The still-unsolved mystery of why no Essendon footballer in 2012 confided to anyone outside the club about the strange experimental treatment they were enduring appears to have inflicted more damage than they could have known at the time.
Essendon 'players did nothing wrong'
AFL Players' Association says they are bitterly disappointed by the CAS decision and are shattered for every individual player involved. (vision courtesy ABC news 24)
As a large group of the banned 34 past and present players - all emotionally shattered and some of whom had already feared the worst - met early on Tuesday, that question would have been one of the gut-wrenching 'What Ifs?' that haunted them.
Not to mention the decision back in June 2014 not to accept a ban which would have seen them back playing by 2015. A similar and even more attractive deal involving a four- to five-week suspension presented itself and quickly dematerialised at the start of last year.
How vindicated must Cronulla be feeling?
But if this shameful episode has been consistent in one area it has been the bad advice that has punctuated it and all the main Essendon players involved. James Hird's AFL career could have survived but he alone destroyed it. His association with the convicted drug courier Shane Charter another unfortunate footnote. Paul Little has gone, his legacy further exposed for its litany of provocation and incompetence.
Only Bruce Reid of the key players remains at the club — one of the good men who stood by and tried, but not hard enough, to stop the program. Reid, who perhaps now will finally resign, was diminished at the time by his love of the club and his fervent affection for Hird.
That was an affliction which proved contagious and chaotic. Cult figure and club legend Hird prevented clear and rational thinking from former chairman David Evans down as he was handed the keys with little responsible instruction. Those board members from 2012 still at the club should be searching their consciences as Hird counts his multimillion-dollar pay-outs.
Essendon will rebuild because the AFL will insist on it, but the many millions of dollars this decision will cost both club and competition appears impossible to calculate at this early stage. It was a heavy atmosphere that hung over the AFL Commission board table early on Tuesday.
The expected decision to strip Jobe Watson of the 2012 Brownlow Medal, however, could be taken out of AFL hands should Watson, as some were predicting, voluntarily hand it back. Several commissioners truly believe that a level playing field did not exist in 2012.
Throughout the dreadful and highly political aftermath of the drug scandal it was felt that those players, while not deliberate cheats, were naive and showed – certainly at the more experienced end of the list – poor leadership by never significantly questioning the injections and the off-site visits.
Now it has gone a long way to costing them an entire AFL season. The findings of the Court of Arbitration for Sport repeatedly asked and could never truly accept why no player mentioned the injections or the legal form of thymosin when filling out forms for ASADA during routine testing that season. If they believed they had done nothing wrong, then why those glaring omissions?
This was one reason the no-fault discount was not handed to the players. Also mentioned in the CAS summary released early on Tuesday was the record of one interview carried out by Fairfax journalist Nick McKenzie and Stephen Dank, in which Dank said he had administered the banned substance thymosin beta-4 to Essendon players and believed it was not banned.
Clearly the CAS ran a far tougher and more detailed hearing than the AFL's anti-doping tribunal. But now that the disgrace of the 2012 Essendon drug experiments has become a fact of international sports law, the domestic fall-out looks beyond the capability of the once great football club.
The only football club in the world to have suffered such a punishment, Essendon's fate will badly damage the 2016 season. One-third of the AFL clubs are directly affected. Greater Western Sydney's assistant coach Mark McVeigh, one of the players to father a child during the period, expected to learn the details of his fate from the AFL on Wednesday.
Side issues such as Port Adelaide's decision to retain Matthew Lobbe look inspired but that club has lost two 200-gamers and a top-five player and was on Tuesday seeking clarity from the AFL regarding compensation.
The thicket of aftermath issues ahead looks fraught. But the prospect of young men from second-tier competitions being given a chance at the big time with Essendon under new coach John Worsfold looms is one rare positive on this disastrous day.
The Essendon Football Club stands guilty now in the eyes of the sporting world of administering banned drugs to its players and the players allowed it to happen. But the following, stated by this columnist many times over the past three years, must be stated again.
Equally horrifying and long apparent is that those drugs were also potentially harmful and many players still have no full knowledge of what they were given. Even if the ruinous Dank was prepared to cooperate it seems certain even he has no clear knowledge of the experiments he carried out on the young men with whom the Bombers allowed him to tamper.
It should also be remembered that the club only sacked Dank and put an end to his horrific experiments when the HyperMed Clinic bill for some $60,000 emerged. And that so many folk at Essendon never truly seemed to grasp the extent of the needles and the damage done.
|Player||Expiry of ineligibility||Current status/club|
|Thomas Bellchambers||13 November 2016||Essendon|
|Alex Browne||13 November 2016||Delisted last year|
|Jake Carlisle||13 November 2016||St Kilda|
|Travis Colyer||13 November 2016||Essendon|
|Stewart Crameri||13 November 2016||Western Bulldogs|
|Alwyn Davey||15 February 2017||Delisted in 2013|
|Luke Davis||13 November 2016||Aberfeldie|
|Cory Dell'Olio||14 November 2016||Delisted in 2014|
|Ricky Dyson||13 November 2016||Retired in 2012|
|Dustin Fletcher||21 November 2016||Retired last year|
|Scott Gumbleton||13 November 2016||Retired in 2014|
|Kyle Hardingham||13 November 2016||Delisted in 2014|
|Dyson Heppell||13 November 2016||Essendon|
|Michael Hibberd||13 November 2016||Essendon|
|David Hille||13 November 2016||Retired in 2013|
|Heath Hocking||13 November 2016||Essendon|
|Cale Hooker||13 November 2016||Essendon|
|Ben Howlett||13 November 2016||Essendon|
|Michael Hurley||13 November 2016||Essendon|
|Leroy Jetta||15 February 2017||Retired in 2014|
|Brendan Lee||13 November 2016||Delisted in 2012|
|Sam Lonergan||13 November 2016||Appointed coach of Launceston|
|Nathan Lovett-Murray||15 December 2016||Delisted in 2013|
|Mark McVeigh||13 November 2016||GWS assistant coach|
|Jake Melksham||13 November 2016||Melbourne|
|Angus Monfries||13 November 2016||Port Adelaide|
|David Myers||13 November 2016||Essendon|
|Tayte Pears||13 November 2016||Essendon|
|Brent Prismall||13 November 2016||Delisted in 2012|
|Patrick Ryder||13 November 2016||Port Adelaide|
|Henry Slattery||13 November 2016||Left Essendon in 2012|
|Brett Stanton||13 November 2016||Essendon|
|Ariel Steinberg||13 November 2016||Delisted last year|
|Jobe Watson||21 November 2016||Essendon|