If it was not already, the battle is on in deadly earnest now. Whether or not Essendon was inclined to a conciliatory attitude previously, its heart now will have hardened. Plea bargaining is unlikely; this will be lawyers goal-to-goal.
The charge of bringing the game into disrepute is grave and confronting. On a moral level, it stigmatises a club that trades on its long-standing and hard-won good name. Even if the Bombers are cleared, schadenfreude will see to it that some of the mud sticks.
Coach James Hird arrives at Windy Hill on Tuesday. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Then there is the practical level. If stripped of premiership points, Essendon would be humiliated, though that is unlikely. But suspensions for any or all of Hird, Thompson, Corcoran and Reid would throw the club into chaos, on the eve of the finals. The disruption would flow into next year, and the years to come.
The immediate, if not exact precedent is Melbourne. Without sustaining a precise charge of tanking, the AFL suspended former coach Dean Bailey and football department head Chris Connolly anyway. That is how jealously the AFL guards its reputation, which it now regards as assailed again. It bodes ill for the Bombers.
But there is a glimmer of light. For now, the AFL will not press charges against players. Given that the ASADA report is interim, and the investigation far from complete, it could not.
Essendon's supplement crisis
James Hird leaves home the morning after Dean Robinson's explosive television interview. Photo: Penny Stephens
The season-long probe has weighed heavily on the Bombers. Setting aside the discussion about exactly what did and didn't happen behind Essendon's closed doors, the Bombers have stood up to the all-eyes-watching burden astonishingly well. But in the last three weeks, they looked to be buckling. On Sunday, Hird admitted it.
Now, knowing that there is no possibility of proceedings against them this season, they may feel galvanised again. The top four remains within reach.
Spared the grimness of an appearance before the commission, the Bombers will think that they can find at least temporary redemption on the field.
Beyond that, all that can be said for certain is that this is still chapter one.