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 that Melbourne would be fined the third-highest penalty in league history despite there being no evidence the club's board, management, players or then 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 February 1 next year for telling club staff in July 2009 of the implications of the Demons winning more games.
Melbourne's win over Port Adelaide meant it could only afford 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 that had hovered over it, 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 today shows that we were correct in that defence.''
The fine issued on Melbourne 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 was 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.
''If we're caught up slightly in that, well, that's for the good of Australian sport, and then maybe that's a small price we have to pay,'' he said.
During the investigation Melbourne had signalled a willingness to take its fight to the courts, but McLardy on Tuesday ruled out a legal challenge. An appeal would be expensive for a financial-struggling club and could also have been fought
out in a public courtroom. McLardy said the fine would be ''difficult for our finances'' and that the probe had made attracting sponsors tough, although he hoped the Demons could retain current backers.
Connolly is employed by Melbourne in a marketing role, but McLardy indicated he would keep his job and could be paid during his suspension. Connolly was an ''outstanding contributor to our football club and to AFL football and we value him very highly'', McLardy said.
Bailey's suspension continues a horror off-season for Adelaide, with chief executive Steven Trigg suspended until July and football manager Phil Harper suspended until March for their roles in the Crows' draft and salary cap cheating over Kurt Tippett. But the Crows said on Tuesday Bailey would retain his job.
McLachlan said Connolly and Bailey accepted their penalties, and described as ''terrible and stupid'' Connolly's decision to address that fateful football department meeting.
AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou, who has long denied the existence of tanking, did not attend the press conference because of his place on the AFL Commission. The AFL began its investigation when former Demon Brock McLean said the club tanked games in 2009.