Dream team's nightmare

Controversy: Essendon is in hot water over allegations the players were injected with supplements.
Controversy: Essendon is in hot water over allegations the players were injected with supplements.
James Hird, right, fronts the media on Tuesday. How could he not have known?

James Hird, right, fronts the media on Tuesday. How could he not have known?

THAT the Essendon Football Club, its multimillion-dollar football department and dream team of coaches allowed its team to be hijacked by so-called sports scientists has been a massive issue for the club even before Tuesday's frightening revelations.

This time last year, the same physical education ''experts'' who have now been connected to allegations they provided players with potentially performance-enhancing substances advised the team to fly to Wangaratta to preserve their bodies before a pre-season game.

The dreadful consequences led to public ridicule for Essendon and cost the club socially and politically. But that was nothing compared with the heavy toll on the players' bodies as they paid the price for a crazy training regime.

That, in turn, was nothing compared with the insidious rumours that have haunted the club for months and on Tuesday led to a humiliated chairman David Evans turning to the AFL and Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority to conduct an investigation into what his highly paid football department has been doing to his playing list.

It is an investigation that could implicate the reigning Brownlow medallist and one of the game's most respected young men. It is an investigation that could sideline an entire football club. It is an investigation that has savage implications for the Bombers coach, an AFL legend and one of its greatest ever.

If the investigation finds illegal substances were dealt to players, then James Hird must be deemed partially responsible. How could a senior coach have been blind to what was taking place? How could the chief executive have known nothing?

As recently as Monday, past and present senior football executives were telling Fairfax Media nothing untoward had taken place. Legal action was threatened. Were they lying or simply gullible?

Now it has emerged the AFL was investigating Essendon well before Evans voiced his fears to league bosses on Tuesday. Stephen Dank, the former Manly Sea Eagles physical conditioning expert, was removed from the club last year. Dean Robinson, the highly paid ''Weapon'' whose three-year, $1 million-plus contract so infuriated the AFL and its doctors, has been suspended by the club - his removal directly linked to Tuesday's revelations.

Robinson only kept his job at the end of last season because lawyers became involved and the club felt it would not turn to supporters for money to help fund its new Tullamarine headquarters and pay out a phys-edder close to $750,000. His influence had already been diminished before all of this.

He worked with Dank at Manly and with Mark Thompson at Geelong. Thompson, whose journey back to Essendon was clouded by dishonesty and double-dealing, played a key role in recruiting Robinson. Thompson, too, must wear some responsibility.

Robinson and Dank also worked at Gold Coast.

For some time, the view at the top was that disgruntled former players, who appear to include Kyle Reimers, have been raising concerns about untoward practices at the club last year, in which players signed waivers before injecting certain supplements that may or may not prove illegal.

Those concerns were discussed by club doctors. As distressed as the AFL must be by all of this, some members of the commission at least would feel further vindicated for their disdain for the sports science industry and how it hijacked football.

But those ''phys-edders'' don't deserve all the blame.

That also lies with a proud and famous football club that - at best - admitted on Tuesday it could not say for sure whether it allowed its players to take dangerous and maybe even performance-enhancing substances.

This story Dream team's nightmare first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.