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Paul Little: We are sorry

Watch the full statement from Essendon chairman Paul Little addressing the supplements scandal and penalties imposed on the club.

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Desperate as Essendon was not to be cast as a cheat, that is how it will be remembered in this resolution. Even more desperate as coach James Hird is not to bear that stigma, and longer though he fought it, that is now his lot, too.

It is not hard to imagine that this was the point on which all remained stuck for two gruelling days. Essendon chairman Paul Little had pleaded on national television on Saturday night for the world to believe that the Bombers were guilty of grievous administrative failings but not cheating as salary cap rorting, draft manipulation or tanking is cheating. Later the same night, Hird made the same case: remiss in details, remorseful, but not a cheat.

Essendon football operations manager Danny Corcoran arrives at AFL House.

Essendon football operations manager Danny Corcoran arrives at AFL House. Photo: Getty Images

Over two of the most dramatic and draining days in the game's history, lawyers wrangled over a form of words that reflected this. The amended charge sheet - not seen at the time of writing - would have been nuanced so. The official entry in the AFL's history books dwells specifically and properly on the ''health and welfare of the players'', generally on ''integrity''.

But integrity is big, heavy word. Even as the AFL and Essendon signed off on their grim deal, there was a flickering reminder in the sub-text that this is still only half-over. AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou affirmed that this verdict was no guarantee that once ASADA's report is complete, charges would not be laid against Essendon players. However mitigating the circumstances, such charges would fall under the heading of cheating.

This is the fine line Essendon and Hird walked, and walks still. They have been sanctioned for ''conduct unbecoming'', a dry and formal construct. But the court of football public opinion, not bound by legal nicety and not known for its quality of mercy, will make its own judgment, and it will be irreversible.

Illustration: Ron Tandberg

Illustration: Ron Tandberg

Essendon would not and could not have been humiliated in this way for mere administrative incompetence. Simply, the Bombers have been marked out as having made the single most egregious mistake by any club in VFL/AFL history.

Seemingly, Little - so recently belligerent - finally accepted this on his club's behalf. Probably, he figured that a good and noble club - and Essendon, despite all, is one - can and will redeem its reputation, ultimately.

For an individual, it is different; he has only his name on which to fall back. Hird's accomplishments and decorations as a player established his name as impeccable. All his life, Hird has lived up to that name. Now he has to live it down.

That living down starts now. For James Hird, it will be - dare it be said - a bitter, bitter pill to swallow.