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Saga not really over for the Essendon 34

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 18: Jobe Watson looks on after James Hird parted ways with the club during an Essendon Bombers press conference at the True Value Solar Centre, Melbourne on August 18, 2015. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Jobe Watson and Michael Hibberd, both of whom are now banned, at the media conference announcing James Hird's departure as coach

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THE COURT of Arbitration for Sport decision to suspend the Essendon 34 sent shockwaves through the AFL community.

The ramifications will be both immediate and long lasting.

In a practical sense, decisions need to be made on how to handle the crisis that now precedes the 2016 season.

Is there a realistic appeal avenue, and how does the competition manage losing 12 players from one club and five players from four other AFL clubs?

In the longer term, the AFL and all relevant parties will need to examine how the events were handled and at some point discuss with peak anti-doping bodies how the AFL Anti-Doping Code can best be administered.

The question as to whether Essendon skipper Jobe Watson will be able to hold his 2012 Brownlow medal, won in the year the ill-fated supplements program was conducted, will have to be addressed, and immediately.

And Essendon faces possible legal action from the players affected.

Any hopes anyone had of putting the events of 2012 behind them were shattered with the guilty verdict delivered on Tuesday.

Firstly, 17 players on AFL lists are ineligible to play in 2016 – 12 from Essendon, two from Port Adelaide and one each from St Kilda, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.

The Bombers' ability to compete has been massively compromised with stars such as Watson, Michael Hurley, David Myers, Dyson Heppell, Michael Hibberd and Cale Hooker unavailable.

Last season, when injury depleted the club's midfield, it could not keep up. This season appears unlikely to be any different, even though the Bombers will be able to top up its list with players from outside the competition and they have an exciting crop of youngsters.

But Essendon supporters, having endured so much and remained so fervent in their support of their club, face another season dashed, as do the players – not to mention the sidelining of plans the Saints had for Jake Carlisle, the Bulldogs had for Stewart Crameri, Port Adelaide had for Paddy Ryder and Angus Monfries and the Demons had for Jake Melsham.

The financial burden on Essendon will continue unabated.

The club lost $1.3 million in 2015 with $461,000 going to legal costs and $200,000 being spent on top-up players for the pre-season. It also faces a possible fine of $610,000 for WorkSafe breaches.

Now they face the very real prospect of players – past and present – taking legal action against the club plus the expense of adding players to their list for a season.

Will Watson, 30, having declared last season that his love for the game had waned during 2015, have the mental energy to continue in 2017?

He has acted with such class throughout the whole episode and must feel let down and tired.

The Brownlow he won stamping himself as an AFL star is in serious jeopardy.

Hurley, having earned All-Australian selection, now faces a year on the sidelines, as he enters the peak of his career.

It's a horrible, unimaginable situation for a footballer to contemplate.

The trust the players and others at the club invested in the football department to get the club right under James Hird was misplaced.

And most would now be wondering whether the trust they then put in those representing their interests after the club self-reported was justified.

The AFL has conducted an internal inquiry into the way the saga was managed, and a report on the decisions made between 2011 and now will be subject to much scrutiny. 

Decisions made since Essendon self-reported in February 2013 have changed the game and the culture within, but regulation of all aspects of the game must be enforced in an uncompromising manner.

Those who made the decisions to hire the individuals who developed this supplements program will be hanging their heads, unable to argue too vehemently with the damning words of ASADA boss Ben McDevitt.

"This unfortunate episode has chronicled the most devastating self-inflicted injury by a sporting club in Australian history," McDevitt said.

And the ramifications are set to linger long beyond today.