- Integrity intact: Demons
- ROHAN CONNOLLY: Tanking saga leaves us with more questions
- EMMA QUAYLE: Dees winners? We'll know in about 2015
In the end it all came down to one meeting in July 2009 in an old tin shed at the Junction Oval known as ''the vault''.
It was there that Melbourne's then football boss, Chris Connolly, is alleged to have warned an estimated 15 officials against the perils of winning more than four games that year.
It was there that jobs were allegedly threatened and that two teenagers by the names of Tom Scully and Jack Trengove were mentioned. The Demons had just emerged from back-to-back victories and were perilously poised with three wins for the season.
It was that meeting which appears to have provided the best and most damaging evidence of what former Demon Brock McLean declared last year ''Blind Freddie'' could see. That Melbourne had deliberately lost games of football.
Not that the AFL announced as much when it revealed on Tuesday what it had told Melbourne four days earlier. The club was found guilty of little it seemed except that it was forced to take responsibility for the behaviour of Connolly and the club's former coach, Dean Bailey.
The AFL has achieved some expedient backroom deals in its time but this one will compete for the most pragmatic, political decisions in the game's history. To his credit Andrew Demetriou's most likely successor, Gillon McLachlan, made a good fist of justifying the inexplicable.
Both Connolly and Bailey are the scapegoats of something the AFL privately believes was sanctioned by others. According to McLachlan, Connolly ''made a terrible and stupid decision in the context of an AFL rule which has since changed. I know he now regrets that comment''.
They were found guilty of breaching AFL rule 1.6: That they had acted in a manner prejudicial to the interests of the competition.
If the Demons' board knew nothing then it is paying a heavy fine for what Connolly and Bailey did. The club has been fined $500,000 - almost double Adelaide's fine for draft and salary cap tampering. Only Carlton and the Demons themselves have ever been fined more in the past and both those were for salary cap cheating.
Intriguingly the club did not lose draft picks and McLachlan himself admitted the punishment was made in the context of a priority pick rule that had put clubs under pressure and has now been removed.
Melbourne reluctantly accepted the deal McLachlan crunched on the basis it did not lose draft picks. And on the basis that the investigation concluded that the club, coach and team had not set out to lose matches. It fought to have the $500,000 fine cut in half to the end but failed.
The AFL Commission talks on Monday were robust to say the least and there was a view that the club had escaped lightly. Again this was a messy, confusing political decision but at least there was a decision.
The board and Connolly's legal team fought not to have him carry the can for the entire affair but there had to be a scapegoat. Connolly himself denied for six months at least that he had been serious in his address to his staff in ''the vault'' that fateful winter's day back in 2009 but in the end he could not fight against the weight of evidence.
Or the political context in which this whole saga has been played out. The Demons also fought for Cameron Schwab not to be charged and in the end McLachlan admitted there was not sufficient evidence to do so despite some strong opinion to the contrary.
Significantly had the club, its board or chief executive had its integrity put in question then its Bentleigh Club pokies' licence could have been threatened.
Melbourne claims its integrity is intact and Jim Stynes' legacy has been preserved. Don McLardy, who was the ailing Stynes' deputy that year but pretty much in charge, slammed the media dialogue that has surrounded this whole unhappy episode.
He said he was entirely comfortable with the manner in which both he and his board conducted themselves in 2009.
McLardy said he was happy in terms of integrity that the club's name had been cleared but accepted that in the current sporting climate of match-fixing and drug allegations the AFL had to take a stand.
Demetriou will not be forced to explain his promise that any coach found guilty of deliberately losing games would never work again in football. That's because Bailey was found guilty of acting in a manner prejudicial to the AFL, but not trying to lose. Interestingly he was the only coach at Melbourne that year to have done so.
Demetriou defended his late withdrawal from Tuesday's public announcement saying it had been McLachlan's investigation, not his.
He said the evidence and findings had been put before an independent Queen's Counsel who had agreed the investigation had no sufficient evidence against any other officials or board members.
So the Demons won the legal argument that they did not tank. McLachlan admitted he wasn't even sure what tanking meant. Nor could the AFL prove, despite significant evidence played out before its very eyes in games such as rounds 17 and 18 against Sydney and Richmond respectively, that any on-field moves made in 2009 constituted deliberate attempts to lose. And yet the club, which scraped together a $19,000 profit last season, has been slapped with the third-largest fine in AFL history.
A club official, Chris Connolly, boasting a 40-year history with the sport has been banned from all football clubs and arenas for a year and yet Melbourne will still somehow manage to unofficially pay him.
A coach, Dean Bailey, who - under pressure from that official - acted before games in a manner prejudicial to victory but not during games, cannot coach for 16 weeks but can remain at his club and still get paid.
That's it in a nutshell. Messy? No messier than Melbourne's football operations in 2009. Confusing? No more confused than the Melbourne players were when they were victim to some very strange team selections and on-field moves that season.
Caroline Wilson has been chief football writer for The Age since 1999. She was the first woman to cover Australian Rules football on a full-time basis and the first woman to win the AFL's gold media award. She has won the AFL Players' Association's football writer of the year (1999) and the AFL Media Association's most outstanding football writer and most outstanding feature writer (2000, 2003, 2005). In 2014 she won the Melbourne Press Club's Graham Perkin award as Australian journalist of the year. She also won a MPC Quill Award in 2003.
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