AFL Front and Centre: James Hird makes AFL return

James Hird's return to the Essendon fold in Tasmania at the weekend was, from all reports, a huge success.

The Bombers' former captain and coach made a rare public appearance as special guest of the Van Diemen Dons, an Essendon coterie group in Hobart, on Saturday. It is believed to be the first time Hird has attended an official club function since resigning as senior coach in late 2015, and then effectively withdrawing from public life.

He was joined by his old mate and coach, Kevin Sheedy; former president Paul Little; and former teammate Dustin Fletcher -- an all-star Dons' quartet -- at the Salamanca Place restaurant. Little flew the group down to Hobart on his private jet.

Hird looked relaxed and joked with Sheedy as the pair took the microphones during the lunch. He told the gathering about his new chocolate business, Cacao Hunters -- taking time out to spruik the local outlet in Collins St, Hobart -- and said his life was now "great". He thanked those in attendance, saying he was delighted by the reception he got and was buoyed by their support.

Little, who took over as president from Hird's one-time close mate David Evans, has been instrumental in trying to get the 1996 Brownlow Medallist and 2000 premiership captain back in the fold after a tumultuous past four years.

In August 2013, Hird was suspended from coaching for 12 months when he was charged by the AFL with conduct prejudicing the game for his role in the supplements scandal. He returned to the club following the 2014 season, but resigned in August 2015. In January this year, Hird was taken to a private hospital in Melbourne following a drug overdose and subsequently underwent recovery in a psychiatric facility. But he told the group of diehard Dons at the weekend: "Life's great. Everything is going well."

Former flame divides once-close teammates

As Western Bulldogs fans and the footy public search for reasons behind the club's strangely ineffectual premiership defence, it emerges that an off-field, behind-the-scenes, incident could be responsible for divisions within the Dogs' ranks.

ESPN understands there's a rift between two once-close teammates involving a woman, the former flame of one who is now the partner of another.

The new-found relationship is said to have created a wedge within the playing group, throwing the club's premiership defence into further disarray.

The Dogs have lost much their bark following last year's fairy-tale premiership win, slumping to ninth after losing four of their past five matches.

Young Demon ready to return post head injuries

Melbourne's Angus Brayshaw looks set to return to footy following a terrible run with head injuries.

Brayshaw, taken at No. 3 in the 2014 draft, last month took an indefinite break after suffering his fourth concussion in 12 months.

But ESPN understands the young Demons player is preparing for a comeback through the VFL -- and could take to the field as early as this weekend.

The club has adopted a conservative approach since the 21-year-old's last setback, playing for Casey Scorpions in May 14.

Brayshaw's string of concussions has raised concerns for his long-term health, following the career-ending injuries to former players Sam Blease, Matt Maguire, Heretier Lumumba and Sean Dempster. The four players each had their career cut short following successive head knocks, and Blease and Maguire earlier this year received career-ending payouts after launching concussion claims.

Baby Boss puts players in the dark

Western Bulldogs' pre-match movie entertainment will come under scrutiny after the airing of a children's film at Etihad Stadium on Sunday resulted in some players doing warm-ups in the dark.

The Bulldogs broadcast family-friendly flick The Baby Boss on the big screens to attract young families to the match ahead of the 3.20pm kick-off at Etihad. But the flick, which runs for 97 minutes, dragged on and forced some Bulldogs and Melbourne players to have a pre-game kick in near darkness.

ESPN has contacted the AFL for comment.

AFLW not short of eager prospects

AFL clubs grappling for a women's league licence won't be short of eager prospects.

At a Bulldogs try-out session last week for athletes active in other sports, more than 500 tried their luck for a coveted rookie position.

The talent testers that day put aspiring AFLW players through a series of skill and fitness assessments in the hope of unearthing a star ahead of the second season in 2018.

The AFL opted to preserve the current eight inaugural teams with plans for expansion in 2019.

The competition will take on at least two new teams that year, with all but two AFL clubs expressing interest.

Port Adelaide won't make a bid, preferring to focus on the club's international ambitions in China, while Sydney are waiting to upgrade their facilities to cater for a new team.

Jenkins fires back at media

ESPN's very own Josh Jenkins is quickly getting a handle on this media caper.

After Melbourne's Tomas Bugg posted an Instagram shot last week showing him and teammate Jack Watts above a caption which read: 'YOU READY @jasonjohannisen?', in a light-hearted challenge to their upcoming Bulldogs opponent, some footy writers were quick to condemn the post. But Jenkins was quick to remind the media that they can't have it both ways: They can't ask players to show more personality and be less 'scripted' with their comments then, in the next breath, condemn them for being cheeky and outspoken.

And quite right, too.

As the Herald-Sun's Jon Ralph sagely noted on Twitter on Sunday: "Dear Tom Bugg. Thanks for the talking point. Regards, from every radio show doing talkback and TV review show for the content until Tuesday."

Numbers to remember

300 games: Gold Coast's little master, Gary Ablett, this weekend becomes the 81st player in VFL/AFL history to reach the milestone, joining Robert Murphy, James Kelly and Brendon Goddard in the 300-club this season.

Win-Loss (1): Melbourne's record at Etihad Stadium - 3-1 in 2017 - 3-30 in the previous 11 seasons combined

Win-Loss (2): for the Western Bulldogs under Luke Beveridge - 38-13 when Matthew Boyd plays - 1-9 when Boyd misses