The former coach of a central Victorian club in shock after as its star forward fights for his life following a suspected ‘flakka’ overdose has said illicit drugs have “become the norm” in Australian rule football – from the AFL to local football leagues.
“There seems to be a trend these days, and even the AFL can’t control these things,” last season’s Heathcote Saints Football Club coach Paul Kennedy said.
“People are looking at that and unfortunately taking drugs seems to have become the norm.
“It’s in the headlines all the time, (former Collingwood star) Dane Swan came out and said he’d experimented taking drugs and so many other people in the AFL are under investigation.
“You’d be blind to think it’s not going through the local leagues and local clubs as well.”
The former coach said he was “completely shocked” to learn Riki Stephens had been admitted to a Gold Coast hospital over the weekend after overdosing on a powerful synthetic drug while on an end-of-season trip.
Mr Kennedy said that it seemed “out of character” for the 27-year-old plumber from Melbourne – but that the changing culture surrounding post-season trips had made the situation more likely.
“You couldn't meet a nicer guy, he’s a quality person and never been in any sort of trouble, he’s got a quality job and comes from a sensational family,” the former Saints coach said.
“I thought it was 100 per cent out of character for him, you don’t know their private lives, but this came as a complete shock to me.
“But you just don't know what goes through their heads...in my day, when we went away we’d drink beer and have a good time, now it seems the young ones are more easily misled to try something else.”
Mr Kennedy said the club would offer counselling to players and redouble efforts to educate them about the risks of illicit drugs.
“Right now it seems nothing good can come out of this but, if anything, maybe some players who’ve seen this will be frightened that badly that it might change the way they look at certain things,” he said.
The former coach said he hoped for a full recovery for the player he recruited and who starred in his first season in the Heathcote District Football League.
“He just fitted in so well, he kicked 60 goals in a side that won one game, so he certainly did his job,” Mr Kennedy said.
A Gold Coast University Hospital spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon that Mr Stephens remained in a critical condition.
Queensland Police have ordered a toxicology report which they say may take days to determine the substance which triggered the footballer’s overdose.