The Essendon players line up before this year's Anzac Day match.

The Essendon players line up before this year's Anzac Day match. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Four weeks ago, Essendon was second on the ladder and preparing for a clash against top-of-the-table Hawthorn at Etihad Stadium on Friday night. The Bombers had played 16 games and won 13. When it came time to tip, I punted on the Bombers. The Hawks smashed them by 56 points and it was to be the start of a month of football that was more worthy of a team in the bottom two of the ladder than the top.

I would be staggered if every single Essendon player hasn't read the interim ASADA report. And I would be equally staggered, if they had previously had an unshakeable belief and faith in the Essendon hierarchy that everything was 100 per cent safe, that that faith and confidence would have taken some sort of a hit.  

The Pies belted them the following week by 89 points, the Eagles got them by 53 and last week the Roos won by 45. The biggest surprise is not that they have lost their past four games by a combined 243 points. No, it is that they were able to work their way to second on the ladder, three-quarters of the way into the season.

That is the most remarkable performance of the year, for me. With the greatest respect to Ken Hinkley and Port Adelaide and the rapidly improving Bulldogs, for the Essendon playing group to have been able to perform at the level that it did, with unimaginable circumstances to deal with, is extraordinary.

Either the playing group have been zealously shielded from the intimate and disturbing details of this investigation or they have incredibly been able to compartmentalise all of this information, and clear their heads on game day in such a way that would have the most mentally strong athletes in the world sit up and applaud.

Maybe they have simply taken their lead from their coach, who despite the most intense scrutiny I can ever remember a footballing figure enduring, has maintained a defiant and combative demeanour since day one. Regardless of how you perceive James Hird's role in this sorry saga, the one thing that you cannot deny has been his – some would argue – belligerent and ill-advised refusal, to take even a tiny backward step from the maelstrom that has surrounded him, from the minute he steps out his front door each day and is confronted by a swarming media pack.

And maybe, in its own way, that has been the lead that his players have taken. Regardless of the motivation, the football the Bombers played in those first 16 weeks of the year will become more jaw-dropping as new details of this investigation come to light.

To hear the woman, purported to be the mother of one of the Essendon footballers on Triple M on Thursday was to provide an insight into the environment that these players have been operating in all year. Not just the environment at the club, but in their personal lives, so hauntingly encapsulated in this lady's phone call. The questioning would have been relentless; from parents, mates, wives and girlfriends and the general public.

I know there are parents who have publicly stated that they are more than comfortable with how the Bombers are dealing with the situation, but it is equally clear that here are some who are horrified by what has taken place, and who fear for the wellbeing of their sons.

How could they not be when they read that Essendon players were injected with a substance that was alleged to have been bought in Mexico, by a patient suffering from muscular dystrophy. The interim ASADA report asserts that the patient had loaned the substance to a chiropractor, after purchasing it over the counter in Mexico, without a prescription, on the understanding that the chiropractor would show the club.

If it is true that the substance was then injected into players, then this is reprehensible. I don't care if it was not a banned substance, although there remains uncertainty around that, it is beyond comprehension that this could take place.

If the players have been previously placated, I can't imagine this being the case now. There are extremely smart young men playing for this football club who are capable of making up their own minds once they have read this report.

As Essendon players prepare to take on Carlton on Saturday night, who could possibly blame them if, on the drive into the ground, there minds are full of questions and doubts about why, exactly, they were injected with something that was sourced from a muscular dystrophy patient.

And how confused must they be when, after this was revealed in The Age last week, the first reaction from the club was to argue about which "Mexico" we were talking about. And then to run through a banner, prior to the Kangaroos game, and have the cheer squad making light of it? Please.

So, what can we expect against the Blues? As has been the narrative in this whole saga, who could possibly know.

I would be staggered if every single Essendon player hasn't read the interim ASADA report. And I would be equally staggered, if they had previously had an unshakeable belief and faith in the Essendon hierarchy that everything was 100 per cent safe, that that faith and confidence would have taken some sort of a hit.

That when they wander into the medical room to get there strapping and see their beloved Doc, Bruce Reid, they wouldn't be able to help but think back to the first line in his, now, infamous letter: “I have some fundamental problems being club doctor at present. This particularly applies to the administration of supplements.”

There has not been an Essendon player who has not loved or trusted Bruce Reid throughout his long tenure at this club. That has been made patently clear over the past few months, and their devotion and trust in him is well founded.

Current players would be asking themselves, “What had moved 'Reidy' to voice his concerns in such a manner?" It just raises more doubt at a time when every other club about to contest finals is working zealously to eliminate the tiniest of distractions that could be seen to potentially derail, even by half a per cent, their September campaign.

What the Essendon supporters will be holding on to is the hope that, with charges out in the open, the players will play with some degree of freedom, and be able to rediscover the resilience and defiance that defined their start to this season.

What the players are likely thinking is that this is an interim report and that the threat of infraction notices being served on them remains very much in play. That AOD-9604, despite attempts to prove otherwise, was again definitively stated by both ASADA and WADA just two days ago, to have been a banned substance. That the longer this fight goes, the nastier it gets, and that the one repeated phrase at the start of all this, "that the players are our primary concern" is being drowned out by legal speak.

I've not written a word about this Essendon situation until today. But I can't stop thinking about how the game that these Essendon players are being asked to play, doesn't resemble the one that I was involved in and loved so dearly as a player.

And, when talking about how far football has come, I've often been moved to say that I wish I was playing in the modern era, because, as someone who had injury issues, the opportunity to be able to prepare and recover, in a full-time, professional environment would have been enormously beneficial.

Not after last Wednesday. I wonder if any of the Essendon players would agree with me.