Heat slowly rising for grilled Essendon Bombers
THE cracks at Essendon started to appear last Saturday against the unbackable wooden spooners.
And tonight the increasing pressures off the field may finally get the better of the Bombers on it when they take on the only other unbeaten team, Geelong, in a top-of-the-table clash.
But for many of the players who, it must be said, have shown incredible resilience so far this season, having to confront the Cats may be the least of their worries this week.
While the findings from the Ziggy Switkowski internal investigation into the club's controversial supplement program were finally released on Monday, it would have been the grilling by Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority officials that began this week that really disrupted players' preparations.
Ziggy's review alone is sure to have repercussions for those at the club who don't consider their office to be a football ground, but the players have got to wait until the ASADA-AFL probe is over before they have any idea of their own fate.
The possibility of bans as lengthy as six months - a penalty favoured by respected sports doctor Peter Brukner and ex-ASADA chief Richard Ings - is still hanging over their heads.
Bombers assistant coach Mark Thompson admitted this week the probe would be taking its toll on the players and was probably the reason for their slow start against GWS.
"You can understand, on reflection, why they played like they did early in the game," he told Fox Footy.
"It's going to be the same this week. It's a big week, a very big week."
The players have also had to confront accusations - started by some rival clubs - attributing their unbeaten start to the lasting benefits of "performance-enhancing substances" rather than good old-fashioned grit and determination.
While appearing as a broken man on Monday, Essendon chairman David Evans was also "more and more confident" his players would avoid any ban, because he was "not prepared to concede" they had actually taken any banned substances.
Damning though was the media report yesterday that club documents had emerged showing certain players were prescribed weekly injections of the World Anti-Doping Agency-banned "substance" at the centre of the controversy, the anti-obesity drug AOD-9604, by the Dr Stephen Dank, and that the players signed off on it.
No doubt those players would now be hoping they didn't sign their careers away.
Looking to exploit grey areas around that drug's legality and possibly the WADA's rule 10.5.1 - which is effectively an "out" for athletes if they can prove beyond a doubt they didn't know what they were being given - Essendon officials have been working feverishly behind the scenes building cases to protect their most valuable assets.
There should have been as much time put into protecting them from Dank's "pioneering work" and the so-called "pharmacologically experimental environment".
Regardless of what happens to the players, who are guilty of being too naive, if nothing else, heads must certainly roll at Windy Hill - starting with chief executive Ian Robson.
In his findings, Ziggy put it mildly: "A number of management processes normally associated with good governance failed during this period."
Paul Hamilton, football manager throughout the 2012 season, is already gone - and with him the reason the letter written by Essendon's club doctor of 31 years, Bruce Reid - outlining his concerns over the supplement program - was never acted upon.
It could have prevented the Bombers finding themselves up to their proverbial cockpits in a doping scandal.