Essendon chairman Paul Little says the risk the AFL club’s 2014 season would have been virtually wiped out was what prompted the Bombers to accept their penalty deal with the AFL.
Essendon were on Tuesday night disqualified from this year’s finals, had coach James Hird suspended for 12 months, were fined $2 million and lost picks at each of the next two national drafts over last year’s supplements program.
Little said he had since been frequently asked why the Bombers accepted the negotiated penalty deal rather than fight on.
He said accepting the sanctions was the toughest moment he could have imagined as chairman, but to fight on would have been too great a risk.
“When the AFL released their charges they targeted a breach of rule 1.6 which is based on essentially conduct unbecoming and a very difficult defence was needed for that particular charge,” Little told a pre-match function ahead of the Bombers’ last game of the year against Richmond on Saturday night.
“Our legal experts concluded that it would be a risky legal fight and had we fought and lost the consequences could have been to virtually wipe out the Essendon Football Club for next year.
“This was a risk that I wasn’t prepared to take.”
Little publicly apologised for what he acknowledged was in retrospect an inappropriate and ill-advised supplements program.
“Most of all I’m sorry to our players for denying you the right to participate in this year’s finals and for not affording you the protection you deserve, when you have worked so hard and so effectively with 14 wins to earn your place in this year’s finals,” he said.
The chairman praised Hird for the resolve he has shown under pressure while the club has been under investigation and said the coach’s decision to accept his ban was clearly in Essendon’s best interests.
“He has also shown remorse, admitted his mistakes and taken responsibility for his role in the program last year,” Little said.
“No one wanted it to end like this but I know that he will come back a better coach and most importantly a better person and I can assure you of that.”
Little said the Bombers were yet to decide who would fill Hird’s position during his suspension.
He said it was now time for Essendon to rebuild, but used a quote from British war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill to suggest that would not be easy.
“Now is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end but it is perhaps the end of the beginning,” Little said.