So here we go again. Should I say it?
The f…f-f… I just can’t. I know this situation all to well.
Regrettably, we all know this situation.
The Richmond Football Club has been on the up under the coaching of Damien Hardwick and the ambitious Brendan Gale.
With steady improvement and some young talent that hasn’t been lurking at Punt Road since the wonderful ’70s, there is genuine belief within the headquarters at Punt Road and in the outer that they are finally getting it right.
Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt and Brett Delidio all have the potential of becoming the best Tigers of the last 30 years. When you think of Richmond players over the last decade or so, you think of Wayne Campbell, Matthew Knights, Matthew Richardson and yeah, even Nick Daffy. Despite Campbell playing close to 300 games, he was no more than a “good” AFL footballer. He was a smart and hard working midfielder but his disposal was sometimes sloppy and he lacked explosion to truly dominate games. Knights was a wonderfully gifted and polished footballer whose career is underrated by many. Richo was a great player, yet, not a champion. Then there is Daffy. Well, er, he had his moments.
So, here we sit on the verge of another season of expectations. Perhaps, “hope” is the more appropriate word from a Richmond supporter’s perspective.
The heart has been ripped out far to many times.
Somewhere between dismantling opposition teams in the late ’60s to early ’80s, and becoming the laughing stock of the AFL, Richmond’s modern history has become one of failure.
Sections of the Richmond faithful and media expect the Tigers to fill one of the final few spots of the final eight.
This prediction is not so absurd as in previous years. As Hawthorn premiership coach Alistair Clarkson pointed out, he finally believes there is genuine stability down at Richmond. This “stability”must be largely credited to Brendan Gale. Unlike previous CEOs of the club, he came in with ambitions and carefully laid plans. Importantly, he has set them in motion. He has tried his upmost to bring in the right people, from coaching staff to board members, so that the Tigers can compete on a commercial and on-field level.
However, a close look at Richmond’s playing list and there are still a few holes to fill that may hamper their ambition of playing finals in 2012. Some of the cracks in the list are more due to age than anything else. For the most part, the pieces are there but they need to be connected.
Richmond’s midfield is growing in class and importantly in depth. We all know the likes of Cotchin, Martin and Delidio will hold the key to the Tigers’ future. Yet, below centre stage lies the foot-soldiers who will make the Tiger’s climb from just outside the eight to a genuine finals team, far easier. The forgotten man, Nathan Foley is finally fit and healthy, ball-magnet Grigg, Edwards, the ever improving Nahas, youngsters Conca, Ellis and Heilbig, veterans Jackson and Tuck- all form the nucleus of a strong and potentially elite midfield.
However, where the most immediate problem lies is in the back-half. The Tigers enjoy quality rebounding defenders. Last year, Bachar Houli found consistency as a dangerous long kick from the defensive 50, Skipper Chris Newman remains a sure-foot, and first year player Jake Batchelor plays the medium defensive backman who can create offense well. Now add mature age recruit Steve Morris to the mix and the Tiges look dangerous rebounding out of the back 50.
Perhaps, the most important position in the back-line is yet to be filled. The centre-half-back position remains vacant at Richmond. Short term, this spot is likely to remain vacant. Luke Mcguane has been tried but clearly his days at Punt Road are limited. They continue to experiment with Jayden Post but he simply is not up to the grade. He currently lacks intensity, speed, agility and football IQ to hold down the position. Youngster Dylan Grimes is promising but he resembles more of a third defender. On the other hand, Dave Astbury holds the key to Tigers’ long term hopes. He is coming off a knee injury from last year. He has the size and know-how to play the position for the next 10 years. But at the moment his youth and lack of a full pre-season might play against him in 2012.
Richmond will continue to rely on Alex Rance to shoulder the monster tasks of duelling with the best forwards in the game. Despite Rance having a breakout year in 2011, the jury is still out if he can consolidate himself as a quality fullback. Too often at Tigerland do players let themselves down with a poor year following a career best season. If Rance can raise his game to another level this year than the holes in the back line can be temporarily covered up.
So again the footy public ask, can the Tigers break the seemingly never ending finals drought?
The bright future is genuine at Richmond but we may just be one year premature in tipping the Tigers for a finals berth.