Demons' lame-duck excuses
DESPITE the regular protestations of the AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou and his commission, when the blowtorch was placed on the integrity of certain home-and-away matches in 2009, there appears no doubt in anyone's mind any more that Melbourne worked to lose games of football that year.
The response to that allegation from Melbourne staff and board members since the murky evidence gleaned in the AFL's tanking investigation was first revealed has been uniform and unconvincing.
The Demons' unofficial defence since it became clear they had a very serious case to answer has been run along several lines. The first is the schoolyard excuse: that everybody else was doing it - or at least a sufficient number of clubs, meaning that their club should not be singled out. Further, if the club is punished, then it will drag down others along with it.
Another excuse by Melbourne is that staff and former staff were ''verballed'' or harassed by AFL investigators.
This is not a defence against the charge itself but a complaint in the manner by which the AFL gathered its information from those men who attended a meeting addressed by Chris Connolly at the Junction Oval ''vault''.
Then there is the Connolly role in all of this. Connolly has vigorously defended himself, claimed himself to have been singled out as part of a conspiracy - the club was bitterly divided in his last year as football boss - and claimed that he was being light-hearted if he said anything at all about losing games. So that, in essence, is what Melbourne is unofficially saying in its defence. That it wasn't the only ''tanker''; that witnesses were bullied and that Connolly was only joking. Oh, and that the AFL knew what was going on and tacitly allowed it.
And that Melbourne is too weak to be punished. And - finally - that the AFL has no proof. Certainly the whistleblower Brock McLean provided no evidence. It is understood that Melbourne will be charged in the coming days and almost certainly by Friday. One expected charge is bringing the game into disrepute. Connolly will be charged as will former coach Dean Bailey, but Fairfax Media could not confirm whether CEO Cameron Schwab would also be charged.
Acting AFL football boss Gillon McLachlan is running the affair, having taken it over from the departed Adrian Anderson and has refused to discuss what has reportedly been constant dialogue with all parties. At the height of the Australian Crime Commission sport scandal late last week Connolly was being interviewed at AFL headquarters.
While club president Don McLardy missed the point entirely at last week's Melbourne annual general meeting when he suggested that his players had wrongly been accused of not trying, McLardy remains steadfast in his view that he would fight the AFL's charges all the way to the highest court in the land.
This is unlikely to happen. Neither Melbourne nor the AFL can afford a costly and protracted legal battle and it is clear now that not everyone at the club is behind that fight-at-all-costs mentality.
Another view is that the Demons would be wiser to push for a negotiated outcome. Certainly the view at the game's headquarters is that the charges will be laid and that Melbourne and its officials - and Bailey - will face the AFL Commission in the manner that Adelaide did late last year.
Charges of draft tampering and - for Bailey - not coaching to his utmost have also been looked at.
The Demons have engaged former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein to lead their defence and their view is that they have a very good case. Perhaps in legal terms they are correct even though their stated excuses are so so flimsy, irrelevant and in some cases childish.
Perhaps, in the name of political expediency, their punishment will be mitigated. But it shouldn't be. What Melbourne did to its players in 2009 was unacceptable.
It is true the AFL can hold its head far higher than at least two other football codes in Australia where match-fixing allegations are concerned, but everybody involved in this case knows that the game's integrity is paramount.
Melbourne manipulated football results in 2009. Bailey knew it, McLean and several teammates knew it and resented it and a disturbing number of witnesses have attested to it. To let the club off the hook now would be as damaging to the game's image as Melbourne was back in that clumsy, divided and unhappy time four seasons ago.