And the Wankley goes to…The Age’s James Hird “scoop”.

Wednesday morning’s Age front page was certainly an early morning eye opener for AFL footy fans. Rohan Connolly’s exclusive that “James Hird wants to play again” for Essendon — a season after retiring — in “a second coming” for the Bombers’ faithful was a sensational scoop.

Such a shame Hird had denied the yarn by the time most readers picked up their copy of The Age. “I’m now 36 and my footy days are well and truly over,” the ex-Bombers’ captain confirmed.

He also wondered why Connolly didn’t contact him to verify the story. “I was totally shocked to see the story. I can’t believe the story ran the way it did. Making an AFL comeback is definitely not in my plans. It’s totally ludicrous.”

A suitably chastened Age quietly dropped the story from its second edition and Connolly also hit the interview rounds to explain how such a non-starter was front page worthy. He advised he hadn’t contacted “Hirdy” since he works for major competitor the Herald Sun, fearing The Age would come second in ‘the second coming’ stakes.

But the Wankley scorn shouldn’t be heaped upon Connolly, but rather all over his news desk chief Steve ‘Marvel Comics’ Foley and newly appointed Age editor-in-chief Paul Ramadge. Connolly’s report may have made an interesting sporting gossip snippit but it was its placement front and centre on page one that led to Connolly “copping a lot of flak” (as he admitted).

Crikey understands that the editorial team even created a fake front page to prevent their competitors from getting wind of the exclusive.

The only person who emerges with any credit from the whole affair is James Hird himself. Cleverly, he managed to use the media interest to repeatedly spruik his post-footy career business interests.

And unlike another fanatical Bomber — ex-Essendon number 1 ticket holder Peter Costello — Hird immediately killed the story without creating any doubt by using weasel words such as “I neither seek nor indeed will I accept a return to the Essendon bench”.