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'We tried to stop tanking'

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Melbourne tanked from the top

AFL's discovery of a secret meeting involving senior Demons may have put Melbourne's future in jeopardy, amid allegations of match forfeiting.

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ANGRY Melbourne footballers formed a deputation and met senior club officials in a bid to overturn the tanking policy of 2009, only to be told the club was ''staying the course'' in order to gain early draft picks.

As the depth of despair and division at the club in the second half of that season continues to come to light, it is believed that humiliated senior players, fearing for their playing futures and disgusted at being coached to lose, confronted their bosses.

Those bosses reportedly included football leader Chris Connolly and coach Dean Bailey.

Under pressure: Demons players after the 2009 defeat against Richmond.

Under pressure: Demons players after the 2009 defeat against Richmond. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

While senior players two years later were called before president Jim Stynes and his deputy Don McLardy to officially protest about the performances of Connolly and club chief executive Cameron Schwab, it is not known whether board members were involved in the tanking meeting.

As the explosive AFL investigation has continued to identify and recall witnesses verifying Connolly's ''vault'' address that followed the Demons' 11-point win over Port Adelaide in round 15, it has also emerged:

■ Connolly's future at the club is now in doubt and even chief executive Schwab may not survive if his role in the tanking - if any - is established. Schwab's new three-year deal is said to have a six-month payout clause.

■ While the investigation is more likely to drag beyond the 2012 national draft, the Demons could be forced to front the AFL Commission at a specially convened hearing, or at the next scheduled meeting on November 19.

■ Should the club be sanctioned before the draft and lose picks one and two, it would lose Todd Viney's son, Jack.

■ At least one staffer asked during the vault meeting whether club bosses were backing the tanking strategy.

■ The Melbourne board has continued to mount a defence, which is being led at board level by director and respected lawyer Guy Jalland. Directors remain concerned past and present staff who have given evidence to the AFL's investigators were heavily coerced.

Former coach Bailey said via a text message on Wednesday he would make no comment on his role in the deliberate losses until the investigation was complete, while Connolly has not responded to calls.

President McLardy has also refused to comment, with key AFL witnesses warned by the league not to make any public statements.

AFL rules make it clear that any current employee within the club or league system is bound to respond to questioning from the AFL. All those witnesses recalled have been reminded that further penalties could be inflicted should they fail to tell the truth.

North Melbourne witnesses to the Lachlan Hansen concussion inquiry are already in trouble for inconsistent evidence, including Hansen himself and potentially key staffers including Donald McDonald and Steve Saunders. The AFL is still awaiting an explanation from the Kangaroos' acting chief Cameron Vale regarding the club's lack of co-operation.

It has been established that an estimated 15 people attended the Connolly address in the vault at Junction Oval in which he reminded assistant coaches and other football staffers, including two recruiters, that the club would suffer dire consequences should it continue its then winning streak of two games. No player was at the meeting. Former captain James McDonald was interviewed by the AFL but has not been recalled.

Although only Brock McLean has put his name to the belief that the club deliberately lost games, it now seems the bitter divisions between players and Connolly and Schwab continued to fester from that time. Some players openly rebelled during the three-quarter-time break of the Richmond game in round 18, which Melbourne lost after the siren.

Although the players also had grave reservations about the club's development and training and Connolly's attention to detail, the deliberate losses for some ultimately proved soul destroying in a sporting sense. Melbourne lost six of its last seven games, players were moved when playing well or dragged and, according to the families of at least two senior footballers, some never recovered in a playing sense.

McDonald and Brad Miller were forcibly retired the following year and made their misgivings about the club known to the board at the end of 2011. Both completed their careers at other clubs.

Brad Green, who replaced McDonald as captain, left the game somewhat disillusioned this year; McLean was traded to Carlton for an early draft pick, Jordan Gysberts (recently traded to North Melbourne); and Cameron Bruce fell out with the club and left for Hawthorn at the end of 2010.

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