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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

In July, former Demon Brock McLean (now with Carlton), appeared on a Melbourne football show and inferred that the Demons had deliberately lost games in 2009 to gain valuable priority draft selections. He said the "tanking" phenomenon prompted him to leave the club. Asked if winning had not been a top priority for the Melbourne Football Club at the time, McLean said "I think you would have to be blind Freddy to not figure that one out."

Those statements led the AFL to begin an investigation. With witnesses, including former club officials and players, coming forward, it has turned into a massive scandal. At the center of the investigation are questions about Melbourne's selection and game-day strategy. At the time, there were queries regarding some tactics and positional moves during several games, all of which were defended by then coach Dean Bailey. Investigators recently discovered that there had been a secret meeting of at least 15 members of the club's football department, including former football manager Chris Connolly. It is believed Connolly addressed the group, reminding them it was important to forfeit matches. The meeting location, a tin shed between two stands at the old Junction Oval, has become known as "the vault". The meeting took place after Melbourne's win over Port Adelaide in Round 15 that year. It was the team's second win in a row and their third for the season with the limit for priority selections being just four wins. Ultimately they did win just four games and and were handed the first two selections at the draft. Those selections were Tom Scully (a priority pick) and Jack Trengrove. It is believed that, during that meeting, Connolly told the group that jobs would be lost if the team won too many games.

As many as ten witnesses, including former players and staff, have been questioned by AFL investigators Brett Clothier and Abraham Haddad, the League's intelligence coordinator. Among those being investigated are Bailey, former assistant Josh Mahoney (now in charge of the football department), and current CEO Cameron Schwab who was not present at the Connolly meeting but is being investigated for alleged incriminating conversations with coaches. Schwab, who almost lost his job last year before Bailey was sacked, recently signed a new three year agreement with the club. Connolly was removed from the football department at the end of 2011 but still works at the club. There is also the possibility that current president Don McLardy and the late Jim Stynes could be implicated if it can be proven that they knew and approved of the tanking strategy.

Now an assistant at Adelaide, a club which is itself facing possible sanctions regarding secret deals between Kurt Tippett and his management, Bailey came close to confessing all at his last press conference as Demon coach. Bailey has told colleagues he now regrets following the club's line and could face suspension from the AFL.

Not only was McLean disillusioned, other senior players were also disgruntled. A group of them met with senior club officials but were told the club was ''staying the course'' to gain early draft picks. It is believed this caused a deep rift between the players, who felt humiliated over being coached to lose, and the coaches. A few weeks after the "vault" meeting, the Demons played Richmond in Round 18. They lost the game when Tiger Jordan McMahon kicked the winning goal after the siren. Some of the disgruntled players rebelled at three quarter time and attempted to win the game. Melbourne lost six of its last seven games, players were moved when playing well or dragged and, according to the families of at least two senior footballers, some never recovered from the tanking. James McDonald and Brad Miller were forcibly retired the following year and made their misgivings about the club known to the board at the end of 2011. Brad Green retired at the end of this year.

After the Richmond loss, AFL boss Andrew Demetriou contacted Schwab to tell him to "hang in there". In response to media criticism, Schwab commented that the club was about "... list management and experimentation". Demetriou defended Schwab and described the media conjecture and comments as "absolutely disgraceful.'' He also defended Bailey's player movement during the game, saying it was unfair to suddenly target Bailey and that Melbourne was just a poor team that year. Demetriou was firm that tanking was not happening and in his belief of the priority draft rules.

Not only is that Richmond game being looked at as evidence of tanking, so are the Round 17 and Round 22 losses to Sydney and St Kilda. The night before the Sydney game, at a dinner for club officials, a major football department boss is believed to have indicated that a plan was in place to reduce the chances for a win.

As the investigation has continued to identify and recall witnesses, there is the potential for significant damage to the club. Connolly could lose his job with the club and Schwab's contract has a six-month payout clause. The investigation could drag out beyond the national draft and the club could be required to face the AFL Commission. Should the club be sanctioned before the draft and lose picks one and two, it would lose Todd Viney's son, Jack.

Melbourne's board has continued to mount a defense, but is concerned that evidence given to the investigators was unduly coerced.

The Sydney Morning Herald complied a "tanking timeline" at the end of October.

August 2009
Melbourne leads Richmond late in the final quarter of the Round 18 game, but loses when Tiger Jordan McMahon kicks a goal after the siren. The match is notable for several Demons being played out of their usual positions. Under Dean Bailey, Melbourne wins one more game for the season for a total of four and secures a priority pick. At that year's national draft the Demons recruit Tom Scully and Jack Trengove with the first two picks.

September 2009
Melbourne forward Russell Robertson says at a function that players were played out of position towards the end of the season, and that players were disgruntled. He said no could be blamed but it was the way it was in the AFL at the time with the priority system in place.

October 2009
The Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation asks for assurances that tanking is not occurring. It later says it is satisfied with the measures the League had in place to ensure the integrity of games.

Source: theage.com.au, smh.com.au, news.com.au

Article last changed on Friday, February 01, 2013 - 10:11 PM EST


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