EXCLUSIVE: Former Bomber Dean Rioli on the Essendon supplements scandal

As an avid and loyal Essendon person, it has been a very long and gruelling three seasons watching my beloved Bombers endure the pain of the supplements saga. A guilty verdict by the Court of Arbitration for Sport has now dealt a gut-wrenching penalty for 34 young men.

I must make it clear and admit that I am not across every detail of the entire case and these days I am purely a person on the outside, with my own personal view of the issue like everyone else. But being a past player of the footy club, I cannot escape the public questioning and comments.

James Hird is a legend of the Essendon Football Club and I was fortunate enough to have him as my captain during my time at the club. He bleeds black and red and it was a shame for him to end his coaching career in the way he did. I believe he would have made a very good senior coach at AFL level as he was a leader that earnt the respect of the players he led.

Hird may not have known that the players were being injected with illegal supplements, but as the Head Coach you have to put your hand up and acknowledge responsibility for the people and programs you implement under your watch.

Being a coach myself at local level I like to delegate responsibility to my assistant coaches and fitness staff. I communicate and make informed decisions with the medical staff and after all the delegating and deliberating with my staff, I have the final say on what we do. I am responsible for the direction and well-being of the players and as the Head coach, I live and die by the sword.

In hindsight, the decisions to accept the advice of the “legal experts” to fight for the innocence of Hird and the playing group has now resulted in player suspensions three years later, instead of them serving their punishment at the time of offence – as the Cronulla Sharks did. In the end, Cronulla players missed just three games of the remaining season and were then eligible to commence playing the following season.

The 34 Essendon players have been found to be as guilty as the Cronulla players, but there’s one difference; to the Sharks who put their hand up early and admitted they were a part of the program – even though they had no knowledge of doing anything wrong – the drug scandal is a distant, unpleasant memory. Done and dusted.

Essendon has taken off in a new direction and I believe it is a positive change for the entire football club. The appointment West Coast Eagles premiership captain and coach John Worsfold has been a breath of fresh air.

As a player, Worsfold was a fearless leader and very much in the category of current Hawthorn skipper Luke Hodge. He was unsociable and demanded high standards from everyone involved. Mark Harvey was also an unsociable player – and a great coach – so having these people around during this tough period should be a positive for the football club, and in particular the playing group.

The 2016 Bombers will have a huge challenge on their hands just to be competitive enough to attract supporters to come and watch games. As loyal as Bombers fans may be, they do not want to sit and watch their second tier team lose matches by 10 plus goals each week.

That in itself is going to be a financial loss for the Bombers or any side playing the Bombers as the gate takings will be down. The Bombers will have over 1400 games experience sitting on the sideline watching their mates battle against the odds each week and we can only imagine what thoughts are going through their minds. Will they feel Regret, Anger, Resentment or Acceptance?

The top-up players called in to fill the void have a huge task on their hands as some of them were seen to be past their used-by dates or even not good enough to be selected in the last draft by 18 clubs. Hopefully the players at least can play a role in fast-tracking the youth coming through by passing on knowledge and experience, which in turn may be a positive for the club in the coming years.

Rookie-listed players are going to get a premature shot at playing league football so this is going to be a great chance for them to shine. Supporters will need to accept and understand that they cannot expect too much from some of these kids and shouldn’t write them off too soon if they can’t compete with elite opposition sides for four quarters.

Dean Rioli
Dean Rioli

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