The scandal that has haunted the AFL's 2013 season delivered some form of resolution late on Tuesday when the game's governing body delivered serious charges against Essendon, its senior coach James Hird and three of his most trusted senior staff.
Essendon will 'vigorously defend' charges
Essendon club chairman Paul Little maintains there was no breach of the AFL's anti-doping code after charges are laid against the club, coach James Hird and three other staff for bringing the game into disrepute.
The charges, communicated without colour or flair at 7.30pm by the AFL's legal executive Andrew Dillon, came after months of interviews, mini-dramas, sub-plots and conspiracy theories, and even in the final hours the sensitivity of the wording was being debated by some of Australia's finest legal minds.
Essendon's chairman Paul Little admitted his club had done wrong but declared it would ''vigorously'' defend the charges when the club is expected to face the AFL Commission on August 26.
His club faces the loss of draft picks, premiership points and a multimillion-dollar fine. Hird and his three fellow staff members remain desperate to save their reputations, having already been tainted by the potentially harmful and illegal program they allowed to continue for so long.
The senior coach has become a besieged figure and he remained defiant to the last, privately angry in the belief he had been ill-advised back in February to accept ''full responsibility'' for the activities of his football department.
On the morning the charges were announced he claimed his players had taken no performance-enhancing or harmful substances and pointed to the fact the ASADA summary was an ''interim report''.
But this works two ways. The bad news for the Essendon players is that there remains no guarantee that infraction notices will not be served. Despite the fact ASADA believes it has enough evidence to move on players, it is waiting to continue investigating Essendon's program under new legislative powers.
In the meantime Hird, Mark Thompson, Danny Corcoran and Dr Bruce Reid have been charged with bringing the game into disrepute for their roles in the club's 2011-12 drugs program.
Essendon, Hird, assistant coach Thompson, football manager Corcoran and Reid were charged under AFL Rule 1.6 with engaging in conduct that is unbecoming or likely to prejudice the interests or reputation of the AFL or bringing the game of football into disrepute.
Behind-the-scenes negotiations are expected to continue for the next 10 days while Hird and his team must also battle to remain a viable finals threat despite the fact the Bombers could be forcibly removed from the finals.
A number of Hird's assistant coaches and the departed high-performance manager Dean Robinson are also expected to face charges from the AFL, but those developments have been shelved until the main players are dealt with.