AFL delivers strong message to Essendon and the competition

Date: August 28, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

After six months of investigations and two protracted days in discussions with the AFL, the Essendon Football Club has had its finals aspirations dashed with the governing body removing it premiership points as a result of the ASADA investigation into the club’s medical protocols in 2011 and 2012.

Equally as significant is the fact that there will be no civil court action will be taken by Essendon or three of the four individuals who were charged.

Head coach James Hird has accepted a 12-month suspension days after lodging a writ with the Victorian Supreme Court, determined to clear his name of many of the charges that were laid.

Hird’s backflip will have taken many by surprise.

His ban took effect two days ago, preventing him from coaching this weekend’s match against Richmond with assistant coach Simon Goodwin taking the reins.

Hird’s senior assistant, Mark Thompson accepted a $30,000 fine, while football manager Danny Corcoran has accepted a six-month ban for his role in the saga, with two of those months suspended for a period of two years.

Corcoran’s sanction has already raised myriad comments on social media given the fact that it will be served well before the start of next season.

It should be remembered however that much of the football manager’s role is carried out in the off-season with respect to trading, the draft and contract negotiations.

Long-standing club doctor, Bruce Reid has chosen to contest his charge.

He will front the Commission again on Thursday morning to further argue his case.

Any sanction to Reid may result in him having to front the Australian Medical Association with respect to the status of his medical license.

Whichever club finishes in ninth position after this weekend’s final round of home-and-away fixtures will be elevated into eighth position and take its place in next month’s final series.

Essendon will be officially credited with finishing the 2013 season in ninth position given it agreed to stand down from finals competition.

Given the points as such are not being stripped, the match on Saturday night against the Tigers will be played for four premiership points.

The removal from finals action will likely extend to Essendon’s reserves side in the VFL.

The Essendon senior side, currently seventh on the ladder with a round remaining, has also been dealt a $2 million fine.

In terms of the future the most significant penalty has been the removal of its first two draft picks in the 2013 and 2014 National Draft.

Essendon chairman, Paul Little flagged earlier in the negotiation process that the draft pick penalties were the ones that the club had most problems agreeing to given the impact such a sanction has had on other clubs.

The club can however use trade week both this year and next to improve its draft situation.

Essendon’s acceptance of its penalties came at the 11th hour with the AFL stating as talks recommenced today that if sanctions had not been accepted by day’s end the discussions would be terminated, the penalties proposed withdrawn from the table, and the club would have to contest the charges.

The AFL flagged that such a move could result in more substantial penalties being levied against the club.

The Commission, and the 17 other clubs in the competition, will be greatly relieved that the issues surrounding the Essendon Football Club itself have been resolved as its participation next month would have strongly compromised the finals series.

There will be great fascination now as to when Hird publicly speaks out and gives his side of the story.

All through this process he publicly maintained that neither the club nor himself had done anything wrong and that when he was allowed to put his case forward the whole situation would be seen a much different light.

One would imagine he has partly stated his position over the past two days at AFL House but it appears that the Commission has not been swayed.

He went so far as to say in his post-match media conference following the win over Carlton on Saturday night that he believed he was innocent of 99 per cent of the charges levelled against him.

Little stated on Saturday that it was the club’s intention for Hird to return to the head coach’s role if he was to serve the AFL-desired one year suspension.

Ever since the Bombers were readying themselves for their day of reckoning before the Commission they were adamant that they wanted the charges watered down.

We do not yet know what final charges were accepted by the club and the individuals but interestingly very little of the AFL’s initial sanctions have been modified since being first transmitted to the Essendon.

Essendon chairman Paul Little did however say after the AFL’s media conference that the charges agreed to by the club and the individuals were “significantly different” than those first handed them by them by the league.

Little also stated that the sanctions related purely to “governance and people and not drugs”.

He also said that there are “no allegations of drug cheating” against the club or any individuals within it.

Today is a landmark in the history of the VFL/AFL and there may still be fallout to come.

The ASADA investigation is ongoing with the Essendon players not completely out of the woods with respect to the possibility of infraction notices in the future.

All players are eligible to win the Brownlow Medal and the Rising Star Award along with All-Australian selection.

The man at the centre of the storm, sports scientist Stephen Dank, is yet to be interviewed despite Federal Parliament having granted ASADA police-like powers of investigation which became effective on 1 August.

Demetriou reiterated the fact that he would very much welcome Dank agreeing to talk with the AFL and he strongly supported ASADA using its new powers to get him to speak on the matter.

Regardless of what happens from here this saga has produced no winners with the AFL, Essendon and its fans and the entire AFL community all the poorer for what has unfolded.

Some have spoken strongly about an AFL conspiracy or vendetta aimed at bringing Essendon down.

That argument lacks plausibility as the Commission stood to gain nothing from its action against the club other than setting an example for those who may be tempted to follow the Bombers path in the future.

The Essendon Football Club, with a record-equalling 16 premierships, is one of the most powerful and well-followed clubs in the country across all codes with its fan base, drawing power and ability to push up television ratings all extremely attractive and profitable to the AFL.

This was not about a vendetta but a way of making a statement to eradicate the spectre of drugs from the competition, a spectre that has caused so many ongoing bad news stories for other codes around the globe.

Essendon fans will no doubt believe the club has been dealt sanctions above what was fair and equitable.

What they need to remember is that despite the strong protestations and posturing with respect to taking this matter to the courts, in the end the club has accepted today’s bans and fines.

It is also worth remembering the stature of many of those who comprise the AFL Commission, with likes of chairman Mike Fitzpatrick, dual premiership captain, Rhodes scholar and highly successful businessman; Chris Langford, 4-time Hawthorn premiership player and former CEO of Mirvac Limited; and Richard Goyder, CEO of Wesfarmers among their number.

The men and women making the decision on penalties are no lightweights and are all highly professional, experienced and respected individuals.

The saga has not yet been put fully to bed but in many ways the air has been cleared in the short term.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 27 August 2013