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Bombers' secret talks

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Caroline Wilson, Mark Hawthorne and Jake Niall

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Hird confident about Essendon in the finals

Essendon coach James Hird has a spring in his step as the club's finals hopes start to look healthier.

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A pre-finals settlement between Essendon and the AFL remained on the table on Tuesday night, despite the Bombers seeking and receiving an adjournment from the AFL Commission hearing on Monday.

The 2013 finals series could still go ahead without the Bombers, despite the club's defiant stance it would fight any punishment from the AFL.

Fairfax Media can reveal the AFL Commission held secret talks in Melbourne on Monday as it sought to clarify key elements of the Essendon charges and the club's situation.

Paul Little: Saga could drag into September and beyond.

Paul Little: Saga could drag into September and beyond. Photo: Ken Irwin

It is also understood Essendon chairman Paul Little has remained in talks with AFL executive Gillon McLachlan over the past two days, with Little taking a measured approach to the club's predicament.

The stumbling block remains the club's refusal to accept that it oversaw a program that allowed illegal drugs to be administered to its players. Essendon remains adamant it will not accept any sanction that linked the club to drug cheating. The stripping of points, according to the Bombers, would be tantamount to suggestions of doping.

The AFL refused to comment on Monday's unscheduled Commission meeting, but Fairfax Media believes several meetings relating to the Essendon scandal have been held as the saga has unfolded.

James Hird, coach of the Essendon Football Club leaving home the morning after  Dean Robinson said his side of the Footy Club's drug saga. 1ST AUGUST 2013 PHOTO: PENNY STEPHENS THE AGE Click for more photos

Essendon's supplement crisis

As its on-field fortunes rose early in 2013, Essendon's off-field reputation was besmirched by drawn-out and confusing investigations into the club's sport science practices. Photo: Penny Stephens

Coach James Hird, who also faces serious charges under the conduct unbecoming rules, appears determined to extend his battle to clear his name. But a divergence of legal paths between the club and the four individuals charged - Hird, assistant coach Mark Thompson, club doctor Bruce Reid and football manager Danny Corcoran - has emerged as a genuine prospect, with Little prioritising the club's sanctions ahead of his key staffers. Hird remains unwilling to negotiate with the AFL.

In a separate development, Kevin Sheedy has confirmed he was in Melbourne last week and ''spoke to Essendon people''. He added he expected to meet chairman Paul Little ''at some stage''.

Little said before addressing players and their families on Tuesday night that the matter could potentially now drag beyond September. ''I think our legal team have sought an adjournment today from next Monday. We believe that we haven't been given the information that we required in relation to who will appear to support the charges. There are some procedural issues that are still outstanding for us, so we requested an adjournment."

Regarding the finals deadline, he added: ''I think if the AFL give us the time that we need to prepare for this, there is little chance of it being finalised before the finals."

But it is understood there are divisions within the club and also among Essendon directors over Little's desire to settle the matter with the AFL.

Fairfax Media believes some directors, led by Little, remain open to seeking a resolution with the AFL before the 2013 finals. Not playing finals this year along with a seven-figure fine and draft penalties are possible AFL sanctions.

Little and some advisers remain fearful of the protracted dispute spilling into 2014. Not only are senior Bombers concerned about the ongoing damage to Essendon's brand but also the significant strain on club finances and the potential ramifications for membership and sponsorship.

While Essendon remains united in its determination to force the AFL to identify its witnesses and further evidence before any hearing, uncertainty prevailed on Tuesday night over how to manage Hird and his lieutenants. Some directors remained concerned Hird and his senior staffers could become collateral damage as the result of a resolution with the AFL.

Little understands the Bombers are likely to receive some softening of penalties should his team bring the case to a close before the end of next week

56 comments

  • Essendon there is no doubt your officials and the club have brought the game into disrepute. NO DOUBT accept the penalties and move on for the sake ogf the game

    Commenter
    Mev1
    Date and time
    August 21, 2013, 9:20AM
    • How have they brought the game into disrepute? The drug they took (AOD) was legal. What exactly has Essendon done wrong?

      Commenter
      JordanS88
      Date and time
      August 21, 2013, 10:11AM
    • Acceptance of sanctions, penalties, fines or whatever in advance of a 'hearing' at which the accused have made it VERY clear they will be pleading 'not guilty'?? If this were a criminal investigation and this much unsubstantiated conjecture and trial by a gossip mongering uninformed media had gone on before anybody put a foot on a step of the courthouse, it would be thrown out in a heartbeat. That the AFL has got itself into a position where they have to find somebody guilty of something to mollify the media demonstrates just who's running the whole sorry show. AFL is a great game but the freak show that surrounds it in its organisation and reporting through a gutter press looking to sensationalise absolutely anything at all through blind speculation and innuendo is a sad reflection on the fact that AFL is no longer primarily a sport but a business.

      Commenter
      TT1959
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 21, 2013, 10:36AM
    • What's with the staffer coming out and saying ASADA told him is not banned. Did the ASADA official say it was approved for human use?? There's a difference.

      Commenter
      Dave
      Date and time
      August 21, 2013, 10:39AM
    • Dave it does not matter if it was not fit for human use, even though he said it was not a dangerous drug. AOD is classified under S2. A drug CANNOT be classified under 2 sections so the S0 clause has NO effect. It does not matter if the drug is not fit for human use as it was LEGAL TO USE. End of story

      Commenter
      JordanS88
      Date and time
      August 21, 2013, 11:08AM
    • JordanS88, be honest... you've been in a coma for 7 months yeah?

      Commenter
      Delusional
      Location
      Windy Hill
      Date and time
      August 21, 2013, 12:14PM
    • Jordan, correct me if i am wrong but doesnt that logic work in reverse - if it was on teh S0 list doesnt that make the S2 redundant...?

      Commenter
      BluLou
      Date and time
      August 21, 2013, 12:46PM
    • Great reporting Caro.

      It is becoming pretty clear that James Hird considers he is a law unto himself, in a club that thinks it is above the game.

      The charge against Essendon is that they brought the game into disrepute by being unable to identify what substances were being administered to their players. Essendon virtually admitted as much when they 'owned up' on Feb 5th, and it was then confirmed by the Switkoski Report.

      It is sad to see that so many corporate high flyers can be so deluded based on their passion for a football club. So far, only Robson has taken the honourable way out.

      Don't fool yourself into believing that the players are off the hook either. The AFL is addressing the issue of the club and its' management. ASADA continues to look into the legality of the supplements taken by the players and will conclude its' investigations in its' own sweet time.

      Commenter
      Hanging Chad
      Date and time
      August 21, 2013, 12:52PM
    • I could not agree more. Essendon's irresponsible actions have wrecked a season and the AFL's reputation. Just think about that for a moment bomber fans. Your club has ruined an entire season of football.

      It's incredible how they blame everyone but themselves. People are sick of this, they need to pay the price. If they aren't severely punished then you can stick a fork in the AFL, because it's a farce. Essendon and their bizarre supporters can feel really happy with themselves as the AFL slides into irrelevance and bankruptcy.

      Maybe they should do everyone a favor and go form their own league where they can play with themselves without disturbing the rest of us.

      Commenter
      nickp
      Date and time
      August 21, 2013, 1:13PM
    • Blu

      i will correct you. AOD was under the S2 category. S0 does not apply, a drug cannot be under both categories. If it was under S0 then S2 does not apply.

      Commenter
      JordanS88
      Date and time
      August 21, 2013, 1:31PM

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