AFL acting football operations manager Gillon McLachlan announcing the penalties on Tuesday.

AFL acting football operations manager Gillon McLachlan announcing the penalties on Tuesday. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

AN EIGHT-MONTH investigation. More than 800 pages of evidence. No fewer than 58 interviews of players and officials. The third largest fine in AFL history levied and two individuals suspended.

And yet to many people directly involved, not to mention fans of both the Melbourne Football Club and the game of AFL football, the apparent resolution of a long-running saga leaves the two most fundamental questions still unanswered. What exactly is tanking, and was Melbourne guilty of it?

The answers still depend entirely upon interpretation. That is despite the unequivocal stance of the AFL finding that Melbourne had ''not set out to deliberately lose any matches in 2009'', and the apparent contradiction of a $500,000 fine dealt to the club, the price for the actions of now suspended former football manager Chris Connolly and former coach Dean Bailey.

If your definition of tanking is based solely upon a team of 22 players and its coaching staff contriving to lose a game on match day, Melbourne comes out of this long-running saga if not squeaky clean, at least without the stain of what would be tantamount to match-fixing.

That's not the case if you prefer a bigger-picture view, that team selection and the use of players in unfamiliar positions is for all intents and purposes the same thing. But Melbourne, on that score, has hardly been the lone ranger. Which helped foster the view that the Demons, and Connolly and Bailey in particular, had been sacrificial lambs.

AFL No. 2 and acting football operations manager Gillon McLachlan on Tuesday was unable to provide an explanation for the phrase that has been an unfortunate addition to the game's lexicon

''I don't actually know what the definition of tanking is,'' he conceded. ''In AFL rules, it talks to performing on merits and the best of ability, and there was no evidence in the testimony I received to suggest the Melbourne Football Club did anything other than that on match day. Certainly tanking under that definition was not able to be sustained.''

Melbourne chairman Don McLardy, in response to the AFL findings, spoke of resolutions, but not of clarity. Were we any closer to solving the mystery of the tank? ''My answer would be no I don't think we are,'' he said. ''I think it is a cloudy area. Nobody I think has clear-cut ideas about tanking and what it actually means. But I still support the AFL's right to protect the integrity of the game, and the Melbourne Football Club respects that.''

The Demons accepted the umpire's call, despite their clear conscience, the consistent threats of legal action in the end cast aside due not only to cost, but the potential distraction to a new coaching team untainted by the slurs of 2009, a season which begins in earnest this weekend in the NAB Cup.

As McLardy put it: ''Part of rationale with this is that we need clear air … [We] need to be able to go out on Friday and create some of our own history.''

Tanking, however, while hopefully consigned to the dustbin of history via the AFL's decision to take priority draft picks in-house and discretionary, remains a muddied pool of water indeed.

If the word is to mean manipulation at the selection table, what then of the scores of AFL teams over the years who have rested tired bodies and given the kids a go towards the end of a season for developmental purposes, the bottom line remaining a loss more likely?

Or more tellingly, the example offered to McLachlan on Tuesday, of a team like Fremantle, which in 2010 had already secured a home final and opted to rest more than half its best 22 for a clash with Hawthorn in Launceston?

''When teams rest players leading up to the finals, everyone knows those players are out of the team. If the team then tries to the best of its ability with the players selected, I don't think anyone can consider that tanking,'' McLachlan said. ''What has been established here is that the resting of the players was in response to a direction that was couched in the context of losing to secure a priority pick. They are very different.''

Are they? Many would argue only marginally, if the bottom line remains the sacrificing of a winning chance on the day in concern for a better one down the track, be it a couple of weeks in the case of the Dockers, or a couple of years in the Melbourne example.

Three-and-a-half years after the seven rounds played by the Demons which brought the issue of tanking to a head, we at least have findings which seem to be emphatic, and final. But as for the philosophical dilemma they purported to address, even Tuesday's announcement continued to raise more questions than it actually answered.