“In a two-hour training period we had a five or a 10-minute period where we made a mistake,” Nicks said.
“Some of that comes back to communication and that is where I put my hand on my heart and I take responsibility and I have let our boys down … I will do everything to stick up for them from this point.”
He said he understood the seriousness of the matter given it occurred as the AFL hierarchy were trying to convince state governments that restarting the competition would not jeopardise community health, and that players would be able to follow strict protocols.
The players, who remain in quarantine in the Barossa Valley and are accompanied by assistant coach Ben Hart and a club dietician, have now been instructed by the Crows to train individually according to Nicks.
The incident occurred when Adelaide players who had returned to South Australia from interstate were training in pairs on a golf course at the Barossa Valley Novotel. They then began a drill that involved at least eight players.
Onlookers reported the incident and a furious AFL began an investigation.
Nicks explained in detail what he believed had occurred.
“In the note we sent to our players, [we said] we want you to work on these areas. Four of our pairs have gotten in close proximity and begun kicking balls to each other,” Nicks said.
“My understanding of it. Players were kicking in pairs, 15 to 35 metres. I’m led to believe the players came together at a point and then had four pairs knocking balls around. They are still 15-20m away, it is still a group activity.
“I can’t guarantee a player wasn’t within 1.5 metres running next to another player. But the way the boys have explained it was they were knocking balls with four pairs.”
The AFL has several options in relation to penalties, including stripping the club of premiership points, taking draft picks or imposing a massive fine. They could also suspend or fine players, a difficult logistical exercise with Nicks saying 17 players were involved.
Opposition clubs have expressed surprise that the Crows would put their players together in a hotel for an extended period with the risk of a transgression high and the expense significant in a time when all clubs are facing a financial squeeze.
The Crows claimed they wanted to avoid their players returning to host families, however Nicks admitted there was a performance element to the idea as they wanted to make sure the players maintained the fitness they had achieved during the shutdown to minimise the chance of injury occurring when they returned.
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.