IT SHOULD come as no surprise to anyone - except possibly Andrew Demetriou - who watched Melbourne play football in 2009 to learn that the club deliberately manipulated games of football. To be blunt, the Demons lost on purpose.
Slightly more surprising to some has been the revelation that the AFL has finally taken tanking allegations seriously and has unearthed evidence that could place careers on the line, damage reputations and place the club in deep peril.
Totally staggering, however, is the fact that Melbourne officials appear to have actually met and discussed the strategy. Now that the Adrian Anderson-led AFL investigation is reaching its conclusion, the evidence seems compelling as more and more officials and coaches from that dismal season have come forward to admit the plot they either helped carry out or at the very least witnessed.
Suddenly the football climate has completely changed. Demetriou's tactic of shouting loudly and often that football clubs don't deliberately lose games now looks inaccurate and foolish and must be abandoned. His support in 2009 of the priority pick is equally dated.
More pertinent was a comment uttered on 3AW in 2011 when asked what would happen to a coach who admitted to manipulating a game. ''He would never work in football again,'' the AFL chief said. ''There would be an investigation into the club and there would be severe sanctions.''
Those league investigators criticised for only half-seriously delving into tanking allegations in the past - first following Tony Liberatore's allegations about Carlton in 2007 and more recently after Dean Bailey was sacked from Melbourne in 2011 - now resemble something closer to interrogators of commando proportions.
Certainly Brett Clothier and Abraham Haddad are believed to have interviewed and re-interviewed various senior Melbourne personnel past and present and have advised others who knew too much to come clean.
Bailey, now in Adelaide as Brenton Sanderson's senior assistant at the Crows, is said to truly regret toeing the party line. It didn't help him in the end and now he seems to have revealed what he did not admit to last year and could be punished.
Josh Mahoney, too, has admitted his knowledge of at least one damaging strategic meeting to the AFL. He was Bailey's assistant then but now runs the football department. There must be some uncomfortable people reporting for work at Melbourne this week and Mahoney was noticeable for his absence at the club's first training session on Monday.
Cameron Schwab was ultimately resurrected at Melbourne despite his past association with salary-cap cheating. The belief is he did not attend the pivotal meeting addressed by Chris Connolly but could still be incriminated, as could both Jim Stynes and Don McLardy, who - it could yet be established - knew and approved of the blatant strategy.
Stynes has only his remarkable legacy to protect and a scholarship named for him by the AFL - and McLardy remains one of the game's most well-liked presidents. It is difficult to envisage him being sanctioned and surely Melbourne is one of the last clubs that could survive any serious punishment in terms of financial, game or draft penalties.
And the AFL must act. Anderson's credibility was on the line last year as he, too, quickly wrapped up the Bailey-sparked investigation and suggestions this inquiry was a false one now seem laughable. ''Everyone needs to have total confidence in the integrity of the game,'' Anderson said last year. ''If we can guarantee that, then the commercial advantages will come anyway.''
Anderson was commenting on the appointment of former UN investigator Haddad, whose role had been widened as the league intensified its battle against match-fixing and the threat of performance-enhancing drugs. It was not suspected at the time he would actually prove that Melbourne tanked.
And yet he seems to have done that, against all odds. Consider Demetriou's defence of Melbourne in 2009 when he called Schwab after the weird Richmond loss and urged him to ''hang in there,'' according to Schwab, who added as the media storm erupted: ''Our club's very much about list management and experimentation with the team. It has been for much of the season, but suddenly it's become tanking.
''Our concern with Andrew is that we are being heavily scrutinised for this, but we are determined to continue on this path. He was very supportive.''
Less supportive, it is understood, were some Melbourne players who spoke up at three-quarter time and vowed to try to win anyway, which they nearly did. What a sorry affair.
Demetriou said after that game: ''I discussed the game with Cameron and agreed with him that some of the conjecture and commentary has been absolutely disgraceful.''
He also defended a number of the moves made by Bailey before and during the game. ''These things become self-perpetuating,'' Demetriou said. ''Dean Bailey is suddenly being regarded as untrustworthy, which is totally unfair on him. What people forget is that Melbourne have been a poor football team this year.''
Prophetically, he said: ''Losing games means coaches get sacked, sponsors pull out and players want out. Let me be absolutely clear on this because I am not saying this to create an argument: I believe in the priority pick and I don't believe in tanking. We are firm in our belief on this at the AFL.''
As we said, the climate has well and truly changed.
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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