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AFL fines Melbourne $500k for... not tanking

Puzzled reaction to AFL's decision to fine Melbourne FC even though its eight-month inquiry cleared the club of tanking.

PT1M52S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2ep9p 620 349

MELBOURNE president Don McLardy insists his club’s integrity is intact and that its defence against tanking allegations was validated despite it being slugged $500,000 for being responsible for two former officials who acted outside AFL rules in 2009.

The AFL announced on Tuesday  Melbourne would be fined the third-highest penalty in league history despite  no evidence the club’s board, management, players or coach Dean Bailey deliberately set out to lose games to secure draft picks.

Chris Connolly, Melbourne’s then general manager of football operations, was suspended from all ties with the club until February1 next year for telling club staff in July 2009 of the implications of the Demons winning more games.

"The perception of what happened at our football club and the reality have been two completely different things" ... Don McLardy.

"The perception of what happened at our football club and the reality have been two completely different things" ... Don McLardy. Photo: Justin McManus

Melbourne’s win over Port Adelaide meant they could  afford only one more win from seven rounds to get a priority pick under the former system. The Demons finished 2009 with four wins and recruited Tom Scully (priority) and Jack Trengove with the first two selections.

Bailey, now an assistant coach at Adelaide, was suspended for 16 games for selection and positional decisions, but the AFL found he coached to the best of his ability during games. The league found Bailey felt pressure from Connolly to make those pre-game decisions.

McLardy said Melbourne had paid an ‘‘enormously high price’’ for the scrutiny and uncertainty  over them, but said the Demons were in the clear and while not pleased with the fine, was comfortable with what happened at his club. ‘‘The perception of what happened at our football club and the reality have been two completely different things,’’ he said.

‘‘We said from the start we would set out to defend the integrity of the club. I think we’ve been very strong in that defence for as long as the investigation’s been going, which is nearly eight months. The result  shows that we were correct in that defence.’’

Melbourne’s fine is smaller only than the penalties imposed on Carlton ($930,000 in 2002) and the Demons ($600,000 in 1999) for salary cap cheating. But the AFL’s acting football operations general manager, Gillon McLachlan, said Melbourne were   responsible for the two officials.

McLardy said the Demons would ‘‘accept the umpire’s decision’’ given the focus on integrity in sport raised by this month’s release of the Australian Crime Commission report.
During the investigation Melbourne had signalled a willingness to take their  fight to the courts, but McLardy on Tuesday ruled out a legal challenge. An appeal would be expensive for a financially struggling club and could also have been fought out in a public court.

McLardy said the fine would be ‘‘difficult for our finances’’ and  the probe had made attracting sponsors tough.