite his fine career blighted by long period on the sidelines owing to injuries.

Hird's father and grandfather both played for the club and there was never any doubt that Windy Hill was where he wanted to go. He was drafted at pick No.79 in the 1990 national draft, and arrived at Essendon from Ainslie in Canberra later that year.

Hird developed into a versatile player who could contribute around the ground but played mostly as a half-forward. He could play in defence to nullify opponents, and also kick goals when needed.

He was player for the big occasions, claiming the 2000 Norm Smith Medal and three Anzac Day medals.

Hird won five best and fairest awards at Essendon (only Dick Reynolds and Bill Hutchison have won more), along with the 1996 Brownlow Medal as the best player in the competition - an award he shared that year with Brisbane champion Michael Voss.

Hird was named Essendon's co-vice-captain in 1996 with Michael Long. The following year he began a long frustrating battle with injuries which was to last for three seasons and restrict him to just 20 games of a possible 68.

In 1997, Hird hobbled from the ground in round four and finished the year playing seven games. He was appointed captain the following year but suffered problems with hamstring issues restricting him to 13 games. His run with injuries continued into 1999 when stress fractures of his right foot restricted him to just two games for the season.

At times Hird was unsure whether he would make it back to play at the top level, and there was plenty of speculation that his career was over.

But he made a welcome return to fitness in 2000, and what a season it turned out to be. Playing 20 games (the most since 1996) and captaining the Bombers to the pre-season and AFL premierships, Hird won the Norm Smith medal, gained All-Australian selection, and captained the Australian team that played in the International Rules series against Ireland.

He again had a strong season in 2001, playing 22 games to lead the Bombers to the 2001 Grand Final, where they were beaten by Brisbane.

Hird suffered a serious facial injury in a freakish clash with a teammate's knee in 2002, which required metal plates to be inserted into his face, but he came back more committed than ever.

Hird stood down from the captaincy in 2006, but continued to play fine football, winning his fifth club best and fairest in his final season (2007).

Career statistics

Played: 1992-2007
Games: 253
Goals: 343
Essendon best and fairest: 1994, 1995, 1996, 2003, 2007
Essendon captain: 1998-2005
Essendon vice-captain: 1996
Essendon leading goalkicker: 1995-96
Brownlow Medal: 1996
AFL premiership: 1993, 2000
Pre-season premiership: 1993, 1994, 2000 (captain)
All Australian: 1995, 1996,  2000,  2001 (captain), 2003
International Rules series: 2000 (captain), 2004 (captain)
Jim Stynes Medal: 2000
Anzac Day Medal: 2000, 2003, 2004