ESSENDON'S worst fears have been realised with the Court of Arbitration for Sport finding 34 past and present players guilty of taking banned substance Thymosin Beta-4 and suspending them for the entire 2016 season.
Twelve players still on the Bombers' list and five now at other AFL clubs who took part in Essendon's 2012 supplements program have been hit with two-year bans beginning on March 31 last year.
However, most of the suspensions will come to an end on November 13 this year, taking into account provisional suspensions already served.
Bombers skipper Jobe Watson, vice-captain Dyson Heppell, reigning club champion Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley, Tom Bellchambers, Heath Hocking, Travis Colyer, Michael Hibberd, Ben Howlett, David Myers, Brent Stanton and Tayte Pears will all miss the Bombers' 2016 campaign.
The guilty decision impacts four other AFL clubs with former Essendon players on their lists, with Jake Carlisle (St Kilda), Stewart Crameri (Western Bulldogs), Jake Melksham (Melbourne), Angus Monfries and Patrick Ryder (Port Adelaide) to be sidelined for the season.
The AFL Commission will meet on Tuesday morning, with a media conference later in the day.
The AFL acknowledges CAS sanctions. AFL Commission will meet later this morning & Mike Fitzpatrick, Gill McLachlan will speak at a time tbc.
— AFL House (@AFL_House) January 11, 2016
The bombshell decision, which is final, overturns the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal's not guilty verdict from last March, following an appeal by the World Anti-Doping Authority.
CAS handed down its verdict on Tuesday morning after a three-man panel heard the appeal in Sydney last November.
In a statement, CAS said it found to its "comfortable satisfaction that Clause 11.2 of the 2010 AFL Doping Code (use of a prohibited substance) has been violated and found by a majority that all players were significantly at fault".
New Bombers chairman Lindsay Tanner confirmed the shattering news via the club's website.
"Regrettably we can confirm the Court of Arbitration for Sport has found 34 past and present players guilty of committing an anti-doping rule violation," Tanner said in a statement.
"As a result, the players - including 12 currently listed with Essendon - have been suspended for the 2016 season.
"The club is currently digesting the decision and we will provide a further update later today."
Former Essendon players Mark McVeigh and Brent Prismall are set to be suspended from their respective roles at Greater Western Sydney and the Western Bulldogs until November 13 as support staff are banned from any WADA-compliant sports under the sanctions.
McVeigh is an assistant coach at the Giants, while Prismall is a player wellbeing and welfare manager with the Bulldogs.
The duo were among a group of accused players – including David Hille, Cory Dell'Olio, Scott Gumbleton, Ricky Dyson and Watson – who gave evidence at the CAS hearing.
WADA used evidence collected by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority to secure a guilty verdict from CAS.
It was the same evidence presented to the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal, which was not 'comfortably satisfied' Essendon players were given Thymosin Beta-4.
But ASADA released a statement on Tuesday which said "the different outcome represents the proper application of the burden of proof – comfortable satisfaction – as intended by the World Anti-Doping Code".
ASADA CEO Ben McDevitt said: "This unfortunate episode has chronicled the most devastating self-inflicted injury by a sporting club in Australian history."
McDevitt said there was "little ground" for the players to claim they were at no significant fault given their responsibility for all substances that enter their bodies.
"At best, the players did not ask the questions, or the people, they should have. At worst, they were complicit in a culture of secrecy and concealment," he said.
Port Adelaide general manager of football Chris Davies said the club was extremely disappointed with the decision.
"Clearly, we are extremely disappointed with today’s outcome and in particular we are devastated for Angus (Monfries) and Paddy (Ryder), who have been through so much already.
"This has been a long, drawn out process for both of them and we are most unhappy that it has ended with such a significant suspension."
St Kilda, too, responded: "Jake (Carlisle) is understandably devastated with the decision, and our priority is to provide him with ongoing welfare and support.
"St Kilda is currently liaising with the AFL and the AFLPA to determine more detailed implications of this morning’s decision and will provide further updates as appropriate."
Melbourne expressed its disappointment as losing Melksham for the season.
"Jake was recruited to our club for the long term," coach Paul Roos said.
"Today's decision is desperately disappointing for Jake, but as I've reassured him, the club will do everything in its power to support him until he can officially return to the club in a training and playing capacity.
"Speaking with Jake today, he is obviously personally devastated by this decision but also very concerned for the other 33 players and the impact it can have on their lives.
"Jake is only 24 years old and still has a long and successful career ahead of him at the Melbourne Football Club, which we look forward to him continuing in 2017."
The guilty verdict continues the fallout from Essendon's supplements program, instigated by former coach James Hird and overseen by controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank.
The Bombers were hit with the heaviest penalty in AFL history when they were booted from the 2013 finals series, stripped of draft picks and fined $2 million for governance failures.
Hird was also banned for 12 months and, after returning last year, the club legend fell on his sword in August when he resigned amid mounting pressure after poor on-field results.