In football terms, we are finally at Three Quarter Time in the Essendon supplements saga.
The AFL, which has had a quiet and particularly poor game on the subject, has hit back hard.
Essendon – who have led the contest for most of the saga are no longer the frontrunners and now have to defend for their professional lives.
Late Tuesday night after a day in which the media were almost hoodwinked, the AFL commission charged the Essendon coach (James Hird), the Football Manager (Danny Corcoran), the club doctor (Dr. Bruce Reid), the senior assistant coach (Mark Thompson) and the footy club as a whole for brining the game into disrepute under the powers outlined in section 1.6 of the AFL rule book.
While the press conference outlining the charges was brief, the shot fired across was Essendon’s bow was a cannonball.
Even though most people (including myself) were underwhelmed by the effort despite testing our respective bosses’ patience, the message was dead strong.
Essentially, AFL has come to the conclusion that the while there was no proof of any direct knowledge of an illegal operation, the governance by officials of the supplement program at Windy Hill was woeful.
So where to now for all the parties involved?
While there is little that can be assured of, one definite is that the best QC’s in Melbourne can be assured of lobster dinners and good cognac for a while.
It will get legal and it will get nasty.
The AFL is adamant that its case is strong and that Essendon has broken the laws of the game.
Andrew Demetriou and AFL staff members have been hinting for weeks that Essendon and certain officials are up to their noses in the saga.
If the evidence is concrete, AFL commissioners will hit the club and those involved heard to protect the image of the game and serve as a warning for those who wish to push the boundaries.
On the other side of the coin, Essendon and the individuals charged remain steadfast in their belief that they have done nothing wrong.
While Paul Little acknowledged in a statement that wrongdoing had occurred at the club, his wording was interpreted as a statement of defiance and a deceleration of war against any harsh AFL sanctions (i.e. loss of premiership points).
“Essendon takes these matters very seriously, they are based on assertions contained in an interim report from ASADA and will be vigorously defended,” he said.
“These are very complex matters and whilst the Essendon Football Club is determined to resolve them expeditiously, that cannot be at the expense of thoroughness and due process that affords all parties natural justice to ensure a fair outcome.”
If the AFL goes for the ultimate punishment of deducting premiership points and banning individuals, expect a full-blown legal response from the club that could drag everyone to a reluctant date at the High Court in Canberra.
What about the players you ask?
It is true that the AFL had no evidence to level infraction notices against Bombers players for taking banned substances.
But the bone-headed social media experts who used this as evidence to prove nothing illegal occurred at Windy Hill are ignorant about the safety of the players from punishment.
The AFL’s non-action doesn’t mean that nothing wrong occurred; it just means the investigation hasn’t found the smoking gun.
The ASDA report from which the AFL laid charges was interim and only focused on governance issues.
ASADA is still looking into what the players took and is yet to complete that report.
Even if they find that A0D-9604 was ok for use by the players, the World-Anti Doping Agency (WADA) will surely request a copy as their boss – former NSW Premier John Fahey – has been adamant the drug Jobe Watson admitted using is illegal under WADA rules.
If anything the playing list has a future murkier than the staff members who were charged, as they must sweat it out while ASADA finalises the investigation.
I believe we are entering the final quarter of this bitter showdown that has divided Australia.
It could be a long term, as the legal aspects will become the equivalent of stoppage congestion.
As for us fans, we have to painfully sit out this final term in a match that has become as dour as a Subiaco match involving the Fremantle Dockers.
Answers are needed and a score is required to finish off a painful chapter in the history of Australian Rules Football.