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Essendon players 'safe' from doping fallout

Essendon chairman David Evans tells 3AW's Neil Mitchell, he has full confidence his players are clear, but is less forthcoming about coach James Hird.

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Ziggy Switkowski's damning recommendations detailing the managerial failures at Essendon last season did not call to sack anyone. Nor did it miss anyone already singled out in the shambles that was the football operation of 2012.

Club chairman David Evans said he was deeply sorry about all that had occurred and not only placed himself on notice but would not guarantee the positions held by chief executive Ian Robson, coach James Hird nor football boss Danny Corcoran.

The behaviour of Essendon coach James Hird has been described as ''reckless''.

The behaviour of Essendon coach James Hird has been described as ''reckless''. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

The Switkowski report

Evans and his board, to whom Switkowski also apportioned some blame, will meet in the coming days to carry out an in-depth review of the unabridged version of the investigation's findings. Structural change will be implemented within the football department and heads could still roll well before the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and the AFL complete their investigation into a raft of allegations, including that players took banned substances.

The AFL and ASADA will also investigate Stephen Dank's assertion that six Essendon staffers, including Hird and two of his assistant coaches, took substances which are prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Robson's future at the club remains in question. He chose not to comment on the Switkowski report on Monday, including the recommendation that "the CEO must be accountable for everything that happens within his organisation".

Just as Hird's inadequacies were explained in part by his lack of experience and the fact he was one of several "alpha males who carry the weight of supporters' expectations on their shoulders", Robson's failure to correctly oversee the dysfunctional football department was highlighted against the "commercial priorities" which consumed his time and attention.

Evans would not say whether any other senior staffer at Essendon had chosen to apologise, and certainly no one working at the club, apart from Evans, has taken any public responsibility. Hird, in fact, after stressing in February that the football operation was his responsibility, said with confidence after the Bombers defeated Fremantle in round three that the club would be in a very good position once all was revealed. That could not be said even after a heavily edited version of Switkowski's findings were made public.

Hird's own behaviour in approving medical and scientific practices which approached the line of risk and WADA compliance was indirectly described as "reckless".

Fairfax Media revealed last month that the Bombers' doctor of three decades, Bruce Reid, had been so concerned about the practices being run by sports scientist Stephen Dank with the football department's approval that he wrote to the board detailing his misgivings. It was also revealed the board never received the letter.

Evans said on Monday he could still not explain, despite the investigation, just who had failed to pass on the letter.

That Reid never mentioned his misgivings to Hird, with whom he has a longstanding friendship, remains inconceivable.

Switkowski confirmed what Reid and his fellow medico Brendan De Morton had already reported to the AFL and ASADA: That they had been frozen out, treated by the fitness team as "yesterday's men''.

The overview of the jab-happy environment at Essendon was described thus: "The rapid diversification into exotic supplements, sharp increase in frequency of injections, the shift to treatment offsite in alternative medicine clinics, emergence of unfamiliar suppliers, marginalisation of traditional medical staff etc, combine to create a disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or challenged."

AFL Players Association chief Matt Finnis, whose barely concealed disgust at the club's treatment of its players has been one punctuation mark throughout this whole sorry saga, described the report as "scary".

Evans described it as "uncomfortable" and said his football club was on notice.

He chose to isolate the black period which bookended the report as "a finite time and not what the club was when it started and not what it is now".

And yet the impression continues to grow that Evans, who on Monday said he would face his members at the the end of the season - bringing forward his election by two years - feels deeply let down by men in whom he once had great faith. Clearly his friendship with Hird has been compromised and it remains telling that the two men have different legal representation and that Hird has hired a separate public relations adviser.

His right-hand man, Corcoran, was singled out as one of two key staffers whose responsibilities overlapped and failed to directly manage the rogue elements in the fitness team.

The other, Paul Hamilton, departed somewhat disenchanted late last year. There are also strong indications that similar "fuzzy lines of responsibility" occurred between Hird and his senior assistant Mark Thompson. Evans did not clarify which level of the club failed to report problems such as potentially inappropriate Medicare claims and concealed such problems in "holding depots".

The club continues to remain confident its players will emerge clean from the ASADA investigation. The same cannot be said of the men entrusted to take care of those players.