Suit could put heat on AFL execs

Senior AFL officials, including deputy chief executive Gillon McLachlan, could be dragged into Essendon's dispute with former high-performance coach Dean Robinson, as the club's supplement saga threatens to encroach on the Bombers' 2014 campaign.

It emerged at a Supreme Court hearing before Associate Justice Robyn Lansdowne on Monday that subpoenas to third parties in the case could be issued from April 7, with a trial not expected until later in the year.

While the AFL was able to avoid court action with suspended Essendon coach James Hird and club doctor Bruce Reid, the Robinson case could expose the backroom discussions about what occurred before the club self-reported to the AFL and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.

Robinson, nicknamed ''The Weapon'', is suing the Bombers for breach of contract and is seeking more than $2 million in lost wages. He feels he was made the scapegoat for the injecting program that led to the club being fined $2 million and Hird being suspended for 12 months.

It is understood the Robinson camp is likely to seek evidence from anyone involved in the decision to suspend Robinson on February 5 - the day that senior club officials met with McLachlan and self-reported.

As detailed in Essendon's defence claim, the meeting involved former club chairman David Evans, former chief executive Ian Robson, media advisers Liz Lukin and Justin Rodski, as well as Hird.

Later that day, Robinson met with Essendon football operations boss Danny Corcoran and chief commercial officer Richard Burnet and was told he would be stood down on his annual salary of more than $300,000.

Robinson resigned in July and made a number of negative claims in a television interview about the club and Hird. The Bombers have rejected these claims in their defence document.

Players, who worked closely with Robinson, coaches and staff are also expected to be asked to provide evidence, but this does not necessarily mean they would have to appear in court.

Defence lawyer Paul O'Grady, representing Essendon, on Monday told the court there was likely to be a substantial volume of material produced under subpoena from third parties during the case and this needed to be examined. A decision would then have to be made on who would be called to give evidence.

Associate Justice Lansdowne set down a timetable for the production of documents and ordered a mediation hearing to be held by May 30.

If subpoenas are issued from April 7, this would lead into the round-four clash against Fremantle at Patersons Stadium. The corresponding clash last season sparked one of the club's most emotional wins. The Bombers then face St Kilda followed by the Anzac Day clash against Collingwood.

O'Grady would not comment outside court when asked who could be subpoenaed.

A further directions hearing will then be held on June 16, with a possible trial unlikely until late next year.

Essendon has defended its treatment of Robinson, arguing he was chiefly responsible for the supplements program, including supervising sacked sports scientist Stephen Dank, and failed in his responsibilities to keep the squad fit.

The Bombers provided specifics of their injury troubles in 2012 when they were plagued by soft-tissue injuries, which ''significantly exceeded'' previous seasons.

''In 2012, [Essendon] players suffered 30 hamstring injuries compared to a 10-year average of 9.2, missing 88 games compared to a 10-year average of 29.1,'' the document says.

''In 2012, players suffered eight calf injuries compared to a 10-year average of 1.6, missing 26 games compared to a 10-year average of 6.4. In 2012, players suffered eight quadricep injuries compared to a 10-year average of 2.9, missing 20 games compared to a 10-year average of 7.9.''

This prompted the club to issue Robinson with a written warning in August 2012 and a threat to demote him.

Meanwhile, voting closed on Monday to fill the two positions available on the Essendon board, with club great Simon Madden having the backing of powerful coterie group the Essendonians.

''Recent times have been tough for the club but with 2013 behind us and the establishment of the high-performance centre, I believe the future looks bright and success is within sight,'' Madden said.

Incumbent Phil Pryor has sought re-election, declaring ''in these difficult times we need stability and focus on future strategic planning''.

Rob Harwood, a long-time Essendonian committee member and president, and long-time club member Vito Guzzardi have also sought election.

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