Essendon coach James Hird insists he was blindsided by the World Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to challenge the AFL’s anti-doping tribunal’s findings into the club’s 2012 supplement regime.
And whatever the outcome, he says his club will suffer on the field for it, preparing his players for further months of speculation and mental challenges.
In a tense and combative interview on Fox Footy, Hird said some of the 34 players alleged to have been involved in the club’s supplements regime would have walked away from the sport if they were found guilty by ASADA.
Now faced with an appeal from the world body, that looms as a real threat once more.
Despite the open window for WADA to appeal the decision, Hird said he didn’t see the appeal coming.
“I don’t think anyone at the club thought this would happen,” he said.
“It wasn’t even spoken about in the last few days.
“We know what happened, we know the players are innocent, we know they haven’t done anything wrong and we know that the players will get found innocent again.”
Challenged to provide proof of what the players took, which could clear the players beyond doubt, Hird said records had been handed to ASADA as part of the previous investigation.
“People at the Essendon football club believe they didn’t take thymosin beta-4 and are very confident they didn’t,” he said.
Without firm knowledge of what players were injected with, Hird suggested a degree of comfort among the player group and their families.
“Everyone is comfortable when we talk about `worst case’ that it isn’t harmful… what was possibly put into the players.”
The fourth-year coach said he expected the club’s form to be affected as long as the appeal hangs over their heads, beginning with Friday night’s match with North Melbourne.
“There will be periods when they’ll get through and play some good football,” he said.
“But there’s no doubt there will also be low periods.
“We’re going to have to work through that as a football club.”
Hird said while a few would have considered walking away with a guilty verdict in March, the playing group was again united against a challenge unprecedented in world sport.
“There’s no group of sporting people that have had to go through something like this to this extent,” he said.
“The great thing about our players is they’ve been through so much but they’re definitely united.”