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Shane Flanagan may be back, but we must never forget why he was banned

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21st September, 2019
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Shane Flanagan has received the green light to return to the NRL, although Todd Greenberg emphasised this was not to be “a set and forget approach”.

Rather, the former Sharks mentor will be permitted to come back as an assistant in 2020 and 2021, with the possibility of being appointed to a head coaching role on the cards again from 2022 onwards.

What’s more, Flanagan will be under scrutiny for the coming two years – a sort of coaching parole if you will.

“Shane and any future club who employs him has numerous conditions which they must comply with and the Integrity Unit will continue to monitor his conduct over the next two seasons,” Greenberg said.

Harsh? Yeah, nah. For the second time Flanagan has got off lightly.

The convenient narrative is that Flanagan was barred from coaching because he sent a few emails while he was on a previous ban.

However, this fails to take into account the reason he was on said first ban.

While the goings-on at Cronulla while Stephen Dank was overseeing their supplements program remain murky to this day – a fact that pisses me off no end, but I guess it is what it is – what cannot be overlooked is that Flanagan was ultimately responsible.

I’m not saying he was the man holding the needle, although according to the Sydney Morning Herald, “Those who knew the intimate details of the investigation reckoned Flanagan should never be allowed near a football club again.”

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Regardless, as the head coach, it was his job to ensure the young men at his club were given due care by the medical professionals they were sent to.

On that count, he failed his charges miserably, as evidenced by the fact 17 players received show cause notices from ASADA.

While an athlete is ultimately responsible for what goes into their body, the fact 17 (17!) players got popped shows that this wasn’t a case of players going off the reservation.

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No, this was a club-sanctioned program – and whether he was actively involved or not, responsibility ultimately had to lie with Flanagan.

The players received 12-month bans for their part, although the bans were backdated, so they really only missed three weeks of footy.

As for Flanno, he was also given a year-long stretch on the sidelines; however, that was reduced to nine months because he was such a good boy while he was cooling his heels.

Let’s digest that for a second. It may have been backdated, but the players – on paper – did more time out of the game than the coach who allowed them to be put in such a compromising position.

Then, late last year, it came to light that Flanagan had been actively involved in the Sharks’ recruitment and retention while he was on time out.

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan watches his team warm up

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

So while the story goes that Flanno’s 2019 was a write-off because he didn’t stick to the terms of a previous ban, what should never be forgotten is what the previous ban was for.

Jason Clare’s “blackest day in Australian sport” turned out to be a bit of a beat-up, but it did uncover that some pretty shonky stuff had been going on at both Cronulla and Essendon.

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And, again, in the case of the Sharks, Flanagan must wear a huge part of the blame for 17 show cause notices.

This isn’t just coming from me either. Wayne Bennett – who, as then-Knights coach, lost Jeremy Smith and Kade Snowden from his side as a result of the bans – was forthright in his opinion as to who was ultimately to blame.

“The people they trust more than anybody else in their lives and in what they do is their coaches and their staff,” Bennett said.

“They were told it wasn’t performance-enhancing. That’s been a constant since this has all happened and their trust has been breached and as a result of that, these men are now paying a price for it.”

“Yeah, the buck stops within the group that told them this was okay to do this.”

Geraldine Mills, the mother of former Cronulla player Stewart Mills, went further, saying that Flanagan “should be banned for life”.

“He should never be allowed to coach another team again,” Geraldine told the Daily Telegraph.

“This whole thing has effectively ruined my son’s career, and I can’t accept the head coach had no knowledge about any of it.”

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A lifetime ban is not without precedent in this matter either, with Dank ultimately receiving one – although, while ASADA welcomed the ban, it was handed down by the AFL.

As for whether Flanagan should have been ruled out forever, not enough evidence of who knew what was made public for the average person to make an informed opinion.

But the coach getting nine months – while the players he was supposed to be looking out for got 12 – sucks.

And that Flanagan ignored his initial ban isn’t just disrespectful to the NRL, who put the ban in place; it’s a massive up-yours to the players who will forever have an asterisk on their careers.

Because by refusing to take his medicine like a man, Flanagan was effectively saying, “I’ve done nothing wrong and don’t deserve to be out”.

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Lifetime ban? Maybe not. But nine months, then an indefinite ban that turns out to actually be just 12 months doesn’t pass the smell test for the person under whose watch 17 players became drug cheats.