SIX ESSENDON players have been disallowed from taking part in the club's training session with Williamstown on Friday night after directions from the AFL.
Brendon Goddard, Adam Cooney, James Gwilt, Joe Daniher, Patrick Ambrose and Zach Merrett were set to be a part of the informal hit-out involving the VFL club and the 2012-listed Bombers players sitting out the NAB Challenge.
But the League has stepped in and stopped the group from participating, given they were not named in the club's weakened 26-man line-up to face St Kilda at Morwell on Saturday.
"The AFL have told us that six players aren't able to be a part of that training session. We're disappointed those six players aren't part of that session, but it is what it is and the AFL run the competition," coach James Hird said on Friday.
Hird said the Bombers' plans had always been to prepare as best they possibly could for their first game of the home and away season, against the Sydney Swans at the SCG on April 4.
"We've got our reasons why the team's playing tomorrow as they are playing, we've selected players so that they prepare for round one in the best possible way," Hird said.
"I think every club should be able to pick their team for round one of the NAB [Challenge] to prepare for the regular season the way they choose. That's what we've done for tomorrow.
"We've got six guys who won't be getting any competitive practice, but we'll train them in the right way today and get them ready for round one. We've had a lot of obstacles to jump over in the last two and we've jumped over most of them. We'll do it again."
The Bombers' understrength team to face the Saints includes 13 top-up recruits, as well as four players listed in 2012 – Jackson Merrett, Elliott Kavanagh, Nick O'Brien and Lauchlan Dalgleish.
Hird said those four made the decision in recent weeks to approach the coaches and leadership group and ask to play in the NAB Challenge so they could be ready for the regular season.
The group are not under provisional suspensions as they were not part of the investigation of the 2012 supplements program, and Hird angrily denied there was any split within the playing group.
"The players also looked at the individual careers of those guys on the list and who didn't have infraction notices, and talked about how some of those blokes needed to play for their own careers," he said.
"That's a decision that's been around for a long time in this footy club, in the last week or two and we were pretty keen for the guys to play, and the whole club and leadership group were happy with it.
"You talk about breaking from the ranks or whatever was said in the paper today – it's a ridiculous comment because the group is united on that decision.
"Obviously we want the identity of those players [with infraction notices] protected, but we also want the individual careers of those players to go ahead."
Excluding the four younger players picked for Saturday's game in Morwell, there are 21 players who remain at the club from 2012.
Hird said there would need to be further talks if any more players without provisional suspensions wished to take part in the NAB Challenge.
"I think that's an individual discussion that we'll have over the next week or so before we go to GWS," Hird said.
A verdict from the AFL's Anti-Doping Tribunal is expected later this month for the 34 current and former Essendon players given infraction notices for their alleged supplement use during the 2012 season.
If the Tribunal drags the case into the start of the 2015 season, the Bombers would be able to use their 13 top-up players to help fill their side, but Hird said that prospect was not in their thoughts.
"The top-up players who have come in have obviously got the chance to show the whole AFL world they can still play AFL football at a certain level and they can show us," he said.
"We're not thinking they will be required in the regular season because we're very confident with the way the Tribunal will go with our players."