This Richmond team, troublingly for the competition, has manageable pressure on its salary cap and no immediate threat of key players exiting. On the contrary, this Richmond team is likely to be – on paper as we sit here right now – better next year than the one that won the grand final on Saturday.
Yes, this is often said of premiership teams and was inaccurately assumed this time last year about West Coast adding Nic Naitanui and Andrew Gaff, but this Richmond team looks more likely to be better in several areas and there’s no obvious reason why they will be worse.
This premiership team will next year get back a five-time all-Australian and all-Australian captain in Alex Rance.
Marlion Pickett, the player living a Michael Lewis story, will play a full season next year after enduring his first full AFL pre-season over summer. So too will Sydney Stack.
These two players have injected more excitement and life into this team than any Richmond player, save for Dusty. OK and Tom Lynch, but for unexpected arrivals to a team from this time last year, they have been stunning inclusions.
Riley Collier-Dawkins, the rangy midfielder who was their first pick in last year’s draft will press for his debut. Jack Ross, a brutishly strong but neat player, who was terribly unlucky to miss playing two grand finals in two weeks should play regular football and help in the evolution of Richmond’s midfield.
Then there is Lynch who arrived at the club from a posterior cruciate ligament and managed to play every game despite a preparation that was more rehabilitation than preparation. He will finally have a pre-season.
The unknowns of which players start to weary with age and which players get injured cannot accurately be predicted but presently there is no compelling reason to assume any will fall away.
The structure of Lynch’s contract with the bulk of his money being paid in the second half of his long-term contract when other big earners such as Jack Riewoldt, Rance and Trent Cotchin will either be retiring or working on reduced terms means Richmond is not labouring under the salary cap pressure despite having a handful of very big money earners in the team.
The question for Richmond and whether they improve or are overhauled next year is not likely to come down to personnel. It might be more about hunger and about method.
The Richmond rooms after the game on Saturday felt completely unlike two years ago. Then there was a wide-eyed disbelief that they had done it. On Saturday there was joy but not shock.
In fact their newest player, Pickett, was just excited to play an AFL game regardless of whether it was a grand final. After his first taste of AFL football he wanted to play again next week. He’d be happy if the season started again now, so too Stack.
Those are the players that will not only make Richmond’s personnel better but will ensure their hunger and desire remains high. Pickett has waited so long he is a man in a hurry, and is not interested in relaxing now.
A curious thing about Richmond’s success is that while others have played follow the leader in many things about what they do, they have largely not followed Richmond’s style of play.
No one else really tries to replicate Richmond’s style. Many play with the high energy and pressure and with numbers at the contest as Richmond does but no one else really tries to emulate their run and carry game. Others don’t handball forward and run in numbers forward of the ball like the Tigers do. They don’t play for territory the same way Richmond does. The Bulldogs would be closest but, still their ball movement varies from Richmond’s.
Richmond’s game style obviously brought GWS thunderously undone on Saturday in a manner they have also done against other teams during the year. The question now is whether other teams will begin replicating Richmond’s game or try to unpick them.
RISKS LEAD TO REWARDS
The best story of the grand final only occurred because of a change of AFL rules.
Twelve months ago, Marlion Pickett’s grand final could not have happened.
The new mid-season draft would already have been agreed to have been a worthy experiment before Pickett’s performance on grand final day, now it has only further vindicated that change.
The mid-season draft and the supplemental list selections allowing rookies to be signed up until the eve of the season and which delivered Richmond Sydney Stack after he was permitted a trial at Richmond have been outstanding successes.
The changes were not just about bringing in players in late they were also about mitigating risk for clubs. The mandated minimum two year contracts that have to be offered to players who are drafted is one of the reasons clubs have been so risk averse in recruitment.
Recruiters answering to anxious boards about why Player X didn’t work out and quit the game were encouraged to pick safely. These rule changes, along with the success of Tim Kelly – who was passed over in five successive national drafts – and Liam Ryan, will hopefully encourage more clubs to be brave when it comes to selecting players of varied backgrounds and might see them add more resources in an effort towards a better understanding of players’ needs.
TIGERS DELIVER ON BIG PLANS
”By 2020, we aspire to have won our 13th premiership; consistently provide the most exciting and powerful match-day experience in the competition; once again have the strongest support base in the nation, and enjoy the strongest emotional connection with our members and fans.’ ‘ Richmond strategy document, written by chief executive Brendon Gale March 2010, and reported exclusively in The Age.
The first stage of the plan was for three finals appearances, 75,000 members and zero debt within five years. They got the members and the debt sorted but didn’t get the third final.
The second stage was to win three flags in 10 years. They might get there for they now not only have no debt they have a healthy bank balance, they have hit six figures for membership and one more flag next year will mean they have achieved the most ambitious strategic plan in football.
The plan has been perfectly executed by Gale as chief executive and his executive team. There were many authors of the plan with past and present board members playing a role, along with former members of the exective such as Cain Liddle who is now CEO at Carlton. Henrietta Rothschild was advisor to the board then and her impressive work on writing the plan was one of the key reasons she was asked to join.
Gary March has been an anonymous figure since he left Punt Road, but he too deserves to be remembered for the foundations he helped lay to build what the Tigers have now become.
ONE GIANT CALL TOO MANY
Stephen Coniglio didn’t think he could get through the game so pulled out. Matt De Boer was carrying something and was not right but played. Lachie Whitfield had his appendix taken out only days earlier and couldn’t kick on his right foot.
And yet still the Giants rolled the dice on the fitness of captain Phil Davis. The scenes before the game when Davis was ambling through a fitness test and then standing around in the warm up did little to encourage the idea of a player ready to go for the biggest game of his life. But he played.
The Giants may be criticised for these decisions but they are from alone in gambling on players in finals. Even Richmond did it 12 months ago in their preliminary final. That night they played David Astbury after he spent the night in hospital on a drip due to illness, and Dustin Martin who had a corkie that left him restricted and well below his best.
After that, they took a stronger view of the degree of fitness or injury they would tolerate for players in games. But still, decisions such as these are seldom clear cut red light-green light choices.
Nigel Lappin played in the 2003 grand final with cracked ribs and they won their third sucessive flag. There is always risk … and sometimes a reward.
Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.