ESSENDON'S players have been treated "pretty badly" in 2014 with the amount of pressure they've endured understated, says coach Mark Thompson.
After the Bombers made a finals appearance a virtual certainty with a 19-point win over Gold Coast at Etihad Stadium, Thompson opened up about the effect the continuing supplements saga had on his group.
"I think they’ve been dealt a hand that’s been awful, so for them to make it [finals], yeah … it’s fantastic for them," Thompson said. "I’m glad they’ve got something out of it and that was the reason why we’re all here, for them, because they’ve been treated pretty badly."
Thompson said it was too easy sometimes to forget the impact the ongoing saga had on the players.
"I've never experienced anything like it, so much pressure on young men," Thompson said. "It's easily understated how much pressure is on them. We just take it for granted now that we're allowed to do anything to them."
Thompson said he had tried to concentrate the players' minds on football whenever he was speaking to them by never mentioning the twists and turns that were happening around ASADA.
He said whether the players took notice of what had happened to Cronulla Sharks players in the NRL – the players accepted reduced bans during the week that will see them miss just three games – was unknown to him.
"It probably would [enter their minds] but if I talk about it it's going to distract them more," Thompson said. "So I never spoke about it. When they see me, it's all about the footy. It's footy talk."
Thompson said he expected Essendon to be competitive in the finals after two poor showings in 2009 and 2011 when the losing margin was more than 10 goals. Essendon has not won a final since 2004.
Thompson however knows there is plenty of improvement in the squad.
"We haven't played a really solid four-quarter game for a while," Thompson said. "We'll be competitive."
He did admit to being frustrated at being unable to find an answer to the team's consistent pattern of fading in and out of games, dominating one quarter and going to sleep the next.
"I've tried everything. There have been times when I pressured them. I got some good results," Thompson said. "I went away and I thought well you can't just challenge them all the time. You've got to cuddle them sometimes and tell them how good they are."
Thompson said he sensed a resolve among the players to win close games after it went down to Geelong by nine points in a thriller in round 15. The Bombers have won three games by fewer than 10 points since then.
"We've been good since then," Thompson said.