McLean: When I knew Dees were trying to lose

BROCK McLean had long since moved on from Melbourne's disastrous 2009 season as he sauntered into Fox Footy's Dorcas St offices in late July 2012.

He was a last-minute guest for Fox Footy's On The Couch.

Having regained some of his best form after his career stalled in the two previous years, he had every reason to believe his resurgence would be the focus.

Then an off-script question thrown at the unsuspecting midfielder turned the interview on its head - and rocked the foundations of the AFL.

Unwittingly, McLean's candid answer led to a 203-day investigation, interviews with 50 people and an 80-page dossier into one of footy's worst kept "secrets" - allegations Melbourne "tanked" in late 2009 to secure the first two national draft picks.

Even when McLean said on the show: "I think you would have to be blind Freddy not to figure out" the Demons tanked, the full implications hadn't dawned on him.

That came when his phone pinged incessantly with messages as soon as he switched it back on after leaving the Fox Footy set.

Brock McLean during his Fox Footy interview which sparked an investigation into allegations Melbourne tanked.
Brock McLean during his Fox Footy interview which sparked an investigation into allegations Melbourne tanked.

"I was blissfully unaware and then I turned my phone on afterwards, and it started going bananas," McLean said.

"I wasn't expecting the question. I honestly thought we were going to talk about me (coming) out of the football wilderness after a couple of years.

"I just spoke the truth because that's what came to my mind.

"I didn't really regret the things I said, but I would have worded them differently if I had my time over again."

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As it transpired, the AFL did not find the Demons guilty of tanking, but the club was whacked with a $500,000 fine on related charges.

Melbourne's 2009 coach Dean Bailey and football manager Chris Connolly were found guilty of "acting in a manner prejudicial to the interests of the competition". Their charges related back to a meeting in "The Vault" - a portable building at the Junction Oval - in July of that year.

Bailey, who was working as an assistant coach at Adelaide at the time, was suspended for 16 weeks. Connolly was banned for a year.

After McLean's TV appearance, the Demons' tanking saga was once more front and centre of the AFL agenda after the league had previously refused to look into the allegations.

This time it had no choice.

Brock McLean chases a sprinting Chris Judd in the years before joining Carlton.
Brock McLean chases a sprinting Chris Judd in the years before joining Carlton.

Melbourne was livid at the headlines that followed.

Carlton, where McLean was playing in 2012, was unimpressed.

"The next day I sat down and spoke with Macca (Carlton football manager Andrew McKay) and we had a bit more time to go over what was said and the repercussions of it all," McLean said.

"Around that time (Carlton president) 'Sticks' (Kernahan) may have pulled me into his office and gave me a real talking to."

The "tanking" genie was out of the bottle - for good.

'STANK TO HIGH HEAVEN'

Melbourne wasn't the only club accused of tanking in the first decade of the 2000s when priority draft picks were often envisaged as a panacea.

None of those allegations were ever thoroughly examined by the AFL, other than through the media.

McLean's comments changed that.

McLean was last week asked the same question  about whether he thought the emons tanked in 2009.

He was every bit as emphatic, pointing to "some very, very weird" happenings.

"One thing that I wish I had expressed On The Couch … (was) that no player went out to deliberately try to lose a game. That just goes against a player's natural instinct, (but) we didn't put ourselves in the best position to win a game," he said.

The Round 18 clash with Richmond was laced with some perplexing decisions.

A match report from the day stated: "In every way this game stank to high heaven. It stank because of the total ineptitude of Richmond and Melbourne. But mostly because of the Demons' bizarre tactics."

Melbourne's best midfielder James McDonald was banished to defence; forwards Russell Robertson and Colin Sylvia were not selected in favour of VFL regulars Michael Newton and Jake Spencer; defenders James Frawley and Matthew Warnock played much of the game in attack; ruckman Paul Johnson was used for a time on Nathan Brown (who was 18cm shorter) - and forward Brad Miller took Johnson's role at centre bounces.

McLean watched it all unfold from the grandstand.

Just when it appeared neither side wanted to win, Richmond's Jordan McMahon capped off a Tiger comeback by kicking the matchwinning goal after the final siren.

Jordan McMahon celebrates his matchwinning goal against Melbourne.
Jordan McMahon celebrates his matchwinning goal against Melbourne.

'THIS IS REALLY, REALLY OBVIOUS'

McLean's frustration boiled over during the Round 21 clash against Carlton.

"The weirdest I ever felt and probably the time I knew (the club was tanking) - apart from all the obvious things - was when we were playing Carlton," he said.

"I was playing one out of the full-forward square.

"I was so bored … I would run up on the ball and get a couple of quick possessions and the runner would come out and go, 'Mate, we want you to work on your one-on-one game out of the square, get back there'.

"At one stage I had a few stern words with the runner. That was when I felt, 'This is really, really obvious'.

"Frawley was giving (Brendon) Fevola an absolute bath early on and someone ended up being put on him. Fev ended up kicking seven goals."

Carlton won by 57 points.

Needing to lose the final game against St Kilda to guarantee themselves a priority pick, the Demons led by two goals at quarter-time and were level just before half-time.

McLean wasn't surprised when the magnet boards were reshuffled at the major break.

Frawley was taken off Nick Riewoldt, Liam Jurrah and Aaron Davey were benched, leaving Nick Dal Santo unattended, and when Jurrah returned and kicked two goals, he was taken off for most of the next term.

"St Kilda were probably the best side in it that year and we were (almost) beating them at half time (six points down) in the last round of the season," McLean said.

"To actually beat them … what that would have done for the confidence of the young playing group … it was like, 'Righto boys, we have got some real momentum going into next year'.

"But at halftime the changes came out … and we lost that game (by 47 points)."

The Demon lost to the Saints but won the first two draft picks.

As he sat fuming in the rooms at the MCG that Sunday, McLean knew the club had lost something far more important - and he wanted out.

Melbourne netted Tom Scully and Jack Trengove with its prized top-two picks.
Melbourne netted Tom Scully and Jack Trengove with its prized top-two picks.

 

TANKS FOR NOTHING

McLean isn't angry about the tanking furore anymore, but feels sympathy for Bailey, who died of lung cancer in March 2014.

He described Bailey as "a victim" and "an unwilling participant" who was trying to save his job.

He has less sympathy for Melbourne's administration.

McLean can understand why the AFL's then chief executive Andrew Demetriou was initially reluctant to delve into tanking allegations.

" (Demetriou's) job … was to protect the brand of the AFL," he said.

"It may have set the AFL back quite a few years. There would have been a backlash if he had sort of admitted it."

McLean is certain tanking doesn't work.

"I guess this is a big lesson to all AFL clubs out there," he said.

"Look at what happened … Jack Trengove (pick two) unfortunately not to his own fault, had a lot of injuries and Tom Scully (pick one) left (for GWS) two years later."

Richmond used pick three on a kid called Dustin Martin who has won a Brownlow Medal, two Norm Smith Medals and two premierships in the decade since.

Melbourne has played in only one finals series since.

McLean stressed the tanking saga wasn't the only reason he left Melbourne for Carlton at the end of 2009.

"I just felt if I had continued at Melbourne, they weren't going to get the best out of me," he said. "So it was going to be a waste of time for them and it was going to be a waste of time for myself."

Brock McLean was close mates with the late Colin Sylvia.
Brock McLean was close mates with the late Colin Sylvia.

MY MATE COL

McLean and Colin Sylvia were kindred spirits, not just because they were taken by Melbourne within two picks of each other in the 2003 draft.

They lived life hard and fast, but post-football issues pushed them both to the edge.

When Sylvia was killed in a motor vehicle accident in his hometown of Mildura in late 2018, McLean couldn't say goodbye to him.

"I wasn't in a position where I could go and grieve for him because I was doing a lot of work on myself," he said.

"That was at the end of 2018 (and) I was still going through my own shit and my own battles.

"I never got the chance to go up to the funeral.

"Something I want to do is go up to Mildura (to see Sylvia's family) and go and see the site where he died and pay my respects for him in that way.

"I would have loved to have done it at the time, but a funeral would have just tipped me right off the rails."

McLean and Sylvia fought similar battles in different spotlights.

"Col was just a very misunderstood person," he said. "Deep down he was an extremely loyal person and would bend over backwards and go into battle for someone he considered a very good friend.

"He obviously had his issues post football and (they were) very public at the time.

"From all reports, he was getting his life back on track (when he died). It was heartbreaking.

"I had my issues. I had a shitload of issues post football, but none of them were public, so at least I was able to deal with them in a private nature."

Brock McLean enjoys a Melbourne win with coach Dean Bailey and Demons fans.
Brock McLean enjoys a Melbourne win with coach Dean Bailey and Demons fans.

FOOTY'S MOST FAMOUS BURNOUT

McLean was being touted as a future Melbourne captain when two bar-room incidents in Greece and Germany on one noteworthy post-season trip in 2007 created headlines.

A series of burnouts in the Trinity Grammar car park after a training session got him into more hot water.

It happened in February 2008, and earned him a bake from the Trinity Grammar ground manager.

"I had just got a really hotted up (Maloo) ute," McLean said.

"I was just about to drive out of training and Mark Jamar … started doing a sign to do a burnout.

"I was 21, adrenaline was running through my body … I was doing it for about 40 metres and it sort of fishtailed and all the boys were going bananas."

McLean didn't give it another thought as he drove down the Eastern Freeway until a call from football manager Ross Monaghan turned him around.

"He (Monaghan) was like, 'I think you better get back here, the ground manager is not happy with you'.

"I drove back and (the ground manager) was absolutely filthy."

McLean was banned from parking in the Trinity car park, which meant he had to park outside the gate and walk more than a kilometre to the oval each session.

"I put the (hitchhiking) thumb out as a bit of a joke and blokes would go past and put their fingers up," he said. "'Bails' (Bailey) might have given me a lift in.

"I was just a knockabout kid growing up."

Brock McLean has been detached from football since his AFL career ended in 2014.
Brock McLean has been detached from football since his AFL career ended in 2014.

CHANGE OF LIFE

McLean has been detached from football - dealing with his mental health battles - since he was sacked from Carlton in late 2014.

At times he wondered if he would make it, but is thankful for the head space he is in now.

The 34-year-old is optimistically looking to the future after years of anguish and self-loathing.

"As human beings we are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain," he said.

"I constantly avoided pain and painful emotions and experiences. I would go and drink and abuse drugs and try to escape my problems.

"(Now I'm) just trying to learn to be 'in the moment' and not get caught up in the rat race of life and just learning to enjoy the small things."

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he started reconnecting with former Melbourne teammates in a running group at 6.30am each Saturday.

"We do a couple of laps then have some brekkie afterwards," McLean said.

"I was part of that group for a little bit, but then I got unwell again and had to step back.

"(But) I'm back in the fold. It is almost like being back at the footy club again."