AMID the trauma he has endured in the past three weeks, Essendon president David Evans has learnt plenty. In revealing a costly and detailed review of his club he admitted he has questioned himself and his own performance at the club he vowed to rebuild.
And although he has learnt some terrible things about what took place at his football club last year, Evans is holding fast to one relationship he sees as crucial to the Bombers’ future: his bond with James Hird.
One year ago the Bombers’ leader admitted there were risks attached to chairing a football club when one of your closest mates is the coach, but he could not have foreseen this.
On Wednesday, in announcing Dr Ziggy Switkowski’s review of his club, Evans said his relationship with Hird had not been challenged in the recent nightmare. If anything, he insisted, they had worked more closely in navigating the revelations that Essendon had become dysfunctional and was being investigated for using performance-enhancing drugs.
‘‘I feel strong,’’ he said, ‘‘I feel there’s a way through this. I feel we will be a better and stronger club for the experience even though what we uncover might be some things that are not good for football.’’
And since that extraordinary press conference in early February Evans has become aware of two key factors since he announced Essendon had reported itself to ASADA and the AFL. One is that the anti-doping agency will take several months to investigate the club – months in which Evans could be taking decisive action regarding his club’s administrative practices and personnel. Clearly there has to be change and change cannot wait.
The other he would not detail yesterday but related to some disturbing practices that have taken place without his knowledge. Nor, and this is damning for chief executive Ian Robson, was the administration aware of these practices.
At least three 2012 Essendon players have confirmed to football officials that they were injected in the stomach by Stephen Dank twice a week over a three-month period last season. Those players also named two senior coaches who participated in this supplements program. Dank has alleged those coaches’ supplements were ‘‘a little bit outside’’ the WADA code.
Evans says he has not questioned his coaches because he does not want to compromise the investigation. But it is that allegation that has proved a festering sore inside the club.
At least two coaches at the club are not happy with being smeared by the innuendo. Only Mark Thompson has publicly denied his involvement.
Former Essendon captain Matthew Lloyd two weeks ago on Channel Nine called on any coaches who did receive such injections – legal or not – to come forward to ease the tension, but the AFL and the Coaches’ Association won’t go anywhere near the topic.
Thompson has been in denial on several fronts, far less convincingly on Fox Footy on Monday night when he tried again to play down his authority at Essendon over the past two years. The fact is that for all his coaching brilliance so crucial for the untried Hird, Thompson has had far too big a say in off-field issues and his failure to follow administrative practices in his zeal to improve and fast-track the Bombers’ fortunes was one reason Paul Hamilton’s position as football boss became untenable.
Thompson was not the only culprit, but there’s no doubt the football department became increasingly cavalier. And there seems little doubt that Thompson pushed for the appointment of Dean Robinson and, by extension, Dank, both of whom were given an irresponsibly long leash. Inexcusable when you consider the players and careers at risk.
Thompson therefore is unlikely to survive and will probably fall on his sword before the year’s end.
Robson, though, must emerge as the most likely scalp. Evans insists this review is not about individuals, rather processes, but given the president admitted his lack of comfort with some ‘‘irregular practices and processes’’ and has been prepared to go to such lengths to uncover ‘‘what failed us’’ surely the buck must stop with the chief executive. For all his expertise in sponsorship and government relations, Robson clearly had no idea of what was taking place in the club’s core business – football.
This is a far cry from the Peter Jackson era. This disaster would not have taken place on his watch. Those players who emerged from last year’s Windy Hill laboratory could have done with a control freak like him.
Evans will survive because the AFL is backing him and he seems to have done everything right since his US sabbatical. James Hird, who is shocked and chastened by people he trusted and how he allowed this to happen, appears likely to survive. But Evans should be asking himself whether such a close friendship between coach and president was healthy for Essendon.
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