Collingwood pair Lachie Keeffe and Josh Thomas have tested positive to clenbuterol, threatening their careers and rocking the AFL with a fresh doping scandal.
The timing could not be worse for the game, with news of the positive tests coming a day before the AFL anti-doping tribunal’s Essendon verdicts and in the same week that the season starts.
“I hope it (the buildup to round one) is not all taken away, but it’s incredibly disappointing,” AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan told Fox Footy.
“I have to say that one, I didn’t see it coming and I’m incredibly disappointed and frustrated.”
It also means the AFL has had four positive tests in the last two years.
Those are separate to the Essendon supplements saga, now in its third year and the reason for Tuesday’s anti-doping tribunal verdicts on 34 current and past Bombers players.
Keeffe and Thomas tested positive on February 10, two days after the team returned from a New Zealand training camp.
The pair are under provisional suspension.
Their B samples will be tested on April 14, but this is expected to be a formality and they most likely will have to front the anti-doping tribunal.
Clenbuterol is the banned substance that cost Spanish cycling ace Alberto Contador his 2010 Tour de France title because of a positive test.
Australian cycling star Michael Rogers also tested positive to clenbuterol, but was cleared on appeal.
Contador and Rogers had the same defence – that they ate contaminated meat.
ASADA broke the news to Keeffe and Thomas on Friday and it is so far unclear what might have caused the positive tests.
“They’re at a complete loss to understand where the positive test has come from,” Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley told Fox Footy’s AFL 360 program.
“They’re very decent, upstanding young men.
“This is nearly a standard line, (but) if you asked me a couple who I wouldn’t have thought would have ever tested positive to anything, then they’d be right up there.
“They’re cleanskins and yet they’ve returned a positive sample.”
Collingwood are adamant the positive tests have no connection to their own dietary and supplements program.
Buckley said Keeffe and Thomas were roommates on the NZ trip and are best mates.
“In many ways, they’ve been joined at the hip their whole career,” he said.
Their coach added there was no logical reason why they would take a banned substance such as clenbuterol, which helps build muscle and burn fat.
He noted Keeffe and Thomas had overcome serious injury problems in the last few years.
“Both of these boys have had reasons throughout their career where they might want to go to it (taking banned substances) … but they’ve had their opportunities and they haven’t,” Buckley said.
“They’ve just worked hard and plugged away and they’re right in the sweet spot of their careers.
“We’re devastated for them.”
It is understood there were tense negotiations between Collingwood and the AFL Players Association on Monday before the announcement of the positive tests and the identities of the players were revealed.
Normally, if a sportsperson tests positive, he or she stays anonymous until the B sample confirms the result.
But Collingwood wanted the names revealed as soon as possible.
Buckley, Magpies chief executive Gary Pert and club football manager Neil Balme spoke briefly to the two players on Friday.
The club hopes to talk to them again at greater length on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Buckley said Keeffe would not have played in Saturday night’s round-one game against Brisbane, but Thomas was “well in the mix”.
Also in the last two years, St Kilda small forward Ahmed Saad served an 18-month ban for testing positive to a banned substance in an energy drink.
And Fremantle midfielder Ryan Crowley is suspended until he goes before the anti-doping tribunal on May 1, having tested positive to a specified substance found in a painkiller.