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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

February 9 to 12, 2015
After a week of uncertainty and speculation, Essendon will field a team in the NAB Cup preseason games. It was rumored that the Bombers might boycott the preseason games, a “one in, all in” scenario. This boycott was for several potential reasons. The first was to protect the anonymity of the “supplements” players (provisionally suspended while the Tribunal considers its decision and ASADA's refusal to leave the suspensions backdated if the players took part in the NAB Challenge). The players involved wanted the suspensions backdated to when they last played in September of 2014.  As a result, they dropped their request to have the provisional suspensions lifted by the AFL Commission which has the power to do so. Bombers Dustin Fletcher and Jobe Watson are already at risk of losing part of the backdating due to the AFL allowing them to play in the International Rules Series late in 2014.

It was also speculated that should Essendon refuse to play, they faced fines, loss of premiership points and/or loss of draft picks. However, Chairman Paul Little denied the club ever planned an out-and-out boycott. He and other club officials worked closely with the AFL and the AFLPA to find a satisfactory solution. One decision which was finalized was that all of those listed players who were at the club in 2012 would sit out the games. This would still protect those who were handed infraction notices. Also sitting out the preseason are former Bombers Angus Monfries and Paddy Ryder (now at Port Adelaide) and Stewart Crameri (now at the Bulldogs). They are the only three former Bombers who are still playing AFL football. However, due to the closed hearings, it is not known if those three were also handed infraction notices.

With nearly half the senior list sitting out the games either due to the suspensions, injury or load management the club will need to find between 15 and 20 “top-up” players. Essendon has 45 players on the senior and rookie lists, of which an estimated 17 are facing the tribunal. It has a further eight from 2012 who did not receive infractions. This leaves the club with just 28 players for the preseason games. Essendon’s football manager Rob Kerr said the club was "conscious of the … other stakeholders involved … communities, broadcasters, players, state league clubs and the other AFL clubs” and that the club was working to come up with a solution which would "work for all concerned.” With games scheduled against St Kilda on March 7 followed by matches against GWS and Melbourne, Kerr acknowledged that not playing would also hurt the other clubs involved.

Friday, February 13
A decision of where the required players would come from was still not completely resolved. The options were to take players from the VFL and/or other state leagues, but this also presented problems due to contract issues, the difference in training regimens between secondary leagues and AFL level, insurance and conflicts for the players who have jobs outside of football. Not to mention the need for apparel and accommodations for the extra players. The AFLPA and Essendon are also concerned with health and safety issues which would arise by using younger, less experienced or VFL players. The Bombers were still in discussions with the AFL.

It was reported the task was in the hands of list manager Adrian Dodoro and that a list of "preferred targets" from state leagues had been drawn up. To this end, Dodoro had already been contacting the other leagues and player agents. According to Kerr, issues to be resolved included organizing accommodation, food and club apparel, as well as processing short-term contracts through the AFL. The League also needed to negotiate details of the salary cap implications from the additional payments made to top-up players, but believes this issue can be managed. VFL football operations manager John Hook has also worked closely with the AFL and their legal counsel Andrew Dillon. Hook believes there would not be an issue of contracted VFL players competing at AFL level.

Monday, February 16
Council Andrew Dillon submitted recommendations to the AFL Commission regarding list concessions for Essendon which would enable them to field a preseason team as well as contingency plans should any or all of the "supplements" players still on Essendon's list be found guilty and suspended by the Tribunal. The Commission approved those recommendations and Dillon was then given the task of overseeing these temporary player list concessions as well as the contingency plans should they be required.

For the NAB Cup games, Essendon will be allowed to sign players from their VFL team as well as players from other VFL clubs and other state league clubs with the restriction that no more than two players from each club can be signed by Essendon. However, even this has an emergency proviso which would allow more than two players provided the original club is not disadvantaged. This proviso will also apply should the club require replacement players during the season proper.

As spelled out by the Commission:
1. Essendon can sign contracts with any player not currently listed with an AFL club but who has been on an AFL list in the past two years.
2. With the exception of their own VFL listed players, Essendon can sign only two players from any club, unless Counsel Dillon agrees to exceptions provided the club is not disadvantaged.
3. The AFL, Essendon and the AFLPA will continue to work to ensure appropriate terms and conditions for the temporary players including minimum payments and provisions for injury, insurance and medical. Payment to the temporary players will be included in Essendon's salary cap but the club will be provided an allowance to cover those extra payments similar to injury allowances


Dillon said the recommendations were a "suitable outcome for the competition ... that recognizes the unprecedented situation ... does not unfairly disadvantage other clubs, and allows Essendon to field a team.”

Also on Monday, the Tribunal reconvened for two days to hear final oral submissions. They also received written submissions from ASADA, the players' counsel and the AFL. The ASADA submissions alone are understood to be several hundred pages long. Once the oral submissions are completed, these - as well as the written submissions and testimonies - will need to be considered and analyzed. After all of the testimonies and written submissions have been evaluated, the panel will issue written judgments for each of the 34 players. The first season match is scheduled for April 4, but until the final decisions are made, the players remain provisionally suspended.

Source: afl.com.au, theage.com.au, Patrick Keane, AFL Media Release

Article last changed on Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - 3:53 PM EDT


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