Matt Finnis says there is clear formal evidence to suggest that work health and safety laws might have been breached at Essendon last year. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
The families of Essendon footballers are increasingly turning to the AFL Players Association for guidance - instead of the beleaguered club - in light of the public release of a charge sheet condemning the Bombers.
Walking a delicate line throughout the season-long scandal, the players' association did not attend a briefing put on by the club for the families of players on Tuesday night, apparently because no representatives were invited.
Previously, the AFLPA had been alerted to, and attended, the information sessions held by Essendon.
While the association on Friday would not confirm its next move in terms of assisting footballers and their families through the increasingly ugly terrain, Fairfax Media learnt of developing plans for a meeting next week - and possibly a series of meetings - for players, their families and player agents, to learn more about where they stand.
Concerned parents have increasingly sought the AFLPA's counsel on the potential health risks their sons have been exposed to, and their employment rights, after the AFL released a shocking 34-page document detailing the charges against Essendon on Wednesday.
Before the release of the charge sheet, there had been a palpable sense of tension at times over the differing information outlined in the private information sessions held by Essendon, and by the players' association, for players and parents.
In a meeting with the AFLPA a fortnight ago, some Essendon players were obviously vexed by the positioning of the players' union in the matter. At the August 8 meeting, the AFLPA's CEO, Matt Finnis, left the senior list in no doubt about his grave disappointment in senior Bombers staff he believed had failed the players.
In light of this week's events, Fairfax Media has been told that ''a number'' of parents of Essendon footballers have reached out to the AFLPA for advice, largely after being recommended through player managers.
Among the many tasks the AFLPA has sought to undertake during the past seven months, is analysis of any supplements still in the possession of Essendon players left over from the 2011-12 program.
Having charged its legal services consultant, Bernie Shinners, and legal counsel, Brett Murphy, with overseeing its own investigations and research, the AFLPA has refused to comment publicly on specifics of what it has discovered. Conscious of the invidious predicament of Essendon players - and their natural allegiance to the club and its leaders from the outset - the AFLPA has been consistently mindful of any statements it has made on the matter, though it has been scathing of the uncertainty around what substances were administered to whom.
Finnis said on Friday, however, that there was clear formal evidence to suggest that work health and safety laws might have been breached at Essendon last year.
The AFLPA CEO confirmed he spoke to player managers ''months ago'' about the rights of Essendon footballers to walk out on the club, but said it was pre-emptive ''to speculate on contractual issues'' while players' health should be front of mind. ''Like any employee, you've got a right to terminate your contract when the obligations owed to you are breached,'' he said. ''Personally, my view is I just think it's too early to be speculating on contractual issues when our focus is far more on the health of players.''
Essendon, meanwhile, said it had not established the identity of the shattered woman who this week revealed on radio her family's anguish through the saga, but coach James Hird lamented the ''very concerning'' development. The woman who called Triple M radio station unsolicited on Tuesday morning identified as ''Sarah''. She said she was the mother of an Essendon player who will soon turn 21.
There are three players on Essendon's list who fall into that age bracket, though the father of one - Alex Browne - told Channel Nine on Tuesday that he and his wife were ''satisfied'' that their son was not vulnerable to long-term health risks.
Luke Davis and rookie Ariel Steinberg are the two 20-year-olds on the Bombers' list. ''We are still trying to contact and find out who that person is,'' Hird said in a brief doorstop interview at Windy Hill after withdrawing from his routine Friday morning media conference.
''It was very concerning. I think the welfare of our players is something that we all hold in high regard and are very concerned about, so it was very concerning to hear it.''