The sad implications behind Dean Wallis’ decision to lure Stephen Dank to a sportsman’s lunch on the day Essendon opens its 2014 season has not been lost on any of the major players as the aftershocks of the drug scandal continue to impact on the AFL.
Wallis left the Bombers bitter and disenchanted last October, a small player in the whole sorry saga and perhaps considering himself collateral damage amid the carnage.
All the major players charged and then punished by the competition for their role in the program that saw Dank allowed to carry out his cavalier and potentially illegal doping regime received some form of payout or contract extension from the club or, in the case of Mark Thompson, promotion.
But Wallis, who was firmly of the view that the pitfalls of the club’s pharmacalogically experimental environment were exaggerated, was removed by the club and has not found re-employment in the AFL.
He is reportedly connected with Riddell Football Netball Club and assisting with setting up its pre-season March 21 fundraiser for networking purposes more than financial reward.
He has made a monumental blunder in hiring Dank.
Apart from the occasional doorstop and unpaid interviews with key journalists, Dank has repeatedly refused to shed light on just what drugs he fed and injected Essendon players. He claims he was shown no respect by the AFL or ASADA and the latter has chosen to proceed towards a conclusion without him. Dank though will have his day in court. That a country football club would agree to hire him and justify the dash for cash on fundraising for grassroots facilities is cynical and laden with double standards. This is a man who disregarded the health and welfare of some 40 young men who trusted him.
This is a man who was allowed to oversee a shambolic and chaotic program which has ended the AFL careers of some of the game’s most senior men and damaged the brand of one of football’s most famous names – the men that allowed it to happen.
Dank has said publicly he wants to stand up for James Hird, but it is far too late for that – he had his chance to do as much in 2013.
Clearly Wallis has no regard for the club at which he became a premiership player. A club that might have ultimately discharged him but stood by him as an assistant coach after he was banned for 14 matches for placing a bet involving his own team.
Wallis placed his bet at a TAB while wearing his Essendon uniform. He was initially untruthful when questioned by the AFL and Essendon continued to employ him during the ban and then for another 1½ seasons.
Clearly there is bad blood now, but the decision to hand Dank a microphone for financial or professional reward is a wounding blow to the Bombers on the day they take on North Melbourne in their season-opener at Etihad Stadium.
Wallis’ personal issues aside, this disappointing scenario demonstrates yet again how painfully clubs and their stars can break each others’ hearts. He did not respond to an approach from Fairfax Media to discuss the function. As the Bombers continue to pick up the pieces from the mistakes of recent years, they will have some work to do rebuilding relationships within the club as well as outside.
The function has also placed the other star attractions in a difficult position. Former Bomber Mark Harvey said on Friday he was completely taken aback to learn that Dank would be appearing and is now considering his position. So too Brian Taylor, who is hosting the event and must interview Dank.
It has been reported that the AFL wrote to Riddell Football Club and made certain threats should Dank appear, although the league has vehemently denied this.
The VFL, too, had no jurisdiction over Riddell, but its local league – Riddell District Football League – has reportedly warned the club it could face a charge of bringing the game into disrepute.
The club has already damaged its reputation and all those involved at the Crown lunch on March 21 face being tarnished by working alongside a man who has become the face of so much that is bad about modern sport.
If Taylor or Harvey – along with fellow panelists Wayne Carey and Dermott Brereton – knew Dank was going to be hired as the main attraction when they signed on then all should refuse to appear on principle.
Riddell should cut its losses now. Essendon deserved much of what it received last year but it doesn’t deserve this on the very day it begins to start again in a competitive sense.
And the Bombers need to work towards some form of resolution with Wallis despite this extremely poor error of judgment.