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Toughest yet, but it could have been worse

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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.

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

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

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.

9 comments

  • "Could" have been worse?
    SHOULD have been worse.
    Actually, when ASADA suspends the guys who took thymosin and testosterone, it will be worse.
    Enjoy your muchly deserved wooden spoons in '14 and '15.

    Commenter
    Could have?
    Date and time
    August 28, 2013, 8:13AM
    • Given Essendon has the same salary cap, and a good list, they may miss out on kids in the draft, but they will be well positioned to attract players through free agency, and can still trade. Doubt this will lead to Essendon sliding to the bottom of the ladder. I think they'll try to use free agency to get them into a premiership window.

      Commenter
      Cam
      Date and time
      August 28, 2013, 8:21AM
      • They got off lightly. It's still unclear whether any banned substances were used but if that was the case then player bans would follow. That could still happen. I can't recall any other instances of such reckless experimentation with drugs anywhere else in the world. Even the communist nations adopted a far more scientific, systematic approach to enhancing performance. Essendon are very lucky that results for 2012 have been allowed to stand as this appears to have been the height of their experimentation with supplements and drugs. Jobe Watson's Brownlow is compromised because of this and always will be unless he hands it back. I do find Hird's hubris and disingenuousness a bit hard to bear as he was up to his neck in this, including having injections himself.

        Commenter
        Crusher
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        August 28, 2013, 8:25AM
        • I think that if charges are brought against players and they are found to be guilty, the AFL will need to revisit the results of the years affected by this. This could conceivably include the removal of awards such as the Brownlow.

          Commenter
          Brett S
          Date and time
          August 28, 2013, 9:32AM
      • If ASADA serve infraction notices and players are found to be guilty, will additional charges be brought against the club by the AFL or will they allow ASADA to deal with it? It does feel like they got off light, but considering their could be serious charges handed down by ASADA, I feel like it is only the beginning.

        Commenter
        Brett
        Date and time
        August 28, 2013, 8:40AM
        • Agreed, this may just be the tip of the iceburg - ASADA investigation is ongoing. If a player is found taking something banned, they should be banned like they would in any other sport. Now I know this is harsh on the player, but it is like in other sports where you trust you trainers, coaches, etc... I don't think AFL has any special reason to be put in a different category. Australian sport codes and Australian sports have signed up to WADA and ASADA to keep their codes clean and fair, they must let them do their jobs and accept bans if they are given - for the sake of sports, this is bigger than the EFC.

          Commenter
          John
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          August 28, 2013, 10:18AM
      • In comparison to what Adelaide did (hiding a player retention plan - they didn't even breach their salary cap) and the penalties received (draft picks, suspensions of officials, fines and losing a quality player like Tippett without any compensation) - Essendon have got off light for the level of negligence they have shown. Especially when you consider their continual bleating of innocence.
        The Hird arrogance goes to a whole new level of irresponsibility and playing the victim - he should have been gone for life! And then for Essendon to throw him a two year contract when he is able to return on the night the penalty is handed down is a slap in the face to the AFL and yet they are prepared to cop it. I guarantee if it was an interstate club it would not have been permitted.

        Commenter
        croweater
        Location
        Adelaide
        Date and time
        August 28, 2013, 10:47AM
        • The ASADA investigation is only ongoing because it has new powers to call witnesses. That means it can order Stephen Dank in. Good luck with that. Even if he appears he can't forced to speak or charged with contempt if he doesn't.

          No new evidence will show up, no charges will be laid and no one will be any the wiser.

          Disappointed you may be but no charges suggest any illegal drug taking.

          Commenter
          Philip Maguire
          Location
          ,
          Date and time
          August 28, 2013, 12:42PM
          • Sadly, I have to agree. One hopes Dank's emails and phone records might reveal something more, but I wouldn't be holding my breath for his testimony. I might be reading more into this, but Gillon McLachlan on radio today seemed to allude to the current absence of infraction notices, as ominous for prosecution by ASADA in the near future.

            A few of the many (rhetorical) questions I have, never adequately discussed, explained or addressed:

            If the Essendon players weren't on PEDs, then what actually caused the noted "sudden" growth in their size, power, strength and overall performance over the 2011/2012 pre-season?!

            By extension, why, as has been reported, did Brett Ratten feel compelled to "chew out" his strength and conditioning staff after being physically monstered by Essendon in the April 2012 game, wanting to know how they (Carlton) had been leapfrogged by a side two years behind in its development?!

            Is it just pure coincidence, that the unprecedented run of soft tissue injuries suffered by Essendon players in 2012, also happens to resemble the effect of growth hormone on chickens whose legs can't support their own synthetically pumped up bodies?!

            And lastly, if I hand back my AFL membership and quit the game I have loved and followed for 40 years because I can't stand the stench surrounding this whole affair, am I just collateral damage that the AFL is prepared to wear in contriving the present so-called "justice" to keep the caravan rolling on?!

            Commenter
            disillusioned
            Date and time
            August 28, 2013, 2:23PM
        Comments are now closed

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