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Why Essendon Bombers drugs saga means no footballer can trust their club again

Are you a professional footballer? Do you want to make sure you never find yourself in the eye of the shitstorm Essendon players presently find themselves in?

Well, check whatever it is you are putting into your body. All of it. Do not, under any circumstances, do whatever the coach or captain or high-performance manager tells you to do.

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The fallout for Essendon

Rohan Connolly delves into the ramifications of the Essendon player suspensions.

Ask questions. Google your brains out. And definitely call ASADA.

If a 13-year-old swimmer with a faint hope of making an Olympics squad can be vigilant about the brand of cough medicine he or she takes, a player at a football club should be the same about the mysterious substance he is being injected with.

If there's one solemn lesson to be learnt from the Court of Arbitration for Sport's decision to ban 34 past and present Bombers players for what amounts to a year, it's that any footballer from any code cannot simply use the "I just did what the coach told me to do" defence.

To the outsider, this would seem straightforward. In reality, footy clubs are different to the workplace. A lecture from ASADA officials at the start of each season is quickly forgotten when the coaching staff are barking, telling you to obey the high-performance department.

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"It's about trust," Wayne Bennett said to me just days after the infamous "blackest day in Australian sport" media conference in Canberra.

As code-hopper Karmichael Hunt tweeted on Tuesday: "Wow. Heart goes out to Essendon players! U r 'conditioned' to trust ur coaches & club. Hired to 'comply' to directives. They arent at fault!"

Right on cue, the trolls tumbled in, blasting him for making comment when he was embroiled in his own drug controversy not so long ago.

Hang around footy clubs long enough and you see the trust everywhere: players walking off the training paddock, or out of the gym, and then picking up the plastic cup with their name on it and knocking back whatever supplements are inside it.

This week, Sharks hooker Michael Ennis – who is about to play his 14th season of NRL – told the Big Sports Breakfast: "Throughout my whole career, and still to this day, when I go to training the people that the club employ … I have trust in those guys. Some people might call it naïve or whatever, but that's just what we do as professional athletes. Throughout my career, I place my trust in all of those people and I have never had any problems."

Trust.

Essendon players and their devastated families will say they did the same thing, and now they're paying a disproportionate price to those who held positions above them. They placed trust in former coach James Hird, former high-performance manager Dean Robinson and Stephen Dank, and their careers have been trashed.

Only the paranoid survive, as they say. Players can no longer trust anyone. 

Despite the empathy shown towards Essendon players, there are a few things that don't add up. They clearly didn't add up for the CAS.

For an entire season, players allowed themselves to be human pincushions as they routinely received "Thymo injections". That triggered an alarm within veteran player Mark McVeigh, who reportedly asked Hird: "What the hell's this new supplement program that we're doing? What is it? These (sic) injection shit, I don't like it. Where's it coming from?"

If that wasn't enough, when the players were told to keep the injections secret from their team doctor and ASADA, senior players at the very least – especially captain Jobe Watson – must have known something questionable was at play. They have failed the younger players in the squad.

Inevitable comparisons have been made between Essendon and Cronulla. As former Sharks strength and conditioning coach Trent Elkin told Fairfax Media in 2014, players were injected three times in three weeks. Bombers players received, in total, 4000 injections.

Meanwhile, there's some enthusiastic backslapping going on about how rugby league has escaped its peptide mess with a slap on the wrist as the AFL juggernaut derails.

Not so fast.

Banned substances are banned substances. Just because Sharks players dodged a bullet doesn't mean some of them didn't deserve a bullet. Those who continued to see Dank well after the Sharks sacked him got off lightly.

While the AFL tried to cut deals with ASADA, and then squirm its way out of the drama, the NRL played it straight.

Does that make former chief executive Dave Smith a genius? Were they boxing clever? I'd suggest the NRL fumbled its way through the dark like everyone else, unsure what line to take.

There's a footballer called Sandor Earl doing cross-fit in Phuket, getting a tan and trying to get on with life, as he serves a four-year ban. He's paying a far heavier price than anyone, including Bombers players.

And, from memory, he's the only one in the last three years who ever stuck his hand up and admitted he might have done something wrong. Look how well that worked out for him.

Banished: Sandor Earl.

Banished: Sandor Earl. Photo: Getty Images

Sheedy and the Busby Babes

Thankfully, the Bombers have their legendary former coach Kevin Sheedy in the bunker with them.

Ever the master motivator, Sheeds intends to distribute to the players and staff dozens of books about "Busby's Babes" – the name given to the youthful Manchester United side formed under manager Matt Busby in the 1950s that won two league championships. Eight of the players were killed in the Munich air disaster in 1958.

Sheedy, who was ushered back into the Bombers fold last year in the wake of the supplements scandal, has told many at the club they can't dwell on the past. It's time to move on.

He's the king of mind games. For the 1993 grand final against Carlton, he posted images on the dressing room wall of great teenage Olympians who had won gold medals, including Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who won three at the age of 14.

The Bombers had seven players under the age of 21 that day – including a fresh-faced James Hird.

Hayne catches up with Da Boss

God makes them, and then they find each other. And so it was that the "Hayne Plane" and the "Universe Boss" met in Coogee earlier this week.

Jarryd Hayne and Chris Gayle and an assortment of friends partied atop the Sands apartment block adjacent to the Pavilion on Tuesday night.

According to local residents, the party was contained but they could hear several "Don't blush, baby" comments said in jest.

We're told the unlikely pair came together through Chris Cahill, the brother of Socceroos star Tim Cahill, who has known Hayne his whole life and is also mates with Gayle.

Hayne posted an image of Instagram with Gayle, along with the comment: "Teaching the bruv some manners on speaking to women in oz!"

 

A photo posted by Jarryd Hayne (@jarrydhayne38) on

A closer inspection of Gayle's black t-shirt that night shows just what Gayle thinks of women: an image of a hand on a woman's bottom.

Indeed, Gayle has been seen all over Sydney since playing for the Renegades against the Thunder earlier in the week, including the Star on Wednesday.

Presumably, he's been given time off to stay in Sin City before his side's final Big Bash League match against the Strikers at Etihad on Monday.

Questionable taste: Chris Gayle's shirt.

Questionable taste: Chris Gayle's shirt. Photo: Instagram

Cooper versus SBW?

Rock-solid Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal said of Quade Cooper: "It's difficult to go from foie gras to pâté."

Evidently, he's never tried Jatz and dip.

Despite this lack of love, Cooper is expected to be released to take his place in the Australian team for the Sydney Sevens on February 6-7 at Allianz Stadium.

If he does, it could potentially see a showdown between Cooper and Sonny Bill Williams, who will play for New Zealand at the Rio Olympics.

Wanna go? Well, you better hurry up and buy your tickets because they are expecting a combined attendance of 80,000 fans over two days.

Q&A: MICHAEL LUMB

We talk to the Sixers import ahead of Saturday night's "Sydney Smash" against the Thunder at the SCG.

We're doing this interview on your UK phone number. How big are your bills?

I've been stung in the past. I've learnt my lesson a few times. We've had a few frights.

The Sixers mustn't be paying you enough.

No. They aren't. I need some more cash.

The word is you've become an avid surfer since coming to play in Australia.

Surfing is a loose term. I probably wouldn't call it surfing, nor would the people who have seen me surf. It's my own form of surfing. If you equated it to a golf handicap I would be a 24 or something. I went down this morning and splashed around at Bondi. It's an easy paddle out.

Sydney surfers are notoriously aggressive ...

I've had a few f-bombs thrown at me. "What the hell are you doing? Get out of the way!" I can handle it. I've played at the WACA.

If the Sixers can't make the finals, at the very least you could ruin it for the Thunder.

That's like our grand final. I definitely want to spoil it for them. They've been very sure of themselves. So if we can't make it, that will be the next best thing.

Former Sixers boss Stuart Clark said on radio this morning that the Thunder isn't united – they're a team of individuals. Agree?

[Laughs] Whatever "Sarfraz" says is gospel. It must be true if you've heard it from him. He knows best.

Seriously, it will be a great scene on Saturday night at the SCG.

It will be amazing. The crowds at the SCG have been unbelievable. We haven't given them the results they deserve. Hopefully we can put on a show on Saturday.

The quote

"Messi's left foot is very good – I would like to have that." – So says Cristiano Ronaldo. How about some of his humility, CR7?

Thumbs up

Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh misses a 27-yard field goal against Seattle Seahawks, ending their season, and fronts the media no less than 15 minutes later to talk at length about the error and how shattered he is. Would that happen in any of the Australian codes?

Thumbs down

Don't worry about the Summer of George (Costanza, for non-Seinfeld lovers). This looked like being the Summer of Nick Kyrgios after he helped Australia win the Hopman Cup. Then he goes and spoils it all by blowing up at officials at the Kooyong Classic. Bad, Kyrgios. Very bad.

It's a big weekend for … MS Dhoni, who was very lucky to avoid sanction after effectively accusing the umpires of cheating in the first one-day international against Australia to make a point about DRS. India plays Australia at the Gabba on Friday.

It's an even bigger weekend for … Wanderers fans when their favourite punching bag – Sydney FC's Ali Abbas – steps out against their side on Saturday night for the first time since they heckled him when he suffered a serious knee injury. Be cool, RBB. Be cool.

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