The Essendon saga won’t end anytime soon

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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    It appears that the three-day Federal Court hearing launched by Essendon Football Club and coach James Hird against ASADA is merely another battle in a long and protracted war.

    Hird and the Bombers launched separate legal actions against ASADA with respect to the legality of its joint investigation undertaken with the AFL into its drugs program in 2011 and 2012.

    Silks for each of the parties outlined their clients’ case, with Justice John Middleton the man now charged with deliberating over all that was presented and issuing his finding.

    Prior to the parties being dismissed by the court yesterday afternoon, Justice Middleton did not give a timeframe as to when his decision will be handed down, although legal experts believe his pronouncement will be delivered in around a month.

    Should that be the case his findings will be delivered smack bang in the middle of this season’s finals series – hardly ideal for the AFL given that September is the code’s showcase month.

    The timing will not be great for Essendon if the verdict goes against it either should it maintain its tenuous spot in the top-eight and earn a finals berth.

    The players would not have been comforted by comments from ASADA’s counsel Tom Howe QC, who said in court yesterday, “ASADA can re-acquire the same information, do it within 24 hours, and re-issue identical show cause notices” should the findings come down against the doping agency with respect to its joint probe with the AFL.

    And therein lays one of the myriad issues that potentially still have to be played out regardless of Justice Middleton’s determination.

    Whatever the decision handed down this saga will be far from over.

    ASADA, should it be ruled to have been in breach in establishing a joint investigation with the AFL, has signalled it will simply regroup, momentarily lick its wounds and in quick time put the onus back on the players by asking them to address a new round of show cause notices.

    While this week’s case by Hird and the Bombers has been aimed pretty much at ASADA alone, should they win the court’s favour their next legal action will likely be against the AFL with respect to the penalties that were handed to them last year on the back of ASADA’s interim report.

    While Hird was the only individual from Essendon to take the legal route at this point should he be successful, you could rightly expect that his assistant – and current stand-in – Mark Thompson and former football manager Danny Corcoran would also commence proceedings against the governing body with respect to the penalties handed them twelve months ago.

    If the judgement comes down in favour of ASADA there appears little doubt that the 34 past and present Essendon players who are in receipt of show cause notices will be placed on the Register of Findings and will then need to give proof as to why they should not be served with infraction notices.

    This would trigger suspensions through the AFL’s tribunal system.

    If ASADA does win, both the Bombers and Hird can appeal to the Federal Court and the High Court which would further significantly broaden the saga’s already bloated timeline.

    No matter which way you look at it it appears that the endgame is still a considerable way away.

    One also has to wonder just how solid the relationship is currently between Hird and the Essendon board.

    While there were smiles and hugs exchanged outside the courthouse yesterday between Hird and Bombers’ president Paul Little after the court rose, it is hard to believe that no tensions exist.

    Hird, in evidence, was particularly strong in his condemnation of both Little and his predecessor David Evans, a one-time close friend of the Bombers’ coach, over their handling of the case.

    By extension his ire also extends to the board, some of whom would have been close to Evans too, as they would be to the incumbent.

    Little was definitive in his support of Hird when asked after the proceedings whether the Brownlow Medallist and former skipper would be back as head coach next season.

    Mind you, many a football coach has received a glowing endorsement from his president shortly before he was moved on.

    At this stage it appears the Bombers will indeed stick with their man but Little’s guarantee that Hird will “absolutely” be at the helm in 2015 may not be as equivocal should the players eventually be handed infraction notices.

    If that were the case it would seem impossible Hird would survive while most of his squad would likely be suspended.

    One thing is for sure – if all parties had their time over again they would approach things differently. But hindsight is not a valid commodity in this case. It is what has transpired that matters.

    And the biggest worry is that in the end we may still never really know what happened at Essendon.

    With the exception of the lawyers, everyone involved will be losers in some way and will eventually walk away from this with black marks against their names.

    Just what ongoing and lasting problems it causes for them all remains to be seen.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.

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    The Crowd Says (233)

    • August 14th 2014 @ 7:32am
      Jack said | August 14th 2014 @ 7:32am | ! Report

      No one else seems to want to say it but this is an embarrassment for the game!
      Hird was part of a program that have healthy 19 year olds medication that is used to treat cancer. What more can possibly be said? Why can’t these guys except they did the wrong thing and walk away.

      • August 14th 2014 @ 8:46am
        andyl12 said | August 14th 2014 @ 8:46am | ! Report

        How crazy was it when Hird said the other day “I was only the coach, I wasn’t the football manager” as if it wasn’t his job to know what was going on. Then again it’s the sort of talk you’d expect from someone who only cares about himself.

        • August 14th 2014 @ 8:50am
          Don Freo said | August 14th 2014 @ 8:50am | ! Report

          Do you really think Bomber, also, doesn’t know. The director of coaching?

          • August 14th 2014 @ 8:59am
            Christo the Daddyo said | August 14th 2014 @ 8:59am | ! Report

            Of course he did!

            The only way Essendon can truly move forward from this mess is if everyone involved (both administration and coaching/medical) are gotten rid of. Clean slate is required.

          • August 14th 2014 @ 9:22am
            andyl12 said | August 14th 2014 @ 9:22am | ! Report

            At least Bomber is a proven coach who’s got more on his coaching CV besides sports science. Hird came to Essendon with no idea on how to actually coach and soon realised he’d have to get other people to break the rules for him.

          • August 14th 2014 @ 12:05pm
            Pumping Dougie said | August 14th 2014 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

            Bomber wasn’t an advocate of the drugs program from the start, voiced his concerns early, but then played the ‘team player’ role and supported the club direction led by Hird and Danks. Bomber was later the person who put a stop to it.
            So of all the people at EFC during this horrendously negligent management period, Bomber appears to me one of the least culpable. (Dr Reid is in a similar boat, given that he expressed his concerns internalyl to Hird in the strongest terms in writing – but in his professional capacity he had to go further than that.) Bomber probably deserves his fine for ‘going along with it’ for a period of time, but he also deserves respect for not only opposing the drugs program internally, but amazingly ‘sticking fat’ with Hird and the club ever since, when anybody else would have said, “don’t blame me”.

            • August 14th 2014 @ 12:27pm
              Mikey said | August 14th 2014 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

              Pumping Dougie – I agree with you to a point but on the other hand Bomber was there supposedly as a mentor to the inexperienced Hird and one wonders if he should have been more proactive in this mess.
              While he did make some attempts to stop the programme, I think he should have been a lot stronger. I think at one meeting he allegedly said something like “This has got to stop now” and yet the injections continued. I guess we don’t know who overrode his instructions but one does wonder why he would not have pushed his views more strongly with Hird outside the meeting.
              Unless of course he did and his advice was ignored!

              • August 14th 2014 @ 2:23pm
                Pumping Dougie said | August 14th 2014 @ 2:23pm | ! Report

                Mikey, I think Bomber has agreed with your points publicly. He said he accepts that as a club – and he counts himself in that – they could and should have been more proactive and “could have done more” to stop it. He’s been very honest and unlike Hird, he’s been willing to accept a degree of blame. Bomber was the one who brought the program to an end.

      • August 14th 2014 @ 8:48am
        Don Freo said | August 14th 2014 @ 8:48am | ! Report

        Because what you have just said Jack, is as muddled as the knowledge that exists.

    • August 14th 2014 @ 7:43am
      deanp said | August 14th 2014 @ 7:43am | ! Report

      no matter the outcome, I believe this court case was useful, particularly concerning the proof that there was political interference from the very beginning, the “darkest day” announcement can now be seen as the political stunt it was, from a desperate govt spiraling down in the polls. And what a performance from andruska, $400,000 pay packet and the best she can come up with is “I don’t recall”. And to all those nuffies who pooh-poohed any suggestion that there was politics behind this, especially those who posted what they thought were clever sarcastic remarks at the time about it, tough luck, nuffies! You were played like guitars. But that would be the story of your lives. Lacking in both intellect, curiosity, and with low self-esteem, they just lapped it up from the media hacks who were telling them what they wanted to hear. If only they could think for themselves. But to think for yourself would require a degree of honestly they lack, but luckily there are still some people for which the truth actually matters!

      • August 14th 2014 @ 9:23am
        andyl12 said | August 14th 2014 @ 9:23am | ! Report

        dean- how does “darkest day” analysis exonerate Hird and Essendon for the atrocities they committed?

        • August 14th 2014 @ 9:27am
          deanp said | August 14th 2014 @ 9:27am | ! Report

          “atrocities”??? good gawd andy, you need to stop listening to the media hacks. Here’s a challenge for you. Get out your thesaurus, and see if you can come up with a word to adequately describe the downing of mh 17, or the actions of ISIS in iraq. Do you think you can do it?

          • August 14th 2014 @ 9:52am
            andyl12 said | August 14th 2014 @ 9:52am | ! Report

            You bring up MH17 and Iraq as if they somehow excuse what happened at Essendon. Next we’ll probably hear James Hird using that defence.

            • August 14th 2014 @ 10:27am
              KenAgain said | August 14th 2014 @ 10:27am | ! Report

              I think dean is actually tanya hird

              • August 14th 2014 @ 3:45pm
                mattyb said | August 14th 2014 @ 3:45pm | ! Report

                I’ll make a note of that.

      • Roar Rookie

        August 14th 2014 @ 10:24am
        Lamby said | August 14th 2014 @ 10:24am | ! Report

        There was political pressure on ASADA to speed up the process and produce a result. ASADA, it seemed, ignored the pressure to follow their process and their own time frames.

        This was a nice side-show. But does not change the facts that ASADA think that there is enough evidence to show that at lease some EFC players took banned substances. Enjoy season 2015.

        Played? You are the one who believes that EFC will record daily skin-folds/weights program/training regime/distance ran/resting heart rates/etc, but did not record injections!

        • August 14th 2014 @ 11:25am
          deanp said | August 14th 2014 @ 11:25am | ! Report

          err … my credulous friend, I believe the govt were after a quick result, but not just any result, but one that would help justify their “darkest day” press stunt

          • Roar Guru

            August 14th 2014 @ 11:57am
            Cat said | August 14th 2014 @ 11:57am | ! Report

            But what you conveniently fail to recognise is that the government didn’t get the ‘quick outcome’ it was allegedly looking for, that means ASADA did not crumble to outside pressures and remained on task, which means that this whole agenda was nothing but another, in a very long line of them, smokescreens to deflect from the real issues.

            It would be an issue is ASADA did cave, but obviously they didn’t and haven’t so this whole line of questioning is irrelevant to the real issue.

            • August 14th 2014 @ 12:17pm
              deanp said | August 14th 2014 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

              or they didn’t have the evidence …

              • August 14th 2014 @ 2:34pm
                Christo the Daddyo said | August 14th 2014 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

                Yes, and I wonder why… As Lamby points out – the club can provide evidence for all sorts of other things, but (surprise, surprise!), nobody knows what the players were injected with. If the people responsible for that had ANY decency they would resign immediately.

            • August 14th 2014 @ 2:58pm
              Pete from Sydney said | August 14th 2014 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

              they did and they will Gene…they caved to the AFL and they caved to the federal government, and they will cave when they lose this case, the previously gathered evidence will be not admissable, they’ll either have to start again without the coercion and strong-arming of the AFL…or give it away for what it plainly is…a beat-up.

              By the way if as i’m saying Essendon wins stage one, will you and all the nay-sayers agree with the umpires decision or not? I some how doubt in your case…your dislike of Essendon is almost palpable…maybe it’s to do with Bomber coming back to his home club, I really don’t know why..but you do have a bee in your bonnet.

              • Roar Guru

                August 14th 2014 @ 3:06pm
                Cat said | August 14th 2014 @ 3:06pm | ! Report

                Whether EFC gets wins this round or not, matters very little to me,as it does not answer the only questions that are important. What substances were used and where are the records?

                For the record Essendon has never done anything for me to hate or like them, just one of those middle clubs with no particular relevance to me, too busy hating Freo and Hawthorn, teams that actually accomplish something on the field.
                As for Bomber leaving, don’t like the way he went about it but I was all for replacing him when he resigned, his time was clearly up with the playing group.

              • August 14th 2014 @ 3:09pm
                Pope Paul VII said | August 14th 2014 @ 3:09pm | ! Report

                Don’t think that will happen. The evidence is strong that is why ASADA have ploughed on. Australia would become a laughing stock, given strong words about doping by other countries.

              • August 14th 2014 @ 5:04pm
                Pete from Sydney said | August 14th 2014 @ 5:04pm | ! Report

                Matters very little? For a non supporter of the club you’ve had plenty to say…I’m thinking it matters quite a bit to you…

      • August 14th 2014 @ 3:41pm
        mattyb said | August 14th 2014 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

        Hey dean,you lapping up everything hird is telling you.stop needleing everyone when the facts are hird has to go.I don’t need the media to tell me that,it’s obvious.essendon supporters should start supporting the club not the golden child.

    • August 14th 2014 @ 7:55am
      Kasey said | August 14th 2014 @ 7:55am | ! Report

      Its not going to end whilst the golden child Hird refuses to take responsibility for his actions or lack thereof and just points and exercises the “5 Ds of dodgeball” manouvre. He seems to have no idea or no care-factor how this is playing out in the court of public opinion and in sports conversations across the country. The black-eye for the game continues and how long has it been going on now? 2-4 years?

      • August 14th 2014 @ 8:54am
        Don Freo said | August 14th 2014 @ 8:54am | ! Report

        What’s with this’Golden Child’ bit? Smacks of reverse elitism. Essendon have made him the fall guy. David Evans could clear a lot of this up with some truth and, in doing so, could restore a friendship. What if Hird is the fall guy?

        • August 14th 2014 @ 9:01am
          Christo the Daddyo said | August 14th 2014 @ 9:01am | ! Report

          “Essendon have made him the fall guy”

          No, the coach is supposed to be responsible for what happens to the players. Hird loves using the phrase “I take full responsibility”, but never shows any sign of actually acting on it.

        • August 14th 2014 @ 11:08am
          vocans said | August 14th 2014 @ 11:08am | ! Report

          Hird was responsible along with others, AND he AGREED to be the fall guy on a million dollars and a guaranteed return to his position.

        • August 14th 2014 @ 12:13pm
          Pumping Dougie said | August 14th 2014 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

          Hird was a strong advocate of the program and text / email evidence suggest he stone-walled people who opposed (HR, Dr Reid), using his power within the club to dismiss their concerns as ‘out of date’, the same way a bully does. He encouraged Danks and had a relationship with the drug dealer (Shane Charters) from his playing days, which hints at his morals and why he went down this path. If he had not been one of the primary advocates of the program (which all the evidence suggests) and had not been warned so strongly by his close friend Dr Reid (re: Reid’s letter to Hird), then you could argue he ‘was just the coach’ and was ignorant. But clearly this wasn’t the case. He made appalling decisions that put at risk the health of his players and compromised the integrity of the game; he should suffer consequences accordingly.

          • August 15th 2014 @ 9:46am
            mcmanpp said | August 15th 2014 @ 9:46am | ! Report

            Pumping Dougie:- yours is a good summary, but I would go further. To say Coach Hird was “a strong advocate of the program (sic)” is to understate the matter. If you take Coach Hird out of the picture, there would have been no supplements programme. Coach Hird’s actions initiated, green-lighted and facilitated all that was necessary to implement the programme. His subsequent efforts to retreat from what he put in place betray the principles he espouses as a Director of GEMBA.

            GEMBA’s website states “We have a set of values that we take very seriously. These are not just words on a plaque in the foyer – we measure them, we hold ourselves accountable to them” and we “give great attention to detail.” In the legal action Coach Hird enjoined with Essendon Football Club, he took ASADA’s former CEO to task for taking her eye off the ball, for delegating that which she should have monitored and managed herself, and for allowing a situation to develop in which lines were crossed, transgressions occurred.

            The irony of Coach Hird’s (and EFC’s) legal argument is gob-smacking; the hypocrisy of it is stomach-churning.

        • August 14th 2014 @ 2:12pm
          andyl12 said | August 14th 2014 @ 2:12pm | ! Report

          Evans tried to tell the truth and Hird had him removed as a result.

          • August 14th 2014 @ 2:59pm
            Pete from Sydney said | August 14th 2014 @ 2:59pm | ! Report


        • August 14th 2014 @ 8:19pm
          Bobbo7 said | August 14th 2014 @ 8:19pm | ! Report

          No Hird has not acted in the interests of the club. He has to go.

        • August 14th 2014 @ 8:45pm
          Darren said | August 14th 2014 @ 8:45pm | ! Report

          Seriously how deluded can you be Don. David Evans resigned. Hird was suspended on full pay. He has made it clear he takes no responsibility for what happened. If he believes that he has no idea of the role of the head coach and the only possible explanation for Essendon standing by him is ‘the golden child’ effect.

    • August 14th 2014 @ 8:01am
      The Doctor said | August 14th 2014 @ 8:01am | ! Report

      Essendon are only serving to further disgrace their organisation. The mere attempt to avoid the Show Cause notices on a technicality screams guilt.

      • August 14th 2014 @ 4:04pm
        Fil said | August 14th 2014 @ 4:04pm | ! Report

        Comment of the day!!

        You have cut straight through to the heart of the issue.

    • August 14th 2014 @ 8:31am
      Daza said | August 14th 2014 @ 8:31am | ! Report

      It is just sad for the game, and everyone seems to be missing the most important point……what the hell was given to the players???? The players appear to be the real losers here, particualy last year. For the good of the game and the club, surely Hird can’t be part of football anymore.

      I don’t even know what the the last three days have been about……worst case scenario is that ASADA will just go through the process again and we will be back to square one……just all seems so pointless and more about egos!!!

    • August 14th 2014 @ 8:49am
      andyl12 said | August 14th 2014 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      What’s not mentioned in your article Glenn Mitchell is that whoever wins this case, we can expect players to sue the club eventually if the above Age article is any guide. Don’t be surprised if it takes until 2020 to settle that one.

      • August 14th 2014 @ 8:56am
        Don Freo said | August 14th 2014 @ 8:56am | ! Report

        It’s The Age Andy…hardly legit.

        • August 14th 2014 @ 9:20am
          andyl12 said | August 14th 2014 @ 9:20am | ! Report

          If it was illegit they would’ve been sued for defam.

          • August 14th 2014 @ 9:56am
            Don Freo said | August 14th 2014 @ 9:56am | ! Report

            Not until this settles.

            • August 14th 2014 @ 10:06am
              andyl12 said | August 14th 2014 @ 10:06am | ! Report

              Nothing’s stopping them from doing it now.

      • August 14th 2014 @ 10:05am
        AR said | August 14th 2014 @ 10:05am | ! Report

        Some Sharks players have already instituted proceedings against Cronulla.

        Once Hird is out of the picture, the same will happen at Essendon.

      • August 14th 2014 @ 4:08pm
        Fil said | August 14th 2014 @ 4:08pm | ! Report

        And WATCH OUT for Matthew Richardson to be the first ex Victorian Rules player to sue the game’s administration for brain damage suffered during his career!

        It’s ALL down hill for the game from here.

        • August 14th 2014 @ 6:39pm
          Benji said | August 14th 2014 @ 6:39pm | ! Report

          This guy makes me laugh…. Lots

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