Former St Kilda forward Ahmed Saad has conceded to having previously taken the banned substance which has seen him suspended from AFL football for 18 months.
Saad, 24, tested positive for the banned substance Methyl Synephrine HCL contained in an energy drink he consumed before a game earlier this year. Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority regulations permit the substance to be taken during training, but not on match days.
Saad said he had consumed the pre-workout supplement, which is called "Before Battle" and made by Viking Protein, previously before AFL matches, but was unaware until he tested positive to a routine match-day drug test that the substance was illegal.
Asked whether he had taken the supplement previously on match days, Saad replied: "Yeah, I have actually."
He said it hadn't occurred to him to check whether the powder was on the banned substance list as he had been given the product by a trusted source.
"[It] was someone that was kind of like a mentor and a family member," said Saad, speaking on SEN. "I had that much trust with him, it was as if the coach had given me that product. I was taking it exactly as if the club had told me to.
"He actually didn't check if it was banned or not, and I didn't either because coming from him was like coming from the coach, so it was quite surprising for both of us.
"I didn't think much of it. I took the test, disclosed everything I took that day, then I showed it to my doctor that day as well, and that was it … I found out there was a banned substance in there, and it all started.
"I kind of had a feeling it was going to be positive, because I knew what we were dealing with. It wasn't like it was a shock, or I was hiding anything. It was tough at the time, but I had the club's support. 'Scotty' [sacked St Kilda coach Scott Watters] was very supportive from day one, and one of the main reasons I got through this.
"I'm devastated about what happened, but at the end of the day I've got to move forward. Something went wrong, and I've got to deal with it and look to the future."
Saad's lawyer, William Sheehan, who was present during the interview, said the player's legal team had negotiated down from the maximum possible penalty of a two-year suspension.
The ban, announced by the AFL Tribunal last Tuesday, can still be appealed by ASADA, but it is believed it is unlikely to pursue a tougher penalty.
Saad, whose suspension has been backdated to August 20, is eligible for the 2014 AFL draft, and Sheehan said a new World Anti-Doping Agency code, to be introduced at the start of 2015, would allow suspended athletes to train in the final two months of their suspensions.
"We'll see what happens down the track, but it's possible that Ahmed could be drafted then could be back on the training track by January ," he said.
Saad was controversially selected for St Kilda's round 19 game against the Brisbane Lions after the investigation into his positive sample had been announced, with Watters overruling the St Kilda board on his selection.
While speculation has claimed Saad was unfit at the time and shouldn't have been selected on fitness, let alone moral grounds, he said he was fit to play the match at the Gabba in which he kicked two goals, but had only three possessions.
"I was glad he [Watters] gave me that opportunity," Saad said. "And it kind of showed the public that the club was supporting me no matter what was going on. We did everything within rules, we didn't step out of the boundaries.
"If it was any other week, I would still have played and it wouldn't have been an issue, but it's an issue now because of what happened."
Saad said he was hopeful of being re-drafted by his former club, for which he played 29 games over the last two seasons.
‘‘They’re open to the thought of picking me back up,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s all up to me to make sure I’m fit and I’ve trained and worked hard and in reasonable shape, and hopefully that’s something that they do take into consideration.
‘‘I want to make this year kind of a foundation for me to build on so whether I do come back in the AFL and play a year or five, at least I’ve got something that I’ve actually set up in this year and make the most of it, rather than dwell on what happened.’’
Saad, 24, said he had worked hard for his AFL opportunity, and while he was ‘‘crushed’’ by his suspension, he would use it as motivator to make him return to the game a better player.
‘‘I’m not like a lot of other kids. I didn’t get to play TAC Cup. I only started when I was 16. I definitely worked hard for it, it wasn’t like it was given to me, and I wasted it. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am. It’s devastating and it does crush me, but it just fuels me to come back better. I don’t think my career’s over, I’m going to work hard to make sure I’m back this year and hopefully can get picked up again.’’
He said had taken a training course about drugs in sport, and hoped to use that knowledge to educate other AFL players about the dangers of taking supplements without checking their legality.
‘‘If I can help one or two others to not go through what I did, that’s enough for me, and that will come down to a personal choice,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s not part of my rehab process or the AFL has told me to do something. Me and my managers and the club spoke about it, and it’s something I thought I could help with.’’