As the meandering, clinging on for dear life, refusing to let go, literal Neverending Story that is the Essendon Football Club vs ASADA issue drags on, another football season looms large on the horizon.
Fortunate we are that this year happens to feature a late season start, thanks to the Cricket World Cup being held around the country throughout February and March. Were it not for that, we’d be certain to have another season overlapping with the issue.
But the problem remains that the AFL Tribunal needs a full calendar month to deliberate on its findings and punishments to be handed down to as many as 34 past and present Bombers players stemming from alleged infractions during the club’s highly contentious and secretive 2012 supplements program.
As such, the timeframe overlaps into the AFL’s pre-season schedule – the NAB Challenge. Although in years past the fixtures have been run as a mini tournament with a trophy on offer, now it’s been relegated to what the clubs treated them as in the first place; mere warm-up games and full match practice ahead of the gruelling Premiership Season.
Essendon’s playing list has been mulling over its options leading up to the fixtures, given that any games played would detrimentally effect their ability to be handed backdated suspensions in the event of a guilty verdict from the tribunal. All players levelled with infraction notices have been serving self-imposed provisional suspensions from the moment the final siren rang on their last game back in September. Though this in no way has precluded them from training or participating in club activities, effectively rendering a backdated suspension purely farcical if allowed.
But if players were to take part and suspensions were given, then the backdating, as asserted by ASADA, could only be drawn to the time of the last game, meaning they would start from the pre-season game played. A six month suspension, in this instance, would effectively wipe out a full season of football.
While the entire senior playing list at one point threatened to boycott the pre-season in a sign of solidarity and to protect the identity of the still-to-be publicly identified players – of the 34 charged, it’s thought that as many as 18 remain on the senior playing list – now it seems the agreement has been made. Essendon will indeed take part in its scheduled pre-season fixtures.
Though this is not without its provisos. In an effort to protect player anonymity, as many as 25 players will sit out the pre-season fixtures until the tribunal hands down its findings. This covers all the players who were at the club during the 2012 season.
Given the club’s current injury and light duties list, this means that in order to participate in its pre-season fixtures, the Dons will require top up players – likely sourced from the team’s VFL reserves list, and potentially from second-tier state competitions – in order to fill the team out. But it does not preclude superstar recruits like Brendon Goddard, Paul Chapman, and Adam Cooney, or recent young gun draftees like Joe Daniher, Zack Merrett, Patrick Ambrose along with new recruits Jayden Laverde and Kyle Langford.
Other clubs that are now playing home to former 2012 Bombers are also mulling their options for the pre-season competition, but are likely to follow suit and sit them out for the upcoming pre-season games. Of the former Bombers from 2012, only Stewart Crameri (now a Western Bulldog), Patrick Ryder and Angus Monfries (both at Port Adelaide) remain in the AFL system.
The Bombers first NAB Challenge fixture is scheduled for March 7 against St Kilda in Morwell.
The tribunal verdict is due in mid-March.
Photo: Michael Dodge via Getty Images.