Chris Connolly. Photo: Joe Armao
CHRIS Connolly has rejected claims the now infamous "vault" meeting even took place and has suggested he is the victim of a conspiracy within the Melbourne Football Club.
In hard-copy documents detailing the AFL's investigation into claims the Demons tanked in 2009, Connolly, then general manager of football, has told AFL integrity officers Brett Clothier and Abraham Haddad there was no such plan and he has a hazy recollection of football-department meetings at that time.
But most of nearly 60 witness statements contradict Connolly and recall the meeting at the Junction Oval in the days after the surprise round-15 win over Port Adelaide, the Demons' third of the season. The win meant they could afford only one more win otherwise their hopes of securing a coveted priority pick in the national draft would be dashed.
About a dozen people attended the meeting at which Connolly is alleged to have reminded assistant coaches and other football department figures what the implications would be if the Demons won more games. They had just beaten West Coast and the Power.
"He [Connolly] is saying there wasn't a vault meeting, there were so many meetings he can't remember," a legal representative with knowledge of the report said.
"He goes to quite an extent to say that, 'I have been lined up by certain people at the club, these are the same people who lined me up to move sideways from football manager', to what he is doing now.
"He talks about stuff being leaked to The Age. He goes to a fairly full length to say there is some conspiracy theory."
Fairfax Media reported in October the alleged events in the Demons' dressing room after beating the Power by 11 points. Chief executive Cameron Schwab is said to have reminded then coach Dean Bailey to consider the future of the club – a claim Schwab denies and one which Bailey has been less than firm on.
Connolly is alleged to have commented to Bailey along the following lines: "Jimmy's just fallen out of his hospital bed." (Jim Stynes, then club president, was recovering from surgery after being diagnosed with cancer.)
Asked about this, Connolly said if he said something like that, it was "totally misinterpreted".
Schwab has also denied tanking claims and, like Connolly, must show reason to the AFL why he should not face two charges – bringing the game into disrepute and tampering with the draft. The Demons' board is also facing two charges.
Bailey, who has also denied several allegations, is facing the same charges and a third – not coaching to his utmost. They have until January 29 to respond.
The documents also show Connolly believes others think he was to blame for the 186-point loss to Geelong in 2011. Over a tumultuous weekend, Schwab was sacked by the board, then re-instated, and Bailey was dumped. At the time, Connolly and Bailey had had a major falling out, dividing the football department.
Connolly survived, although he has been removed from the football department under newcoach Mark Neeld and has a front-office role.
"He says that the same people that have lined him up for these allegations [of tanking] have got him removed because hewas to blame for the Geelong loss. But he doesn't mention any names," the legal representative said.
Rather than lay charges outright, the AFL has given Bailey, Connolly, Schwab and Melbourne the chance to first state their case. All parties won't comment.
Their lawyers remain concerned about "natural justice", the independence of the AFL investigation and misleading questions. They are determining whether to submit their full case or to hold back key points in case charges are laid. This would meanthey would have a fresh defence at any AFL hearing - or if matters extend to court.