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Essendon, ASADA verdict could overshadow AFL finals

The ruling in the court case could impact on the Bombers in the finals, a stage of the competition they look increasingly likely to reach following strong recent on-field form, such as the round 16 win over Port Adelaide.

The ruling in the court case could impact on the Bombers in the finals, a stage of the competition they look increasingly likely to reach following strong recent on-field form, such as the round 16 win over Port Adelaide. Photo: Getty Images

The judge ruling in Essendon’s court case against the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority could take at least a month to reach a verdict, meaning this year’s AFL finals series could be overshadowed by the off-field controversy.

Lawyers expect Justice John Middleton to require at least a month once evidence is heard to determine whether the joint probe into the Bombers’ peptides program by ASADA and the AFL was unlawful.

The case goes to trial on August11, and is expected to last three days. Justice Middleton, who will have other cases running concurrently, will then have to sift through documents and other evidence before making his call in the Federal Court.

Lawyers say this could take up to two months, though Justice Middleton’s initial call to have the case expedited means they believe it’s likely to take a month. This would then fall in about the second week of the finals.

If the Bombers maintain their strong recent on-field form, this decision could have an impact on their September ambitions.

James Hird is due to return to Australia on July 28, with his 12-month suspension from the AFL for governance breaches to end on August 25. He is likely to give evidence at the trial, meaning he can be cross-examined by ASADA.

AFL Coaches Association interim chief executive Mark Brayshaw said on Monday he didn’t expect the association to assist Hird’s return to the club.

‘‘I would think that’s the responsibility for his club,’’ Brayshaw said.

While the players are not a party to the case brought by Hird and the Bombers, Justice Middleton's decision will determine whether the show-cause notices many have received are void, at least temporarily, or whether ASADA can proceed to its next stage.

This stage would require players to respond to the show-cause notices in a bid to avoid being placed on the Register of Findings over a possible anti-doping rule violation.

ASADA has alleged players were administered the banned drug Thymosin beta 4, although the Bombers insist it was the legal Thymomodulin. The players believe they were not given anything illegal.

The Hird and Essendon camps are chasing documents from ASADA this week relating to any correspondence between the anti-doping body and the AFL showing just how their working relationship was defined. They also seek documents that could prove whether drafts of ASADA's interim report were released before it was officially given to the AFL on August 2 last year.

ASADA is due to present its case for defence to the two parties later this week. ASADA maintains it was a legal process, and could rely upon a section of its Act which allows it to do "all things necessary or convenient" to uphold the National Anti-Doping code.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan will on Tuesday break his silence on revelations by the league's chief medical officer Dr Peter Harcourt that Essendon was investigated for peptide use as early as 2012. While attending the book launch of former AFL chief executive Ross Oakley, McLachlan is also expected to address Harcourt's claims that Essendon players could eventually have cancer or hormone issues as a result of the injecting program.

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