Sam Mitchell, Michael Voss respond to AFL drug tests bombshell

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St Kilda coach Ross Lyon says the AFL should be applauded after the league didn’t “apologise for supporting players” in the wake of revelations of secret drug tests as some of his fellow coaches reacted with surprise and concern that players may have been asked to fake injuries to avoid match-day positives.

Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell conceded late withdrawals would now be “looked upon differently” as he soaked in the news adamant coaches should be given more information about players who use illicit substances.

Carlton coach Michael Voss said he had never had doubts about player availability but was “disappointed” at the picture painted by the furore and urged the AFL to “take the best steps” to address the situation.

Mitchell played 13 seasons under the AFL’s illicit drugs policy, which began in 2005, but never had first-hand exposure with the system that it’s been revealed allows for players who take illicit substances to be put in a protection bubble by club medical staff.

That includes the potential for them to fake injuries to avoid match-day detection, and Mitchell said he was glad the information was now in the open and the AFL would look to “improve the process”

“We are not in a position where we would strategically pull someone out of a team late to try and get an advantage … and that is something that I hadn’t considered up to this point and that is now going to be looked upon differently,” Mitchell said on Thursday.

“I don’t know how this will play out, which is why I am glad the AFL is having a look into this and they are trying to improve the process.”

Mitchell said his knowledge on the matter was limited but joined the chorus of coaches looking to be given more information about players despite the AFL Players’ Association boss declaring clubs had “freely admitted’ that information would impact things like contract talks and selection.

The premiership captain-turned-coach said helping players be their best was core to his role and he needed every bit of information to make that happen.

“I’m certainly far from an expert in the area, but I know that in the position I am in you are really trying to make the best chances for your players to be the best they can be,” he said.

“If you have the information that you think will help you make the best for them, that is really a big part of your job as a senior coach.

“Whatever information you have and we need to make the player the best they can be not just as players but people as well, I think that is pretty important.

“I think the people that are in charge of your wellbeing and your welfare should know about your wellbeing and your welfare.”

Lyon took a more positive view of how the practice worked to support players calling it a model with the “right intentions” but also conceded coaches could be given more information.

“I like that the AFL came out and didn’t apologise for supporting players. Let’s all be clear, the AFLPA and the players voluntarily sign up to a policy that can help identify players and help them,” he said.

“They can easily walk away, so if you want to make it punitive, they can just walk away from it.

“My view is it’s a model with the right intentions, trying to get the right outcomes … it doesn’t seem to have been perfect, and there’s some conundrums with that. Does it need a review and a revisiting? It feels like it, from what’s been put out there.

“The only piece would be statistically, whatever’s occurring, probably everyone would like to know … these are the numbers and this is the success or failure of the program – that’s something that would probably put us all at ease, to be fair. It’s not as opaque then. That could help inform us to whether we support it or not.”

Lyon said he had “absolute faith” in club medical staff and “their ethics and their care for the players” and had never thought about players being pulled from games for anything other than injuries.

“The help is the doctor, and we (coaches) have no visibility or line of sight, he said.

“My personal experience is … there’s nothing where I’ve thought ‘that was unusual, why wasn’t he playing?”

Voss said he was surprised by what had played out over the past two days and wanted action but had never considered players faking an injury.

“In terms of any doubt on player availability, I have never had that,” he said.

“I sit well and truly in the same basket: We’re all really surprised and somewhat disappointed with where it currently lies.

“Now it’s up to the AFL and the AFLPA to review what that looks like and what the best steps are moving forward for us … it has been a little surprising how it’s all unfolded.”

Both the AFL and the AFLPA have committed to a review of the illicit drugs policy to find something league boss Andrew Dillon said was” fit for purpose for 2024 and beyond”.

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