A group of up to 15 members of the banned Essendon 34 are considering breaking away from the AFL Players Association, and fighting their personal compensation claims against the Bombers through independent lawyers.
It shapes as the first major split among the former and current Bombers throughout the injection scandal, with some players understood to be shattered they were suspended for a year despite the confidence of others that they would not be found guilty of being administered a banned drug.
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Bombers players consider legal action
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A group of between 10 and 15 are weighing up whether to link with renowned sports lawyer Tony Nolan QC – former coach James Hird's initial counsel – and personal injury law barrister Gavin Coldwell, who joined Nolan on Wednesday.
Lawyer Chris Pollard, who has worked with the AFL Coaches Association and represented the Bombers' off-field staff in the initial days of the joint investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority and the AFL, is also part of the team put together by player agent Peter Jess.
Former Bomber Nathan Lovett-Murray has signed, while Dyson Heppell, Dustin Fletcher, Jake Melksham, Mark McVeigh and Jake Carlisle are among those understood to be in serious discussions.
Suspended skipper Jobe Watson could also yet link with Nolan although, as part of a group of players managed by Elite Sports Properties, he may remain with Slater and Gordon, the AFLPA's preferred lawyers. Lawyer Tony Hargreaves, who has been with the players throughout the entire ordeal, also remains a part of the AFLPA team.
It's understood Slater and Gordon remain keen on a class action, with this money then split among the players, and would offer a no-win, no-fee scheme. Nolan and Coldwell, however, would seek an individual outcome for the players, arguing all have different cases.
Two former Bombers – Bulldogs Stewart Crameri and Brent Prismall – had engaged independent lawyers earlier in the saga.
The 34 players are likely to seek more than $30 million in damages from the Bombers. For stars Watson and Heppell, this could run into the millions of dollars, excluding having their 2016 season playing contracts paid out. Lovett-Murray, for instance, is seeking an initial $90,000 in lost earnings for his role with an Aboriginal football club, plus damages.
It's understood the AFLPA does not have an issue with any player turning to an independent lawyer, and would continue to assist him, if needed.
However, all players will remain firmly aligned with the union when it comes to the possibility of an appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal against the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport's decision to ban them for a year.
This appeal must be lodged by February 10, with insiders believing a final call could be made this week. It now seems unlikely lawyers investigating this appeal on behalf of Western Bulldogs president Peter Gordon, himself a lawyer, would seek an injunction, for this runs the risk of the players' ban having to restart if the appeal was lost. An appeal hearing would be unlikely to be held for a year.
Jess said he expected a final call from the players weighing up the Nolan-Coldwell team by Friday. "I think it's in the players' interests to have access to what we consider the best available legal minds. Gavin and Tony are two of the best legal minds in this field," Jess said.
"I have to act in the best interests of my client and our group. By assembling this team, we are doing that and we'll know what players we have on Friday.
"My preferred option is to have a negotiated agreement rather than litigate.
"That agreement can still happen and it's our absolute priority to get a commercial, sensible outcome in a timely basis.
"Our focus is on the personal injury side, rather than the appeal. This is a parallel process, with two separate actions."
A negotiated settlement is also the preferred option of former AFL commissioner Bill Kelty, who has made this known to the AFL. This could involve establishing an ongoing welfare fund.