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'Circle of trust' may claim Mifsud

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Jon Pierik and Samantha Lane

Moving on: Melbourne coach Mark Neeld.

Moving on: Melbourne coach Mark Neeld. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

FORMER Geelong and Adelaide footballer Ronnie Burns says the AFL’s multicultural boss Jason Mifsud may not have a choice other than to step down if the ‘‘circle of trust’’ with indigenous footballers has been broken.

However, Sydney’s Adam Goodes has backed  Mifsud and says he should not be ‘‘hanged for one mistake’’ and former Brisbane Lions star Chris Johnson, who is a colleague of Misfud’s at the AFL, says he has plenty of support from players.

Mifsud’s future was debated heavily in the football world yesterday after he was exposed as the man who leaked discredited allegations that Melbourne coach Mark Neeld had treated his Aboriginal players differently by interviewing them as a group.

It is believed Mifsud, of Maltese and indigenous descent, had ambitions of a major front-office role with the AFL, while there were suggestions he could ultimately become the league’s first indigenous commissioner.

However, those hopes may have been damaged by his involvement with two race rows — the first leading to the sacking of former Adelaide recruiter Matt Rendell.

Burns, an indigenous star of a decade ago who now runs a mentoring program, said Mifsud needed to assess his future.

‘‘There might be some players that don’t have the confidence or faith to go to him. There are going to be some players that do trust him,’’ Burns told The Age.

‘‘If you have a tight circle, and you have got 85 or 86 indigenous players on the list, and they all trust the one man and have confidence in him, if that trust is broken, it’s probably time you have to look where you are at. Maybe Jason needs to assess where he is at, have a few days to think about it and maybe the AFL has to make a call,’’ Burns said. ‘‘It’s like three strikes you are out — it’s two at the moment. He has been put up twice in the media. He has been targeted twice.

‘‘If Jason  thinks he needs to step down, he can go to Andrew Demetriou and the AFL and say: ‘I don’t want to be in this role any more’.

‘‘It’s something that Jason Mifsud needs to work out. He is going to have people on his side, and he is going to have some of the indigenous players and people in the community that aren’t going to be batting for him as well.’’

Goodes, though, said Mifsud had an excellent record with indigenous footballers and should be given another chance. ‘‘Jason Misfud still has my complete confidence,’’ he told The Age. ‘‘He has done fantastic work for our people in the AFL. Stuff with the Boomerangs [indigenous development squad], the Kickstart, the under-16s indigenous teams. He has done fantastic things. I don’t think we need to hang someone on one mistake.’’

Goodes made it clear he was not speaking on behalf of the AFL Players Association’s recently formed indigenous advisory board and that this was his personal view.

Johnson said he had phoned several players who had also supported Misfud. ‘‘They trust him and know his leadership will prevail,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘He’s got all their backing and there has been a tremendous amount of support from indigenous players, giving text messages and phone calls to Jason, to give him their support,’’ Johnson said on the Marngrook Footy Show.

Mifsud had offered his resignation on Tuesday but instead was given an official warning and counselled after it was revealed he had passed on claims about Neeld to Grant Thomas, his friend and former coach. Thomas then used these in his blog, which he did not verify with Neeld or the Demons.

They were later removed from the blog, sparking an investigation into where Thomas had received his information.

Veteran Demons forward Aaron Davey has publicly denied he is the culprit, although the AFL believes he is the source of the story. Neeld yesterday  declared he had no interest in finding who was to blame.

The Demons maintain that neither Davey nor any of his teammates were to blame. It’s believed Davey had even wanted to go public last week with a denial when rumours that the indigenous players had been treated differently gained traction.

The Demons yesterday maintained the rumours could have  derived from a disgruntled former employee, as the club has undergone major change since Neeld arrived.

Ian Flack, the former player welfare manager, was one casualty, although he assured The Age last night he had not been the source.  However, he confirmed he had met with Mifsud eight weeks ago.

Demetriou, though, told 3AW: ‘‘I think the Melbourne Football Club is well aware of who the player allegedly was who said this comment but it has been reported there is no truth to this particular comment, and there is nobody suggesting the comment is true.

‘‘I have spoken to [Demons chief executive] Cameron Schwab last night. They are adamant there is no player within their ranks who made that comment. Their position is that if this comment was made it’s been denied. They then are supporting all their players, and the so-called player, in that statement.’’

Later he said: ‘‘I am not prepared to discuss who the player is.’’

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