AN expletive-laden tape recording of a private Essendon management meeting over the 2012 supplements program reveals allegations the AFL recanted over punishments to players and administrators for doping.
The recording, released by the Herald Sun, purportedly involves club chairman Paul Little, coach James Hird, assistant coach Mark Thompson and football boss Danny Corcoran — none of whom are now at the Bombers — during a meeting on August 8 at the club’s headquarters.
In the tape, Little accuses AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan, then deputy chief, of betraying his word that players would not be pursued for lengthy bans over their involvement in the club’s ill-fated 2012 supplements program. The meeting was reportedly held hours after AFL legal representatives told the club charges would be laid over doping.
“Every single issue that I agreed on with Gil McLachlan, and I met with him the other night, has pretty much been reversed now in this note here,” Little said in the recording.
“We spoke about getting the players cleared ‘unconditionally’ — was the word I used. I rang him last night and I said, ‘you know, you’ve really upset me here because you’ve gone back on your word, Gil’.
“’You told me one thing and now you’re doing something else’. “He then said to me, ‘there is a 99 per cent chance that the players won’t be charged.’ And I said, ‘well, I’d like to believe you but are you happy for me to use that language in front of the players?’ And he said, ‘oh no, you can’t do that’.
“And I said, ‘well f***, you’re telling me one thing and over here I can’t tell anything to the players’.”
An exasperated Hird adds: “They’re a pack of f***ing lying p****s … and they have done from the start.”
Days later, following the release of an interim Australia Sports Anti-Doping Authority report, the AFL charged Hird, Thompson, club doctor Bruce Reid, Corcoran and the club itself with bringing the game into disrepute.
The AFL handed down a series of penalties, including kicking Essendon out of the 2013 finals, a $2 million fine and stripping of draft picks.
Hird was suspended for 12 months, while Corcoran and Thompson were also punished.
In 2015, the Court of Arbitration for Sports ruled the 34 past and present Bombers players be banned for the 2016 season.
AFL CHIEF: I NEVER LIED
McLachlan dismissed the release of the recording today, saying no deal was ever reached that would protect the Essendon players from being charged.
“No, what I would say, I haven’t listened to the tape but it’s three years ago in the context of a whole series of discussions and it takes in an isolated meeting,” McLachlan told SEN.
“Our view at the time was the players wouldn’t be charged … however, everyone knows there was no certainty of that … in the agreements with the club and individuals it was explicit it didn’t mean the players wouldn’t be charged.”
The AFL chief was bemused at the timing of today’s bombshell — and that Essendon had chosen to record the meeting in the first place
Bombers thinking big picture
“I’m disappointed today. Essendon had their season launch last night … there’s not anything new in this as I understand it. It’s just bizarre that someone would record their chairman privately. I think that’s what got people interested in it,” McLachlan said.
McLachlan refuted claims he lied to Essendon at any stage, saying the club needed to take responsibility for its actions.
“I don’t (believe they’ve been mistreated at any stage) but I can’t control how people feel about that,” he said.
“The club accepted the supplements program was run, there was an unacceptable risk administered to players and we still don’t know what they (the players) were given. There has to be accountability for that. What happened, happened.
“In terms of being called someone who lies, the day I lie to someone is the day I can’t do my job. We’d been in negotiation for a plea bargain deal … I don’t think I deviated once.
“There is nothing new in this other than salaciousness and this and that, from a group of people who are clearly aggrieved at the situation.”
WATSON NOT SURPRISED
Tim Watson, an Essendon great and father of then captain Jobe, said deep-rooted anger remained at Bomberland. “None of this comes as a surprise to me,” Watson told SEN.
“I am aware of people who are angry over what happened. They still haven’t been able to put behind them what happened.
“I believed at some stage they would produce something that was going to bring the story back to light and people would have to answer for what took place.”
Watson is of the belief the AFL attempted to negotiate a deal with ASADA. “They believed there was going to be a deal — a compromise between the two — with the players because they knew they weren’t guilty,” he said.
“And at some point, that changed. They thought they had a deal with ASADA … down the track that all changed.”
As McLachlan noted, the Herald Sun’s revelation dropped the day after Essendon held its season launch in front of 500 supporters.
Coach John Worsfold said the return of midfielders Watson, new captain Dyson Heppell, Heath Hocking and David Myers — all suspended last season — would boost the side.
“We want to be a team that loves the contest,” Worsfold said.
“We’ve got some big, strong midfielders back … who are going to really bring a strong presence at the stoppages for us.
“We’re aiming to love being in a tough, tight contest.”