Richmond’s off-field leaders have pulled down the shutters this week, just one loss away from publicly acknowledging what it has already privately accepted.
Having failed to produce one solid performance over their opening five games, the Tigers are determined to respond to the club’s serious playing deficiencies and lack of depth and force a review of the club’s recruiting personnel and list strategy.
On-field Richmond have proved one of the competition’s slowest ball-movers in 2016, a reality that has been mirrored off the field by the club’s failure to shake up its football operation and inject new coaching blood into Damien Hardwick’s team of assistants.
As it stands, the decision to extend Hardwick’s contract until the end of 2018 looks at best unnecessary but the prevailing view at Richmond is that Hardwick is not the problem. Given the fragility of the Tigers’ list, it’s fair to say that Hardwick has done a better than adequate job with the talent at his disposal even if the team has looked bereft of structure too often this season.
A loss to Port Adelaide on Saturday night will prove the turning point. To echo Ross Lyon, Richmond must put more games in Daniel Rioli, Connor Menadue and Corey Ellis. If this is not a rebuild it is surely a transition.
The internal message at Richmond this week is that the season is not lost. Which appears to be the reason president Peggy O’Neal, chief executive Brendon Gale and football general manager Daniel Richardson have chosen to stay silent. But surely the public conversation cannot be stalled for much longer.
Particularly given that all three must take some responsibility for failing to address the tough decisions over the past two seasons and particularly given they strongly back Hardwick. If the coach has made errors – and all coaches do – then one would be that Hardwick has remained too loyal to key staffers with whom he built relationships at previous clubs. The only new coach at Tigerland this year is Craig McRae, who has returned to take over Richmond’s VFL team.
Having received deserved credit for rebuilding the club off the field and creating a stable environment, Gale and Co. must now accept scrutiny for taking too long to respond to the failings in the playing list and deficiencies in the coaches’ box. And having thrown everything at trying to recruit Adam Treloar and fallen short, and having traded in only Chris Yarran and Jacob Townsend, the Richmond heirarchy must surely radically revise next season’s list-building plan of action.
This time last year, after the round-four Anzac Eve loss to Melbourne, Gale appeared on Channel Nine’s Footy Classified and was chided in some media quarters for compounding the view that the club was in crisis. Perhaps the Tigers’ executives took that to heart, which could in part explain why they are refusing to comment this week.
But what Gale said then is telling in context of what the club is facing now. “I guess that’s what I happen to believe,” he said, "that at our best we’re not a bad football team, and we’ve got to get better. There’s credit in that because not so long ago we were a poor football team.
“When we experience injuries we struggle more than most because of our lack of depth. That’s an explanation, not an excuse, that’s the way it is.” Which raises the question on why the Tigers did not take control of the issue having identified it so long ago. Clearly, even allowing for the fact that the team radically improved from that point last year and injured players returned, the players still fell well short when it counted in September.
And now Richmond is back where they were last year and would seem to face an even tougher climb back, given the depth of the competition and the looming threat of the expansion clubs. The team that took the field against Melbourne in a showcase AFL game wafted too strongly of VFL.
None of the above excuses the lack of on-field leadership. Trent Cotchin, whose wife meant well but embarrassed the club and captain in her social media and front-page attack on those so-called media bullies, does not deserve to be singled out except as a symbol of a team too often bereft of on-field governance. The club has for too long failed to recruit enough strong leaders or put in place a leadership program that has resonated in on-field consistency.
Never was that more stark than on Sunday night when Alex Rance placed his elbow into the back of Jack Watts’ head when Watts wasn’t looking. Rance is a great defender and has apologised profusely. Citing the one-punch campaign, his personal moral code and his remorse, Rance on Tuesday called his action unprofessional, dumb, emotional, out of character, stupid and ridiculous.
All of the above. And potentially far more lethal. As it was, the message Rance sent to his younger teammates in the dying minutes of what might prove another moribund season for Richmond was that he had run out of answers. And in doing so he gave them all an excuse.
Richmond moving too slowly, on field and off Caroline Wilson The Age April 26, 2016
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