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AFL fires up, again, under a cloud of controversy

Football

As recent tradition dictates, the AFL will fire up for a new season from tonight after a week marred by off-field controversy.

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Once again, the spectre of drug abuse has tarnished the lead-up to the season’s first bounce, with the ghosts of West Coast’s “tainted” 2006 premiership refusing to go quietly.

But former ASADA boss Richard Ings has weighed into the debate, which yesterday saw Richmond legend Kevin Bartlett declare there should be a “black line” ruled through the Eagles’ last flag.

Ings, who was the ASADA chief from 2005-2010, told Melbourne radio station 3AW that no Eagles players returned positive match-day tests during that season and insists the grand final was the most tested game of the year.

He also added that players were regularly tested for recreational drugs as well as performance-enhancing substances.

Ings’ comments come after claims by former Swans forward and co-captain Barry Hall that the Eagles’ grand final win over Sydney was tainted.

“There would have been a significant number of tests conducted on both teams after that grand final and there were no players who were tested who returned positive tests for any banned substance,” Ings said.

“It would have been a full screen in-competition test, which means it’s not just for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs but also for a range of illicit drugs including methamphetamine, cocaine and even heroin.”

He said ASADA also conducted “target testing” during the home-and-away season and the finals.

“There was a lot of target testing of the Eagles,” he said.

“There was a lot of intelligence coming in from various sources that suggested this was a club where some testing should take place, and target testing did indeed take place of players at that club during that period.

“Well, there were no positives that came through. There were no match-day positives for illicit drugs.”

What has arisen in recent days with the release of a previously unseen 2008 report by retired Supreme Court judge William Gillard is the alleged lengths to which the Eagles went to cover-up their drug culture.

The report claimed CEO Trevor Nisbett and other club officials oversaw a six-year culture of cover-up that allowed toxic behaviour to flourish.

The Eagles will start their 2017 season on Sunday when they take on North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium.

Port Adelaide kicks off its campaign away against Sydney on Saturday, with the Crows hosting GWS the following day.

Meanwhile, Richmond are primed to build some much-needed early momentum when they take on Carlton in tonight’s traditional season-opener.

The Tigers will start strong favourites against the rebuilding Blues in a clash which is expected to draw more than 70,000 fans to the MCG.

Richmond beat their yearly round one rivals in the equivalent clash last year but in a familiar story for the Tigers, lost their next six games to leave coach Damien Hardwick feeling the heat.

They will benefit this year from a more accommodating draw, starting their campaign with winnable games against the Blues, Collingwood, West Coast and Melbourne at home and a trip to the Gabba to face Brisbane.

Hardwick has also tweaked his side’s pre-season program in a bid to recreate their 2013 success when they won their first three games and ultimately finished fifth on the ladder.

“Over the last four or five years we’ve probably had that indifferent start,” Hardwick said.

“We did go back and look at the figures, as we normally do. We sort of felt that our best start to the season was 2013, where it was four practice matches and the majority of our list played two-and-a-half to three games.

“We tried to get more minutes into our guys this year, hoping that then transfers into the regular season.”

The Tigers will have a new look about them when they face Carlton, with highly-rated recruits Dion Prestia, Josh Caddy and Toby Nankervis all included and livewire forward Dan Butler set to make his AFL debut.

“We’ve had a great pre-season. Really pleased with what we’ve got out of it,” Hardwick said yesterday.

“The injection of excitement we’ve brought into the side with the three new recruits and a couple of the younger players who have stood up.

“We’re just looking forward to the season starting now and we get to see how it all works come tomorrow night.”

Carlton skipper Marc Murphy, Bryce Gibbs and Patrick Cripps will lead the Blues midfield, marking the first time the star trio have played together since May last year.

The Blues are widely expected to struggle this year after a poor pre-season showing, with many pundits and bookmakers tipping a bottom-four finish.

-with AAP

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