Essendon legend Tim Watson has taken the dramatic step of calling into question James Hird’s future at the club, declaring his expected return as coach could depend on whether players are issued with infraction notices.
Watson, the father of club captain Jobe, admitted it might not be possible for Hird to be welcomed back if show-cause notices eventually morph into infraction notices. Hird's 12-month ban by the AFL for bringing the game into disrepute ends in August when he is contracted to return to his former role.
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ASADA, Essendon and Thymosin
Senior sports writer Jake Niall explains the latest developments in the ongoing Essendon supplements saga.
ASADA has issued show-cause notices to 34 players who were at Essendon in 2012, with the possibility of infractions a step away. Infractions could result in players being automatically banned, although the AFL Commission has the power to temper this.
Asked whether he holds Hird, a former premiership teammate and the man he helped become coach, responsible, sports presenter Watson told Channel Seven: “I have said from day one that I hold all those who were in positions of power at Essendon at the time responsible in some ways and they shoulder varying degrees of blame. James has to take responsibility, which he did on day one.
“I think this will become messier for him and the Essendon Football Club the longer it goes on and, in particular, if infraction notices are handed to players.”
On the question of whether Hird should coach again, Watson replied: “I think that will depend on whether or not this becomes as messy as infraction notices being handed to players and players being banned from the game.”
Watson also took aim at ASADA chief Ben McDevitt, after the new anti-doping boss said on Friday that players could have possible penalties cut by 75 per cent to a six-month suspension should they admit to having taken banned substances and provide the drugs agency with evidence.
“I found the comments made by the new CEO today breathtakingly naïve, to be quite honest, and offensive. To think that by offering a deal today the players might all of a sudden come forward and tell the truth - this whole thing from day one was about the players telling the truth. They had nothing to hide,” he said.
“They were very frank in the evidence they gave and for them to believe, for ASADA to believe, they will get a discount on their penalty by coming forward today, I just don’t think that’s somebody who really has his head across what has taken place so far.”
Essendon chairman Paul Little confirmed on Friday the club would take its case to the Federal Court, arguing the joint AFL-ASADA investigation last year was unlawful.
However, he said what move the players made next would be decided in conjunction with their own lawyers.
The AFL Players Association and its lawyers, representing current and past Essendon players, met with ASADA chiefs on Friday.
It’s understood the lawyers are pushing to have the 10-day period to respond to show-cause notices extended to six weeks, as they debate the best way forward.
Watson maintains that the players were not given banned substances under a program run by sacked former club sports scientist Stephen Dank.
“I am not heartbroken so much, I don’t think that’s the right word, but I am saddened by the latest developments in the last 24 hours and the implications of those,” Watson said.
“I have believed Jobe from day one and I still maintain that he and the other Essendon players have not taken banned substances and they are not drug cheats and no matter how long this takes and no matter how much money it takes, their names will be cleared. That will be a just result.”
As part of the show-cause notices, players have been asked by ASADA to show why they should not be placed on the Register of Findings over a possible anti-doping violation.
The Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel, an independent body, then reviews the evidence and the players’ response and determines whether the player is put on the Register of Findings.
Once a player is put on the Register of Findings, he has 28 days to appeal to the Administrative Appeal Tribunal against this decision. This is the period when the AFL begins the process of issuing infraction notices.
The AFLPA would not comment publicly on Friday but issued a statement, saying: “The AFL Players’ Association can confirm that a significant number of current and former Essendon players have been served with show cause notices.
“The legal team representing all players comprises of Tony Hargraves, AFL Players Association lawyers Bernie Shinners and Brett Murphy and David Grace QC and Ben Ihle of counsel.
“Representatives of the players' legal team met with ASADA today. There will be ongoing discussions as we continue to represent the best interests of players.”