James-Hird

As many would rather be anticipating the launch of a new season, an unfortunate cloud still hangs over the game.

This Friday will be a year to the day key members of the Essendon Football Club held a press conference that set up a series of events which cast the 2013 AFL season as a secondary narrative.

Regardless of ASADA’s outcome of whether Essendon being found guilty or fully exonerated of questionable sports science methods, we will face another year of such speculation.

Although we might be nearer to receiving a conclusion than we were six or eight months ago when the story was at fever pitch, many still sit in the dark at just what the fate of players, coaches and potentially AFL administrators would be at the end of this.

As much as this off-season has been a welcome calm when compared to the tumultuous and scandal prone one of 2012/13, we must be prepared to face the ‘new year’ with whatever it brings.

As all parties seek to reach an outcome, the resounding sign of movement and potentially a beginning to an end may come in the form of the Federal Government appointing a former Federal Court Judge Garry Downes to review ASADA’s investigations into the AFL and NRL clubs.

This development is a significant one in the scheme of things, and could go in either direction depending on what role Downes has been brought in to play by the federal government.

The obvious one is an independent review of ASADA’s procedure, similar to the one taken on by Ziggy Switskowski of Essendon’s governing practices in the aftermath of the supplement scandal breaking.

Regardless of the numerous false dawns and prophecies made thus far by all parties, Downes may even play a larger role than just critiquing procedure and potentially is the light at the end of the tunnel everyone seeks.

A former Federal Court judge would be aware of the authenticity of evidence required that would be able to stand in a court of law if challenged by ASADA prosecuted parties. Not to mention potentially acting as a bridge between Stephen Dank’s desires to have this played out in a court of law and ASADA’s ability to deliver a truly independent verdict without legal interference.

The set date of the former Federal Court judges’ findings into the investigation is in April, but ASADA’s ultimate verdict date remains unknown for now.

However, such action from the federal government suggests that those in the halls of power want the investigation finalised, as the resulting farce by all involved has long outlived its stay. Whilst any potential challenges to ASADA’s outcome may take years, the initial part of the process may be over in time.

The one and only truth that must be faced is that this will continue long into the season and might still have the ability to derail Essendon’s campaign and attempts to overcome the living nightmare they have been thrown into by the alleged actions of a small few close to the club.

With 280 interviews completed and 120,000 documents recovered by investigators, piecing together just what exactly happened will take more time and resources.

We are closer, but there’s still a long way to go.