Essendon desperate for clarity as burden of supplements inquiry becomes close to intolerable

Several hours before the ball was bounced to start the Collingwood-Essendon Anzac Day clash, Bombers captain Jobe Watson spoke to his chairman Paul Little and implored him to seek an end game to what for him and his teammates had become an intolerably long doping probe.

Watson still stands to lose his 2012 Brownlow Medal and with at least 11 other teammates still face being charged with taking banned substances, something – if proven – the new boss of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority says is his responsibility and his alone. More than two weeks have passed since then. Watson remains without comfort, Little is still searching for answers.

Watson’s comments to Little reportedly came among several conversations between club chairman and his players before the famous blockbuster and go a long way towards explaining Little’s stated regret later that Essendon had self-reported at all.

Although those comments were regrettable, Little did make a good point. The Essendon players’ cooperation with ASADA and the AFL has done them no favours to date and has certainly failed to achieve closure on what has proved to be bureaucratic bungling of the highest order. There is no doubt the Bombers’ form has been affected by the ongoing uncertainty and for that they deserve some sympathy. According to Essendon staffers, some players have become increasingly stressed to the point of being traumatised by the ongoing uncertainty and increasing level of speculation. Any off-field scandal that indirectly affects an entire team wears players down eventually.

Monday’s Fairfax Media revelation that up to 40 Bombers or former Bombers who played at the club in 2012 will receive show-cause letters from ASADA which could lead to infraction notices came as a shock to the club as it did to the AFL and the AFL Players Association. Those letters could come as soon as Tuesday and almost certainly by the end of the month.

The club is understood to have made repeated attempts to seek clarity through either meetings or telephone hook-ups with former ASADA boss Aurora Andruska and/or federal sports minister Peter Dutton, but meetings have been cancelled and telephone calls not returned. Essendon’s attempts to make contact with new ASADA boss Ben McDevitt on Monday were said to be unsuccessful.

The Bombers’ view is that they deserve some form of clarity at worst or at best an explanation for revelations about their players reported in the media.

There is even a view among some club directors that any decision would be preferable to the state of limbo in which the club is working.

The players have continued to choose the path of collective representation and every case at this stage is being handled by Queen’s Counsel David Grace who remains determined that no player was aware he took a banned substance and that every player signed documents which attested to that fact. According to McDevitt’s on Friday, this will not save them if he can prove those substances were banned.

Clearly when Essendon self-reported it did so in the belief that co-operation would prove its best and most decisive avenue. It remains unclear just what deal was struck between the club, ASADA and the AFL, but whatever the agreement, it appears not to have not done the players any favours.

Of course they are not blameless and Carlton veteran Chris Judd made a good point when he stated on the eve of the season that he would hope he would have the courage to say no when faced with a similar jab-happy scenario. But that now is just a matter for hindsight, as are Little’s self-reporting regrets.

More problematic is that several coaches failed to stop the program and were promoted at the end of it all with the senior coach paid while suspended and his contract extended until the end of 2016. In any other industry James Hird would be looking for a new pursuit. Surely if infraction notices come, he will finally accept responsibility and walk away.

Meanwhile he is away in France on a gap half-year and Essendon continues to toil under a growing cloud which could after all ambush another football season.

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