Demons: a developing issue

Melbourne's Paul Johnson (right), seen with Richmond's Tyrone Vickery during round 18 in 2009, has added fuel to the fire over the tanking allegations.
Melbourne's Paul Johnson (right), seen with Richmond's Tyrone Vickery during round 18 in 2009, has added fuel to the fire over the tanking allegations.

FORMER Melbourne ruckman Paul Johnson has added weight to Brock McLean's claims of tanking in 2009, saying player development, rather than winning, was the priority under former coach Dean Bailey.

McLean has reignited debate into the Demons' controversial season, declaring ''you would have to be blind Freddy'' to not realise his former club had not wanted to win matches in order to secure the top two picks in the national draft.

He said this tactic had gone against his beliefs and prompted him to quit the Demons and join Carlton after the 2009 season.

But the Blues, like the Demons, had also been accused of tanking in 2007 to secure Matthew Kreuzer.

McLean's comments have prompted the AFL to re-open an investigation into tanking, and he will be interviewed by league operations manager Adrian Anderson.

McLean's manager, Dan Richardson, last night ruled out having a lawyer accompany him to the hearing. Blues football manager Andrew McKay is set to join him.

The AFL refused to say what the Demons could be charged with if McLean's comments prompt further investigation, although it is possible this could include bringing the game into disrepute.

There were calls yesterday for the Demons, if found guilty, to face a penalty even bigger than the fine of almost $1 million and the stripping of draft selections handed to Carlton in 2002 for its salary-cap rorting.

Demons president Don McLardy said he welcomed the investigation.

Johnson, who played 18 senior games in 2009 and is now playing in the WAFL, yesterday refused to admit the Demons had tanked to finish last in 2008 and 2009 to secure key draft picks which they would use on Jack Watts, Tom Scully and Jack Trengove.

But when asked about the team's mentality in 2009, he replied: ''I wouldn't say it was necessarily to win or necessarily to lose,'' he said.

Johnson said some players had questioned the positional moves made by Bailey.

Two matches have particularly been under the spotlight: the Demons' four-point loss to Richmond in round 18, 2009, thanks to Jordan McMahon's post-siren goal; and a 47-point loss to St Kilda in round 22.

''You would go out in every game to win,'' Johnson said. ''Obviously, the season was finished, the coaches, I think, were going down the line of developing players. The result would take care of itself. I don't think we were going out there to lose, but we were going out to develop players.

''I don't believe we were tanking but there were decisions you questioned. We were always told it was just to develop players for the future, so you can play two or three different positions.''

Asked if this had been a murky

time, he replied: ''That's it. When your season is gone - look at the Gold Coast, are they developing players or are they going out to win games?

''You are going out to win, of course, but you want to develop players. Winning two games this year is not going to change what they are going to be in five years time.''

In that match against the Tigers, Johnson at one stage was sent into defence and given the task of silencing Nathan Brown, a small forward who was 18 centimetres shorter than him. Johnson maintains he had that role because a teammate was injured. He did not play against the Saints.

Bailey, now an assistant coach with Adelaide, did not want to comment yesterday.

But in his farewell press conference last year after he was sacked by the Demons, he came close to admitting, under orders, he had helped the Demons to tank.

Anderson subsequently launched an investigation into those claims, but Bailey and the Demons were cleared.

Former Melbourne forward Russell Robertson last year claimed ''this whole tanking vibe has disgruntled a few players at the club''.

He did not want to comment yesterday because he is now a club employee and feared being sacked.

Richardson said McLean was unlikely to table any hard evidence of tanking and would reiterate what he stated on the Foxtel program On the Couch on Monday night.

McLean had said the Demons' leadership group at the time was aware the club was tanking. David Neitz, who did not return calls yesterday, was skipper in 2008 and James McDonald, now with Greater Western Sydney, in 2009.

This story Demons: a developing issue first appeared on WA Today.