How the AFL’s Essendon saga unfolded


August-September 2010: Essendon sack Matthew Knights as senior coach, replacing him with James Hird. Fellow former Bombers captain Mark Thompson is also named as one of Hird’s deputies

2011-12: Sports scientist Stephen Dank oversees a supplements regime at Essendon


February 5: Following weeks of speculation, Essendon hold a media conference where they announce they are coming under AFL and ASADA investigation over supplements use at the club. It emerges that Dank and fitness boss Dean Robinson left the club in 2012

February 7, 2013: The so-called “blackest day in Australian sport”. AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou is among key Australian sporting officials who join Sports Minister Kate Lundy and Justice Minister Jason Clare at a Federal Government media conference in Canberra. The media are told of grave concerns about organised crime infiltrating Australian sport in areas such as doping and betting

April 12: Demetriou says Hird has to consider standing down as the investigations continues into the supplements saga. Later that night, Essendon have a rousing win over Fremantle in Perth. Hird is adamant he will not step aside

May 6: An internal Essendon review commissioned by former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski is made public. It includes the damning accusation: “a disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or challenged or documented within the club”.

May 23: Essendon chief executive Ian Robson resigns, the saga’s first significant casualty

June 24: Essendon captain and 2012 Brownlow Medallist Jobe Watson admits in a TV interview that he took the anti-obesity drug AOD-9604, which at the time is considered a key substance in the saga

July 26: Essendon lose a big Friday night match to Hawthorn by 56 points. Chairman David Evans, who has fallen out with Hird over the saga, has a physical breakdown in the Essendon rooms after the game and resigns the following day, with Paul Little taking over

August 13: Following the release of an interim ASADA report, the AFL charges Hird, Thompson, club doctor Bruce Reid, Bombers football manager Danny Corcoran and the club itself with bringing the game into disrepute

August 21: The AFL releases details of the charges it has laid. Hird and Little hold a media conference where they blast the league.

August 27: After behind-the-scenes legal wranglings, the AFL hands down a series of penalties. Essendon are kicked out of the 2013 finals, fined $2 million and stripped of draft picks. Hird is suspended for 12 months, while Corcoran and Thompson are also punished.


AFL season: Thompson, who revels in his role as interim coach while Hird serves his suspension, takes Essendon to a losing elimination final against North Melbourne

March 20: Hird’s wife Tania, known to be furious at how her husband has been treated in the saga, drops a bombshell. In a TV interview, she says Demetriou tipped off Essendon before the supplements investigation started. The AFL boss has always strenuously denied having any prior knowledge about the investigation

June 12: The anti-doping process officially starts, with ASADA issuing show cause notices against 34 current and past Essendon players over the supplements regime

June 13: Essendon and Hird launch Federal Court action against ASADA, saying the joint investigation was unlawful

August 11-13: Federal Court hearing before Justice John Middleton. Hird and ASADA boss Aurora Andruska give evidence

September 19: Middleton rules in favour of ASADA

October 2: Hird appeals to the Federal Court, but Essendon does not, straining the relationship between coach and club. There is even speculation, proven incorrect, that the club has sacked Hird

October 2: Robinson settles a wrongful dismissal claim with Essendon out of court

October 17: ASADA issues fresh show cause notices

November 11: Thompson leaves Essendon after negotiations with the club break down over what role he might have, given Hird’s suspension is ending

November 14: The AFL serves infraction notices against the 34 players. While Watson and Dustin Fletcher play for Australia in international rules, the others immediately start provisional suspensions

December 15: The AFL anti-doping tribunal starts its hearing, which is held in private


January 30: The Federal Court rules against Hird’s appeal

March: Essendon field a team, including top-ups, in the pre-season as they await the tribunal verdict

March 31: The players are cleared

April 17: The AFL anti-doping tribunal find Dank guilty of 10 charges

May 12: WADA launch an appeal against the anti-doping tribunal’s findings on the 34 players, taking the case to the Confederation of Aribitration for Sport

June 25: Dank handed a lifetime ban

August 18: With Essendon’s season in freefall following the WADA appeal, Hird and the Bombers part ways

October 5: John Worsfold appointed as Essendon coach

November 9: WorkSafe Victoria charge Essendon with breaching the occupational health and safety laws. The Bombers are later fined $200,000

November 16: WADA’s CAS appeal is underway

December 14: Lindsay Tanner replaces Little as Essendon chairman


January 12: CAS rules against the 34 players and the 17 still on AFL lists – including 12 at Essendon – are banned for the season. The AFL says pending any appeal by the players, the Commission will conduct a hearing to decide whether Watson should keep his 2012 Brownlow Medal

February 9: The 34 players launch a last-ditch appeal through the Swiss legal system

AFL season: Essendon’s makeshift team, featuring 10 top-up recruits, finishes last. It is Essendon’s first wooden spoon since 1933. Meanwhile NRL club Cronulla, who also suffered heavy penalties for a supplements program with strong connections to Dank, win their first premiership. Cronulla, lacking Essendon’s financial clout, opted not to fight their penalties

September 22: Watson confirms he will return to Essendon, ending weeks of speculation about his AFL future. Of the 12 banned Essendon players still on their list, only Michael Hibberd, who seeks a trade to Melbourne, and Tayte Pears, who retires for a career in firefighting, will not be back

October 11: The players’ appeal fails

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