Essendon far from convincing at press conference

Sean Lee Columnist

By Sean Lee, Sean Lee is a Roar Expert


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    Australian football has provided me with a lot of firsts. As a child growing up in the Victorian heartlands, the game provided me with my first sporting love – the Essendon Football Club.

    The club then provided me with my first hero, the irrepressible Terry Daniher.

    Losing the 1981 preliminary final to Fitzroy was my first sporting heartbreak, but I hated all losses and would dread having to go to school on a Monday morning if my beloved Bombers had lost.

    I idolised the players and took personally the criticism that my school mates would heap upon them following a particularly bad loss.

    In 1984, I thought I would burst with pride. The Bombers – my boys – staged a second half comeback against arch enemies Hawthorn to take out the Premiership.

    I can still vividly recall the key passages of play that got us home; the effortless fluency of that blind turn and goal by Leon Baker as we stormed to the lead will live with me forever.

    They were simple times. Ground rationalisation had yet to rear its ugly head and matches were spread throughout the suburbs. Sure, the grounds were substandard (oh Moorabbin I don’t miss you), but there was a certain quaint charm about standing in the outer at those small suburban grounds.

    Everything about a trip to the footy was magical. We would drive to Windy Hill from Ballarat, listening to the previews on 3KZ and stand in line, often in the rain, waiting for the gates to open.

    We were rarely quick enough to nab a spot along the three rows of wooden benches that hugged the fence, so Dad had made me a small wooden stool to stand upon and we would position ourselves at the scoreboard end of the ground, halfway between the goals and what later became known as the Kevin Walsh stand.

    I would peer through the forest of heads and shoulders in front of us and catch glimpses of my heroes. The Danihers, Terry and Neale, Timmy Watson, Simon Madden, the Flying Dutchman Paul Van der Haar and ‘Rotten’ Ronnie Andrews. All were larger than life. At least they were to me.

    I grew older and the names changed. I became aware of mortality. Terry Daniher wouldn’t play forever, nor would Vander, or plucky Billy Duckworth. But they were replaced by new heroes and sometimes villians.

    I began to realise how cutthroat this football business was. Peter Bradbury and Steve Carey – great club men and premiership players – were axed to make room for football mercenaries like Geoff Raines and Michael Richardson.

    It didn’t feel right. Raines and Richardson weren’t Essendon people. They didn’t bleed red and black like the rest of us. They wouldn’t put their bodies on the line and risk their lives like Daisy Williams. They wouldn’t split open a pack like Roger Merrett. They looked wrong in our sacred guernsey and they didn’t last long.

    But the new heroes began to emerge. Players that we could believe in. Joe Misiti, Mark Mercuri, the indefatigable Dustin Fletcher and the sublime James Hird. My first and only ‘man crush’ was on James Hird!

    I’d left home by this stage. I watched our 1993 pre season grand final win from a dingy hotel room in Moe and the corresponding game in 1984 from a youth hostel in the grimy north west Pilbara town of Port Hedland.

    I saw us win the 2000 premiership from my newly purchased but extremely modest cement sheet house in Halls Creek (the oasis of the Kimberley according to the road sign), and a year later watched us lose from a motel room in Brisbane while I should have been out working.

    It goes on.

    I was convalescing in a motel in Kununurra having just had my broken jaw wired up when Gary Moorcroft took that mark. Hell, even last year while en route to a family holiday on Kangaroo Island, I checked into a roadside motel in Kaniva to watch Jobe Watson win his Brownlow.

    I’ve strained my ears trying to get scores on transistor radios with crackling and fading signals, I’ve pored over copies of Inside Football that were already two weeks old by the time they lobbed in my local outback news agency and I’ve been stretched to breaking point trying to get updates on painfully slow internet connections in Madagascar.

    Nothing has stood between me and the Bombers. Time and distance have tried, but failed, to dampen my love for the red and black. Along with family, the Essendon Football Club have been the one constant in my life, a life that has taken many unexpected turns and delivered me to some equally unexpected places.

    Which is why yesterday’s news concerning the alleged misuse of certain supplements by the club has left me feeling sick to the stomach. The hastily arranged press conference did nothing to alleviate my sinking feeling.

    James Hird, as courageous as ever, faced the media, one hopes with honesty, but the coolness he exuded under pressure as a player was missing. He, along with club chairman David Evans and CEO Ian Robson, were obviously rattled by the enormity of the situation.

    They claimed to have known nothing of the situation until 48 hours ago and were adamant that they had called in the AFL and ASADA to prove their integrity, to show the football world that they had done nothing wrong.

    It stank of an attempt to try and head off the inevitable landslide of negative publicity, to appear pro-active when every man and his dog could see that the horse had already bolted.

    They were far from convincing.

    To claim that they knew nothing of the situation until 48 hours ago is stretching belief. Having covered cycling for many years, doping scandals are nothing new to me. The first response almost without exception is denial. That Essendon are denying knowledge of this is not a good look.

    The allegations surround players being asked to sign a waiver before partaking in a program of ‘supplements’ that were apparently ‘on the edge’ of what is acceptable and what is not.

    The waiver was presented by former head of sports science, Stephen Dank (dubiously known as ‘The Pharmacist’), who was later sacked.

    It is believed that the players were injected with ‘peptides’ which promote muscle growth, similar to human growth hormone, but it must be said that there is also an inert version of the supplement that is legal for athletes to take.

    Do the Essendon hierarchy really expect us to believe that they were oblivious to their players signing a waiver and that they were unaware of the properties of the ‘supplement’ being used? Sports journalist Damien Barrett knew about it weeks ago, although most of his information seems to have come from disgruntled former player Kyle Reimers.

    That Dank was sacked, and high performance manager Dean ‘The Weapon’ Robinson demoted before this whole affair became public infers that more was known by the hierarchy than they are letting on.

    We don’t know all the details yet, but we do know that the Essendon Football Club are scrambling to keep their reputation intact.

    The sad thing is, that once again, investigations by the media have provided the catalyst for further inquiry.

    Would the Essendon Football Club have gone to the AFL and ASADA had Damien Barrett and others not gone digging for a story?

    The inaction from within the sport to monitor these issues is bordering on negligence. It is something that those of us who report on pro-cycling are well used to, and it is sad to see that the same odour that has drifted around pro-cycling for so many years, now hangs over such a proud and strong competition as the AFL.

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    The Crowd Says (108)

    • February 6th 2013 @ 10:27am
      B.A Sports said | February 6th 2013 @ 10:27am | ! Report

      The individual players need to be examined closely here to.
      At the end of the day you are responsible for what goes in your body, and while players should be able to trust club employees, your body is your tool and i would be checking everything, especially when asked to sign a waiver. As for the waivers, while i can understand a young player not knowing better, senior players should have known this was a problem and reported it immediately. Where was the leadership?

      • Columnist

        February 6th 2013 @ 12:05pm
        Sean Lee said | February 6th 2013 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

        Spot on BA sport. In cycling you and you alone are responsible for what you put in your body – even if it was something as ‘innocent” as a tainted steak! No excuses. There is always, ALWAYS the option to say NO.

    • February 6th 2013 @ 10:30am
      Hansie said | February 6th 2013 @ 10:30am | ! Report

      Matthew Lloyd and the Essendon old boys were ruthless in their campaign to remove Matthew Knights and install James Hird as coach. Yet this current situation developed under Hird’s watch, and the old boys are either quiet or defensive. The insular culture at Essendon has not helped the club in the last 10 years.

      • Columnist

        February 6th 2013 @ 12:09pm
        Sean Lee said | February 6th 2013 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

        While the players themselves should have stood up and said NO, I’m not doing this, you are right. Hird and co employed these shady characters (google Stephen Dank to see some of his ‘cutting edge’ techniques). Personally, and I know this is with hindsight, I don’t believe either him or The Weapon should be anywhere near a football club.

        • February 6th 2013 @ 8:20pm
          Floyd Calhoun said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:20pm | ! Report

          Being a bit pedantic, but I don’t think Essendon lost to Fitzroy in 1981 prelim. Maybe a semi final a few years later when Mick Conlan slotted through the winner on a very wet afternoon was the one you had in mind. Cheers.

          • February 6th 2013 @ 9:00pm
            Lroy said | February 6th 2013 @ 9:00pm | ! Report

            Of the top of my head, the bombers got rolled by the lions in the 86 eliminaiton final, would that be the game?

            • February 6th 2013 @ 9:34pm
              Floyd Calhoun said | February 6th 2013 @ 9:34pm | ! Report

              I think you’re right there Lroy. Living in Collingwood at the time with a Pies supporter house mate. Listening to the radio. Everyone was a Roys supporter that day for a short time at least. Sorry Sean, but that was how it was. Underdog factor kicked in big time.

          • Columnist

            February 6th 2013 @ 9:44pm
            Sean Lee said | February 6th 2013 @ 9:44pm | ! Report

            Sorry floyd, It was the elimination final In 1981 I was referring too.

            • February 6th 2013 @ 10:07pm
              Floyd Calhoun said | February 6th 2013 @ 10:07pm | ! Report

              No worries Sean. BTW, I hope this whole fiasco proves to be a tea cup storm. For your sake, & all the Dons’ supporters that I’ve known over the years.

    • February 6th 2013 @ 10:30am
      oikee said | February 6th 2013 @ 10:30am | ! Report

      Not that i ever watch Cycling, . Loved your report, normally you get defence and bloggers trying to hide all the facts, the reality of what truely is going on. Look i admit to not knowing much about AFL, but what really is interesting to me about this issue is the fact this knukklehead was at the Manly Sea Eagles,
      For the last 6 years i have thought something was not right at this club, all the under the radar stuff was a front for something more sinister if you asked me.
      Also with the coach leaving, another red light went off in my head. Something was not right at this club, i could smell it, i could not quite put my foot on it, but i knew it was there. and now this has happened to your club.

      The Storm was stripped of titals, now i expect a full report into this guy and Manly. Cheers, hope all goes well for you and yours, but i dont like the odds, and too much else has been happening in the news lately as well.,relating to drugs. .

      • February 6th 2013 @ 11:15am
        Desert Qlder said | February 6th 2013 @ 11:15am | ! Report

        ASADA have already done an investigation in Dank’s time with Manly and the methods used there. Although highly unorthodox, no wrongdoing was found.

        Manly really need to be left out of this, as there is no issue there.

        It is an AFL issue and that alone.

        (Note from moderators: Please engage in debate respectfully. Insults removed.)

        • February 6th 2013 @ 11:45am
          Brendon said | February 6th 2013 @ 11:45am | ! Report

          Everyone’s entitled to an opinion without abuse mate, keep a lid on it and articulate your defence

      • Columnist

        February 6th 2013 @ 12:14pm
        Sean Lee said | February 6th 2013 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

        Thanks Oikee. As you can tell, I love Essendon. always have, always will. But having covered cycling for many years, there comes a point where you just can’t defend these blokes anymore. There are no more excuses and to pretend that there is, is delusional. Essendon may be cleared of any wrong doing – and I hope that they are – but they should never have put themselves in this position in the first place.

        • February 8th 2013 @ 10:51am
          Barney said | February 8th 2013 @ 10:51am | ! Report

          And what if Dank is cleared Sean?

          He is a pretty renowned sports scientist, has had a number of papers published and has his own bunch of people who back him as someone who knows his stuff. And his stuff is that he knows what is and isn’t legal for assisting in injury recovery.

          Essendon had a massive soft tissue crisis which has dragged on for years, since before Hird, Knights even going back to Sheedy’s time.

          Don’t you think that was a big priority to fix for the club…everyone was demanding it.

          And could it be that he was simply fired from Essendon because he didn’t fix the soft tissue injury crisis at Essendon last year. And it hit in a big way mid year.

          People are really jumping the gun here. Wait til it all comes out, which it now will ASADA is involved. You might end up relieved Essendon was a club that approached them. Because if you read the ACC report, you will see it puts the question mark across every professional club in the country.

          • Columnist

            February 12th 2013 @ 8:32am
            Sean Lee said | February 12th 2013 @ 8:32am | ! Report

            Very good points Barney, thanks.

    • Roar Guru

      February 6th 2013 @ 10:37am
      TomC said | February 6th 2013 @ 10:37am | ! Report

      Wow. This must have been a tough article to write Sean.

      I feel for Essendon supporters today. I hope this turns out to be just a really uber-cautious approach by the club, but I too watched that press conference and they looked like shattered men.

      If it turns out that the players took illegal performance enhancing substances, even if they didn’t know it was illegal, then they will all face lengthy bans. With or without waivers they are responsible for what they consume.

      And that isn’t good for anyone. The Bombers will have to forfeit games. It is bad for the AFL, bad for supporters of rival clubs (no matter how parochial we are we want to see good football), and bad for the club itself.

      Particularly bad for kids like Ariel Steinberg, Elliot Kavanagh, Corey Dell’Olio, Mark Baguely and the other kids on the fringes of the team who would have had no real choice but to go along with what their teammates did, earn diddly squat, and may well have to sit out the most important months of their career.

      • Columnist

        February 6th 2013 @ 12:18pm
        Sean Lee said | February 6th 2013 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

        This article killed me Tom. I too am hoping that this is the cautious approach, and that, while unorthodox, the methods used haven’t breached any drug code. Ethically though it still sounds all wrong. I don’t even want to think about what penalties may be handed down!

    • February 6th 2013 @ 11:02am
      Aaron said | February 6th 2013 @ 11:02am | ! Report

      Talk of the club being banned for 2 years is nonsense. Worst case scenario is any players that took PEDs get a ban, and Essendon fill their list with second-graders. They probably won’t win any games, but if anyone seriously believes the AFL will kick one of their biggest teams out of the comp they are kidding themselves.

      • February 6th 2013 @ 11:48am
        Brendon said | February 6th 2013 @ 11:48am | ! Report

        You’re joking aren’t you? if and I stress if, these blokes took illegal substances then the club should be held fully to account, this needs to be stamped out and the best way to do that is to remove the reward for cheating. Why should the club that nearly made the finals last year be allowed to escape punishment?

        We don’t want performance enhancing drugs in sport and if it was up to me all intravenous treatments would be completely banned, that includes stuff to re-hydrate.

        • Columnist

          February 6th 2013 @ 12:21pm
          Sean Lee said | February 6th 2013 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

          You are spot on Brendon. Injections and intravenous treatments should not have any place at a sporting club. A non-injection policy is now even starting to spread among teams in cycling.

      • February 6th 2013 @ 12:03pm
        Nathan of Perth said | February 6th 2013 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

        ASADA is involved – no longer an AFL choice.

        • February 6th 2013 @ 8:57pm
          Kasey said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:57pm | ! Report

          does WADA come into it?

          • February 7th 2013 @ 9:39pm
            Nathan of Perth said | February 7th 2013 @ 9:39pm | ! Report

            Not directly; ASADA is their national body in Aus which will carry out their policies.

        • February 8th 2013 @ 10:59am
          Barney said | February 8th 2013 @ 10:59am | ! Report

          Yes, and if Essendon really had the ability to hide from ASADA(and given they had 0 positive tests for drugs) its highly likely that IF they were doing something that is banned they could easily conceal it.(turf out any supplements they had in possession and tell everyone to deny everything…which is what I am guessing all sporting clubs are doing right now..every one)

          But no, instead they have asked for a full investigation. Essendon came knocking on ASADA’s door.

          Which indicates to me its more of a PR exercise than anything. Essendon knew that they were going to be made to look really bad in the media by ex players(Reimers) and association with Sport scientists under investigation(Dank).

          Essendon won’t get banned. The club and people/players in the firing line will be currently staying very very quiet until forced into it by ASADA.

    • February 6th 2013 @ 11:05am
      Midfielder said | February 6th 2013 @ 11:05am | ! Report

      I feel for the AFL and the club’s fans….

      I honestly think the AFL senior management would have not known about this…

      The actions of one person and the influence they can have is not what any sport is about…

      I will judge the AFL on what actions the AFL take and I don’t expect to see a club and its fans destroyed …

      • Columnist

        February 6th 2013 @ 12:24pm
        Sean Lee said | February 6th 2013 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

        The AFL management would not have known about it, but often they are slow to recognise some of the more disturbing trends that infiltrate the football world. They need to be more pro-active. This from Essendon though is just plain stupid!