There is no such thing as Santa Claus.

It’s Sunday morning and I’m sitting in our little study at home. It’s a most unkempt place. Strewn across the desk area are pieces of discarded paper, school notice printouts, and unfinished kids’ homework. Under a pile of coloured pencils are mistake ridden Christmas cards to Mum and Dad that never saw the light of day.
“Happy Critmas”
“Dear Mum, I hope you have a every happy Chritmas.”
In some ways I don’t mind that this stuff is never cleaned up. It’s a living history. When they wrote these cards the kids still believed in Santa.
I’ve got Neil Young’s “On The Beach” CD playing in my ears. It’s brilliant in its simplicity. I find that his music helps me think. And I need to think. I want to make sense of the whole drugs in sport debacle that is currently unfolding in the media; to arrange my own thoughts. I suppose Neil Young’s music is my own performance enhancer.
I’ve just finished reading his autobiography “Waging Heavy Peace”. In it he reveals his own addiction to smoking weed that endured for the whole of his creative life. He points out that he stopped drinking booze and smoking pot about ten months ago and hasn’t written a song since. He suggests that most of his greatest songs were written and performed whilst being “wired”. Does that make him a drug cheat? It artificially enhanced his performance no question. He admits it. Would he have sold as many records without drugs? How is artistic performance enhancement different to sports cheating? And why does his drug taking not concern me so much? Perhaps drugs in sport obliterates our concept of the healthy body whereas in the rock scene it’s almost a given. Therefore is it simply a matter of perception? This can of worms is messing with my mind.
Behind me on the wall hang three magnificent posters. When I hung the first one I felt blessed, when I hung the second I almost burst with pride, and when I hung the third I felt I was in the presence of sporting royalty. 2007, 2009 and 2011 Cats Premiers. My boys did it three times. They were heroic, to be recorded in the annals of footy history as one of the best teams ever. Incredible.
Now, sadly, must I look at them differently? Did they do it? Did they cheat? When Gary Ablett burst out of the centre square in the 2009 Grand Final, with Matty Scarlett at his side, post the famous toe poke, and when he charged forward and belted the ball into our goal square, was he clean? Did he have the ominously named “supplements” coursing through his system; the sort of supplements that give a false edge, that hollow out otherwise stupendous feats of physical endurance and speed?
Surely they wouldn’t have done it? Surely Jimmy and Linga and Joel and Chappy wouldn’t have taken the “whatever it takes” notion that far? And what about Enright and Smithy and Dasher? Never. They would have thought of me before sticking a needle in their belly. They would have considered how I go to the footy to watch them play, to be part of the team. To belong. Winning is great, but even in losing I still love them. They knew that didn’t they?
Would our fans want us to win this way? Do I want to win this way?
They would have asked themselves these questions if performance enhancing drugs were on offer. They would have declined. I refuse to believe otherwise. For now anyway.
I’m angry that I even have these thoughts. I’m angry that the Bombers’ possible drug problems have tainted the whole competition, tainted not just last season but maybe the last dozen seasons, tainted a Brownlow medalist. I’m angry that this will become a media circus. Not just the established media but the social media. Stories and theories will fly. I will probably help perpetuate this nonsense too because I live in this society. I send emails. I want to participate in the conversation.
A finger need only be pointed, a bloke or a club will be labelled. Labels usually stick. The insidiousness of it is evil.
But what if they did? What if the Cats cheated? What would I think? What would I do?
I know blokes who were taking steroids in the 1980s. Blokes I competed against on the running track. I know that on a few occasions I was beaten by drugs. It cost me a lot of money. It still infuriates me today. But two of the blokes engaged in this are now dead. They had massive heart attacks in their forties. Is it a coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not. But there is no question that steroid and hormone drugs, when abused, not only ruin health, they ruin sport. A drug fuelled win isn’t a win. It’s a deception. Pure and simple.
So what if the Cats cheated? If it is so, I will take down the posters and smash them to smithereens. I’ll then scoop up all the glass shards, drive to Kardinia Park, grab the players one by one, and rub their faces in the glass until they bleed. And if they are stripped of their flags I will go into a deep mourning. I’ll feel cheated, filleted like a freshly caught trout. I might even despise them.
But if they are found to be clean the posters will stay where they are. I’ll rejoice in the victories every time I look at them. But there will be a shadow, a pall, a lingering doubt, and a sourness in my thoughts. I might try to fight it, but it’s hard to fight an enemy you can’t see. The doubt might be miniscule, but a tiny brown stain is still visible on a large white sheet.
Did they do it?
So much has already been trashed in this sorry saga. I’m not sure there is a way back. Not all the way back anyway. Whatever the outcome I’ve already lost something. We’ve all lost something.

About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Dips, you have articulated your feelings in such a personal manner that would, I suggest, mirror the thoughts of so many supporters of this great game of ours. Many must feel the same way as you do but would find it difficult to express it as well as you have done. We are all stunned by the revelations coming to light and the possible ramifications as a result. It is difficult to share those personal feelings but you did it so eloquently and well. Not easy to wear your heart on your sleeve but you wear it well. As a Bomber supporter I know the anger and frustration these issues are causing. Unlike you Dips, I have no recent premiership posters to tear down and smash. Even if I did I don’t know whether I could actually do it. It is hard to believe what is happening at the moment.

  2. No Santa Claus?? Where did all those letters go that I sent??

    It is possible, even probable, that more than only Justin Charles dabbled in the dark side of performance enhancing substances from the mid 70’s onwards but I am optimistic that we are heading to a new golden era of clean results. Cycling has set the template with blood passports and this needs to get into the AFL with comprehensive coverage.

    Sports fans are what makes the sport, and the various administrations know that. Cheats are not tolerated and the punishments need to be so severe (as with Melbourne Storm salary cap) that the fear of costing the club will prohibit any wayward activities from both clubs and individuals.

    Administrators need to ensure their clubs are clean. They are temporary custodians of great institutions with over 100 years of history. They will want to be remembered as an asset during their time of involvement. Administrators have egos that will want them well presented in the annals of the club.

    Whether any dirt eventually surfaces from past activities will be hard to say as it will remain open ended, but from here on in you can follow your team with confidence.

    As an agnostic, I take things as they are. Unless proof is provided then what happened, happened as it is recorded. Your 3 Geelong flags are safe at Kardinia Park. Enjoy them, revel in them, remember them but don’t doubt them on rumours of association. They either are or are not premierships and as it stands they are the 7th, 8th and 9th VFL/AFL flags that Geelong won.

  3. Dips, you can keep 07 and 09, but I’d gladly take 2011 which means the back-to-back was real! Very suspicious of Tom Hawkins performance in the second half. Must be investigated.

    Seriously, I too have a bad feeling in my gut, a sense of loss. Maybe a good thing has been destroyed, maybe it was never clean anyway. I think we fans are also at fault for colluding with all this shit to some degree, but somehow I feel that something I cherished has been tainted too much to be able to trust again. I hope time helps me to feel differently.

  4. Only Carlton cheats…

  5. Andrew Starkie says

    Dips, Phil, spot on, have felt flat and a bit ill since last week. It’s a bit ruined now, isn’t it. Don’t know if we’ll ever again believe completely.

  6. Putting aside all the usual double-speak, spin and “presumption of innocence” crap that spews out of most political and/or business corruption enquiries, we do all need to take a few deep breaths, calm down and consider what has actually been alleged. One team, Essendon, and one individual player from another AFL club are under investigation for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
    Guilt by association has somehow placed ALL clubs and ALL players in the firing line. Suspicions are feeding on fears, to produce another Salem witch-hunt and, as always, the innocent are suffering.
    To mix the metaphors, snipers are taking aim at the tall poppies. Champions and champion teams are having their achievements and success tainted by cheap shots. “Too good to be true”, is the predictable, cynical accusation. In the absence of any substantiating evidence, the baying mob, frothing at the mouth, tries to tear down hard-won reputations and past glories.
    How can we stop the hysteria, which now seems to be spreading from the ignorant to infect even diehard fans like Dips?
    Keep the faith.
    Be patient.
    Ultimately, the truth will set us free.
    However, I would not like to be an Essendon supporter right now. Or ever.

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