Essendon scandal could be nearing conclusion
AFL's governing body is finally poised to cleanse football's reputation following arguably its darkest hour.PT1M29S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2smt4 620 349 August 27, 2013
Essendon assistant coach Mark Thompson says James Hird could ''struggle'' to return as coach if he was suspended for 12 months for his role in the club's contentious supplements program.
He's defending his reputation. If he would lose 12 months, it would be disastrous.
While Hird said on Saturday he would want to return, with club chairman Paul Little endorsing that desire, Thompson admitted after five hours of dealing with the AFL lawyers on Monday that that may not be the case.
Long day: James Hird leaves AFL House on Monday. Photo: Jason South
Thompson described himself as a pawn in the situation, with Hird as the big fish. On Hird, who is facing a 12-month ban, Thompson said: ''He's a young coach who is learning his way and he never deliberately set out to do anything wrong.
''He's defending his reputation. If he would lose 12 months, it would be disastrous. But I would think if the AFL knocked him out for 12 months, I would struggle to want to get back. But I'm not the right person to ask about that.''
Insisting the Essendon players had not been given prohibited substances, Thompson said he had yet to think about whether he would replace Hird next season should the club legend be suspended.
Assistant coach Mark Thompson beats a hasty retreat from the cameras outside Windy Hill yesterday. Photo: Justin McManus
The former Geelong premiership coach said he was ready to plead guilty and accept a fine, but was fighting ''80 per cent'' of the charges levelled against him.
Hird, whose four-year contract expires after the 2014 season, and his lawyer Julian Burnside will also be back at AFL House on Tuesday.
''We're starting up tomorrow morning again at 10,'' Burnside said on Monday night, a statement later clarified by the AFL, which said talks would restart at 11am.
It's understood the major impediment to a deal being done on Monday night was Hird and his lawyers still fiercely contesting the wording of the charges and fighting for his own reputation. When Hird fronted the AFL Commission, he took the unusual step of having wife Tania by his side.
In another day of drama, Thompson said the AFL was ''nowhere'' near resolution with the four officials - Hird, Thompson, football chief Danny Corcoran and doctor Bruce Reid - charged with bringing the game into disrepute and conduct unbecoming.
Corcoran, Thompson and Reid and their legal teams left AFL House about 7pm, while Hird left at 7.30pm.
AFL boss Andrew Demetriou was due to appear on Talking Footy on Channel Seven last night, but was a late withdrawal due to the ongoing negotiations. Talking Footy said it had been advised by Demetriou that there had been no resolution on anything.
Essendon is fighting its charges separate to the four individuals.
''Everybody is sort of - it's delicate - I think Essendon is looking after its people but, as far as Essendon is concerned, they are looking after Essendon and Mark Thompson is looking after Mark Thompson,'' Thompson said.
''Right here, right now, I've been charged [with] being a drug cheat and I'm not. So that's what we're fighting on - for my reputation, my integrity and I want to clear my name.''
It is believed the AFL felt it was close to striking a deal with the Bombers at 6pm, but those talks broke down.
It also emerged it was Essendon's lawyers who demanded the four individuals remain in separate rooms at AFL House as they negotiated with the league's lawyers. The AFL had wanted the four in the same room.
''Their [AFL] lawyers were bouncing between Hirdy's room and Essendon more than they were coming into ours, but that's understandable,'' Thompson said.
He said he had only twice - and briefly - fronted the AFL Commission to ask for extra time.
Thompson said he had only received his charge sheet at 8pm on Sunday.
''At the moment, it's a fine, but if we don't agree to it, to what the AFL is handing out, that might be off the table and it goes back to suspension or whatever it is,'' he told Fox Footy's AFL 360. ''We are trying to scrub as many off as we can to be responsible and to be charged for what we think we are responsible for, what's fair in our eyes.''
The Bombers face being stripped of this year's premiership points, the loss of first and second round draft picks this year and next and a fine of up to $2 million.
''I would say the fines and the punishments that the club is going to receive … [are] quite severe,'' Thompson said.
''It's probably more severe than anything ever in history. You look at it say, no players have been charged, we have broken no AFL rules or codes, and no players have used prohibited substances.''
That last comment could anger the AFL Players Association, for the Bombers cannot yet confirm what drugs the players were administered last season. Skipper Jobe Watson has said he was given what he thought was the banned anti-obesity drug AOD-9604.
''For us to accept what we are being offered, is being very, very generous and kind,'' Thompson said.
''If this gets taken anywhere else, you would have to sit there and wonder why because I think we have all been quite reasonable.''
Thompson said the Bombers would need to build a new relationship with the AFL once the saga was over.
''I don't feel there is a great working relationship with each other at the moment,'' he said.
Thompson would not be drawn on speculation the Bombers would offer Hird a two-year extension as an incentive for him to return to coaching.
''It would be nice security for him, a nice little waiver, a little incentive to take it. But I don't think he is after incentive, I think he is after clearing his name. That's what he wants.''
What the chairman said ...
February 5: "I think the investigation takes its course from here and we learn more, as I said earlier I don't have all the answers but as you would agree, this is a minefield."
"The integrity at the club is critical, and that's why we've moved quickly to contact the AFL. The info we gathered over the last 24 or 48 hours is slightly concerning, and we want to dig a bit deeper, but we want the AFL to help us."
February 27: "I feel there's a way through this. I feel we will be a better and stronger club for the experience even though what we uncover might be some things that are not good for football."
March 4: "Mistakes have been made, and I sincerely apologise that they have occurred."
May 7: "I am very comfortable with James' position " that means when it comes out you will hear a story that I think will be fine."
July 26 (after resigning): "For the record, there is no rift. [James Hird] has been a 20-year friend of mine and he'll be a friend for the next 20 years."
July 29: "James Hird has also got not only my full and complete support but the board's full support and we look forward to James taking us into a successful finals campaign."
August 1: "Much of [the Dean Robinson interview] was patently false or distorted. What went to air – largely unchallenged by Channel Seven – was a series of uncorroborated allegations by a disgruntled, disaffected and discredited ex-employee."
August 21: "The AFL is determined to punish the Essendon Football Club – and four individuals personally – as though we were drug cheats. As chairman of this football club – and with the unanimous backing of our board – and based on the evidence, I cannot and will not accept that."
August 23: "We also accept there will be AFL sanctions as a consequence, but the evidence does not extend to drug cheating, and we're working to ensure that the charges and ultimate penalties reflect this."
WHAT HIRD SAID ...
February 5: "I'm shocked to be sitting here. As a coach, I take full responsibility for what happens in our footy department. It's my belief we've done everything right."
March 1: "Our footy club is going to fight. It's going to fight to prove where it's at, and we are not going to walk around with heads bowed, we are walking around proud of our footy club."
April 12: "You know you have the truth on your side, and when you have the opportunity you tell the whole truth, and when the whole truth comes out I think I will be in a very good position and so will the footy club. When the truth comes out, I will be in a very good position."
July 19: "To peers, my peers, the players at other clubs, the people at other clubs, if you can reserve your judgment until the facts are on the table and we can get a chance to see the report and put our version of events across, that would be much appreciated."
"... the constant innuendo, rhetoric, half-truths and lies that have been spun about the club, the players, the great people who work here and the half-truths, rhetoric and lies spun about myself are very hurtful and very damaging."
July 26: "We've given our version of what happened, or the truth, to ASADA. I know I've told the truth to ASADA and I know other people have as well, so the truth will come out over time."
August 21: "The AFL today continued its trial by media of me ...The announcement by ambush confirms that the AFL is running an agenda which continues to call into question its impartiality."
"These charges are denied and will be vigorously contested once the AFL actually provides due process".
August 24: "If I do end up not coaching for a period over the time because of suspension I can't wait to come back."
"This will hopefully end very shortly and we can move on and accept responsibility for what we need to and say sorry for what we should say sorry for, but I think we can really grow from this..."
"I want to prove I'm innocent of a lot or 99 per cent of those charges."
"I certainly regret certain aspects of what happened in 2012."