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Meeting has Demons in the frame for tanking

Date

Caroline Wilson

Regrets … sacked Melbourne coach Dean Bailey.

Regrets … sacked Melbourne coach Dean Bailey. Photo: Getty Images

The AFL has uncovered a secret meeting involving 15 members of the Melbourne football department in which coaches were reminded of the importance of losing matches in order to gain early draft picks.

Former Melbourne football boss Chris Connolly addressed the 2009 meeting which the Herald understands was codenamed ''the vault''.

The club is now receiving legal advice after at least four witnesses were recalled by the AFL and admitted the club planned to deliberately lose games of football. Among those to have confessed the meeting took place upon being re-interviewed are former coach Dean Bailey and his then assistant Josh Mahoney. The AFL investigation continued yesterday with those witnesses recalled, including Demons former recruiting manager Barry Prendergast.

It is not known whether the meeting referred to a specific game or cluster of matches. Melbourne had several suspicious losses in 2009 including successive defeats over rounds 17 and 18 respectively, to Sydney (18 points) and Richmond (four points). The Demons won just four games in 2009 winning Tom Scully (a priority choice) and Jack Trengove with the first two picks in the national draft.

It is understood Melbourne remains determined to fight any sanction and is looking at the legal definition of ''tanking''. The club is expected to come before the AFL Commission as early as next month.

As many as 10 witnesses are understood to have rolled over under pressure from AFL investigators Brett Clothier and Abraham Haddad, the league's intelligence co-ordinator.

Haddad, a police officer who worked as an investigator for the United Nations and has worked as a tactical intelligence operative for the Victoria Police sexual crimes squad, is believed to have warned several witnesses that he had been made aware of the meeting and expected their co-operation.

Mahoney, who is now in charge of the Melbourne football department, did not attend Monday's first official pre-season training session.

Bailey, who has not responded to calls from the Herald, now fears he could even be suspended by the AFL for his role in the tanking affair.

Now a senior assistant with Adelaide, Bailey came close to blowing the whistle on Melbourne last year during his final press conference, after being sacked, but then failed to reveal the meeting in a subsequent AFL investigation. Bailey has told colleagues he regrets following the club line which the AFL could establish was driven from the top. It is not clear whether Jim Stynes's legacy will be tarnished by the investigation. Stynes, who only partially addressed the tanking issue in his book before he died earlier this year, recently had a community scholarship named in his honour by the AFL.

Chief executive Cameron Schwab, who was not present at the Connolly meeting in question, is also being investigated for alleged incriminating conversations with coaches. Schwab, who almost lost his job last year before Bailey was sacked, recently signed a new three-year agreement . Connolly was removed from the football department at the end of last year but still works at the club.

The AFL has also interviewed former Demon assistants Mark Williams, Scott West, Kelly O'Donnell and Sean Wellman.

Club president Don McLardy said he would make no comment until the investigation was completed.

AFL chief Andrew Demetriou, who defended the club, counselled Schwab at the time and repeatedly denied tanking was taking place, said he was remaining at arm's length from the inquiry given his role as an AFL commissioner.

In August, Demetriou again said he did not believe tanking existed in football but likened the process to the game's worst crimes. ''Anything that affects the integrity of the competition, we put in that basket,'' Demetriou said. ''Things like the salary cap, we put in that basket, performance-enhancing drugs, we put in that basket, things that relate to betting scandals, information sharing and, of course, tanking if that exists.''

AFL Players' Association boss Matt Finnis refused to confirm whether the players' union was counselling any potential witnesses.

The investigation was sparked by former Demon Brock McLean after he spoke of his misgivings about the club's manipulation of games on Fox Footy's On The Couch in July. McLean has not been called back by the AFL investigation. At least one other former player, Melbourne's then captain James McDonald, has also been interviewed although it is not known whether he has been recalled.

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