Essendon chairman Paul Little has damned allegations from the AFL against four of the club's key staff members from a protracted drug investigation as "way beyond what we believe is the truth".
Little used his address to guests at the Bombers' function before their twilight match against North Melbourne on Saturday to welcome the "pleasant change to be clashing with another football club than clashing with the AFL", following the disrepute charges from the AFL, which were laid against coach James Hird, senior assistant coach Mark Thompson, general manager of football Danny Corcoran and doctor Bruce Reid.
"The past few weeks have been an incredibly taxing time for everyone involved . . . indeed, if a week is a long time in politics the past week in football has felt like a lifetime. But I know Essendon is up to the challenge that's in front of us," he said.
The recently appointed chairman was deliberately vague on specific allegations against the club but made a thinly veiled swipe at the AFL over the mutually agreed legal and confidentiality constraints – "which 'I' intend to respect".
"I'm not commenting on specifics of the charges," Little said. "We agreed with the AFL that neither of us would do that, despite the evidence of ongoing details appearing in the daily press."
Little said one positive aspect of the charges being laid by the AFL was that the Bombers were now aware of the specific allegations against them, and could respond accordingly. He argued the primary mistakes made by the club had already been identified and remedied.
"We are fully aware that mistakes were made, particularly in the areas of management and governance, which have now been effectively addressed," he said. "However, the nature of some of these allegations go way beyond what we believe is the truth . . . in regard to the use of illegal substances. We cannot let these allegations go unchallenged."
The chairman said one of those management and governance blunders related to "inadequacies of supervision of key individuals in certain areas".
Little hailed Hird, Thompson, Corcoran and Reid as "all decent people with outstanding character".
"At all times, these four individuals believe that any and all of the supplements used were compliant with the AFL's anti-doping code and ASADA and WADA regulations, as well as being in no way injurious to players," Little said.
"We will continue to do everything in our power to see that all parties are afforded justice and to ensure that any outcomes are fair, reasonable and, importantly, reflect facts rather than gossip, unsubstantiated allegations and innuendo."
The Essendon chairman said the AFL, as a sport, would be much better off once the long-running issue was resolved and the intense focus on it could shift back to on-field matters.