Like their Melbourne Storm counterparts in 2010, Essendon supporters may soon be forced to ask an important question: If one component of your club -the playing group, the coaching staff or the administration – does something wrong do you continue to support it for the sake of the innocent components?
After the events of the past fortnight it must have been heartening for the Bombers players to hear the intense cheering that greeted them as they jogged towards the goal square to begin the warm-up for their first game of the NAB Cup.
The type of supporter cherished by players is the one who doesn’t go missing when the team is down.
Three years ago Etihad Stadium hosted the Melbourne Storm the week after its salary cap rorting had been uncovered. Shamed, its recent history stripped from the records, and playing the rest of the season for no points, one of the biggest crowds in the club’s history turned out.
The unexpected support shown by the fans (motivated by a number of factors, but mainly a love of the club and support for those who were not complicit in the deeds of the administrators) buoyed the players and was a significant factor in the club surviving and redeeming itself with a legitimate premiership two years later.
Unlike the Storm, of course, we don’t know if anything unsavoury was done at Essendon; if the players imbibed supplements infused with growth hormone stimulants, anabolic steroids or EPO – let alone who was ultimately responsible.
If the players were given such supplements by the club’s then revered fitness advisers and told they were legitimate, they do not deserve to suffer for it, as per WADA’s ruthless ‘ignorance is no excuse’ rule.
The supporters seem to agree hence the rapturous response given to the players on Friday night.
They were given an equally positive response by their coach after the final game against Collingwood – which they lost inside the final minute.
Until the drug investigation is resolved, unfortunately, the Essendon Football Club is going to play second fiddle to an anti doping agency.
Even the Fox Sports coverage unintentionally screamed: “Essendon are smaller this year because they’re no longer on steroids!”.
There were the seemingly innocent comments (with before and after photos) about the players having “leaned up unbelievably well” since last season.
And Paul Roos on Mark Thompson’s attempts to replicate in his new charges the solid builds of his former Geelong premiership players: “Geelong were a big powerful football team. But sometimes that’s natural. It is hard to manufacture that on kids”.
A tired and emaciated-looking James Hird showed an understandable frustration with the endless references to the investigation but wanted it known that: “I’ve been so proud of the players at Essendon for the last 10 days. They have just shown a strength of character that not many people have”.
They were impressive on the field too. The marking strength of this team is quite astonishing and they still have the 201cm father-son recruit Joe Daniher to come.
Despite the slimmer builds and their Brownlow Medallist captain sitting in the coaches box they were tough in the contests and had excellent finishers in Brent Stanton, Dyson Heppell and Leroy Jetta.
The players and supporters proved their worth on Friday night. The rest of the club hasn’t yet, but things are beginning to look better at Bomberland.