IT IS true that Collingwood’s chief executive Gary Pert genuinely believes that illegal drugs have infiltrated football clubs to a dangerous and damaging degree – a degree that the current AFL illicit drugs policy cannot hope to adequately address.
But it is equally true that Pert, his president Eddie McGuire and Magpies coach Nathan Buckley are desperately worried about what is taking place in their own backyard. Pert has been telling friends for weeks that he is tearing his hair out with concern over the behaviour of certain players at his club.
Pert must have known when he delivered his impassioned speech at the end of last week’s chief executives’ meeting on the Gold Coast that he would be putting his club in the spotlight. That he was prepared to take a stand is an indication of how worried he has become about the culture at his club.
Like many club chiefs he has become increasingly frustrated at how powerless the clubs are when it comes to drug abuse. They hear the stories, they ask questions but while anonymity remains the privilege of the out-of-season drug user they cannot hope to prove their suspicions unless a player tests positive three times during the season proper or is caught in a legal sense.
But what Collingwood does have in its favour is that it is a remarkably wealthy club. The Magpies are expected to announce an operating profit of about $5 million any day now. The club is rich, it is successful, it is powerful. Powerful enough to withstand a scandal and powerful enough to take a stand that could damage the team in the short term but help it in the long term.
Which is why Collingwood should seriously consider sacking Dane Swan. If it has not already.
Swan is not the only player at Collingwood who has been a law unto himself during his end-of-season break but he has been a dreadful influence for some time and to take a stand now could prove the correction required as Ray McLean moves in to rebuild the erosion of discipline and dedication and bring together what appears to have become a team divided.
The club has asked Swan whether he has been using drugs and he has denied it. St Kilda has unofficially confronted Sam Fisher with the same question in recent days and he denied it also. So did Ben Cousins for two years at West Coast. Even if Swan is telling the truth about drugs his cavalier behaviour has helped create a culture which is not healthy.
But what Collingwood does know is that Swan is one of its best players who does not want to be a leader. They know he turned up at training a month before the finals disoriented after a heavy night out. They know there have been plenty more heavy nights out over the past six weeks. Very heavy nights. There has also been at least one nasty fight in a public place.
Buckley said after Swan was suspended for two weeks for his transgression in August that the player – who has two years remaining on his contract – was remorseful. The view from Collingwood now is that the opposite seems to be the case. Fairfax Media could not find one senior person at Collingwood this week prepared to defend Swan.
Swan’s teammates with off-field misdemeanours to their name include Alan Didak – whose career is coming to an end, Ben Johnson (ditto) and 2012 Copeland Trophy winner Dayne Beams. Sharrod Wellingham has gone to West Coast with a public good riddance from his football boss Geoff Walsh. Clearly the club is trying to take a stand.
You would think that such a tragic occurrence as the death of John McCarthy during an end-of-season bender in Las Vegas would see the penny drop but for some players it hasn’t. Footballers have continued to holiday in Vegas and continue to take unacceptable risks.
You would think that more chief executives would have turned to West Coast chief executive Trevor Nisbett in a bid to learn from West Coast’s mistakes, its experience and its remedies. But only Pert over recent years has sounded out Nisbett.
You would think that the circumstances surrounding McCarthy’s passing would have been a top-of-agenda item at one of the club chief executives’ meetings since it happened but it has never even been officially raised. Port Adelaide boss Keith Thomas did say that the club would early in 2013 put in place a new policy for post-season trips.
AFL chief Andrew Demetriou was correct when he stated that illegal drugs are not simply an AFL issue but an issue for society. But Demetriou must know that the demands of the game when mixed with impressionable or wilful young men with plenty of money is a dangerous cocktail.
So the competition must attempt to show stronger leadership, as it has for two decades now where some social problems are concerned. The AFL players’ union must accept that there is a small but influential group of footballers who do not deserve their protection. And Collingwood, which continues to accept the mantle as a club of influence, should muster its considerable force and take a stand. Sometimes actions speak louder than words.
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