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Bomber Thompson says lessons must be learnt

Essendon's senior assistant coach Mark 'Bomber' Thompson treaded lightly when asked if he'd step up as coach but was adamant the club's future looked bright.

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Set against what happened to Carlton for being a recidivist salary cap cheat, all other club punishments have paled. Until Essendon.

Adelaide got off lighter than the Blues for the Kurt Tippett salary cap cheating and draft dodging last year.

Big day: James Hird and wife Tania leave their Toorak home on Tuesday morning, heading for AFL House.

Big day: James Hird and wife Tania leave their Toorak home on Tuesday morning, heading for AFL House. Photo: Penny Stephens

Melbourne escaped more lightly again for tanking - or whatever euphemism was applied to it.

Essendon's punishment does not pale against Carlton's, it puts it in the shade.

Essendon, like the Blues, was fined heavily ($2million to Carlton's $1million - or just short of that) and lost prime draft picks in consecutive drafts. The Blues, though, were not allowed to trade back into the draft. It crippled them for years on-field and off.

But no other club - not even Carlton - has been pulled out of a season like the Bombers. No one has been told they cannot play the finals they felt their season had earnt them. They played the year for nothing. They also lost their coach for a year as well as sundry other staff.

There have been rumblings at club level already that the AFL should have gone harder.

The discontented argue that the Essendon offence in wildly administering various unknown substances to its players was a far more grievous offence than Carlton's for it showed cavalier regard for its players' health, and the punishments should more accurately reflect that.

Clubs, once they read the 34 pages of itemised charges, were also even more deeply suspicious or sceptical about the idea that Essendon players had not been given banned substances.

The charges did not specifically claim drug cheating but they spoke to an environment that permitted its potential.

But those clubs also have a competitive interest in the punishment for Essendon and will be most displeased not at the fine, nor any banning of Hird, but at the Bombers still having a second-round pick in next year's draft because that is something that materially affects them.

The AFL Commission is understood to remain quietly displeased at the deal making that was struck to deliver Melbourne a punishment that was felt to be too light - and that has guided the league's negotiating in this case.

These clubs - Essendon included - pleaded guilty to their offences. They did not fight in the courts or at the commission.

What Essendon was offered and received was a punishment if it pleaded guilty to the charges - a plea bargain. That is not the punishment it would have received had it gone to the commission and argued its ground and lost.

The AFL has enshrined the idea of discounts for early pleas - players challenging match review panel decisions and losing at the tribunal - get heavier penalties.

It was what saved Adelaide chief executive Stephen Trigg, who remains the most fortunate man in football. Trigg's role in negotiating the Crows' hand in the deliberate, long-term and structured process of salary cap cheating and avoiding the legally complex and protracted case that would have followed saw him rewarded. Trigg was savaged with a wilted lettuce - given a short sabbatical and back in the job before the season is out.

For all of Essendon's chest-beatingly combative approach, it has ultimately taken its licks. This was the discount deal. It could have been worse.