There is a fascination with the Richmond Football Club at the moment that, at least to me, seems a bit stronger than with previous dynasties of the Brisbane Lions, Hawthorn and Geelong.
Maybe it’s immediacy bias, or the fact that they’re my team, but it seems that everyone is asking, ‘Can the Tigers win it this year? And if not, is the dynasty over?’
When I considered these questions at the start of the week my answer was yes they can, without strong conviction. But when the news of Tom Lynch’s injury emerged – which would keep him out for six weeks – that conviction weakened further. In some years, no matter how hard you try, events conspire against you. It feels like that sort of year for the Tigers.
Richmond celebrating their third premiership in four years last season. Credit:Michael Wilson, Getty Images
The more interesting question is can they win it next year? And what path should the Tigers take after that?
The dynastic clubs, mentioned above, have all travelled different paths post-multiple premierships. Richmond, when considering their own path, can look at these.
The Lions played four grand finals in a row for three premierships, ending in 2004, and then missed finals for 14-straight years. Hawthorn got a flag early in their reign in 2008 and then won three in a row from 2013-15, made finals two of the next three years, before missing three consecutive finals series, counting this season. Geelong had their golden era of winning three premierships in five years from 2007-11 and have maintained an incredibly high standard since, playing in eight of the next nine finals series, including a grand final last season.
The Lions’ prolonged struggles can’t simply be attributed to going one year too long. It was a succession of decisions over a period of time in a vulnerable northern market.
The Cats and the Hawks have followed the same strategy of topping up with mature players for vastly different outcomes.
The clubs who win multiple premierships have many things in common. One is that you have to have four to five absolute A plus talents – players who can have major influences on games – like Michael Voss, Simon Black, Jonathan Brown, Jason Akermanis and Alastair Lynch. Or Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Lance Franklin, Jarryd Roughead and Cyril Rioli. Or Gary Ablett, Joel Selwood, Tom Hawkins, Matthew Scarlett and Corey Enright. At Richmond, Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin, Alex Rance, Jack Riewoldt and Lynch.
Of course the rest of the team is important but with a good system these stars make everyone else better than they would be in an average team.
The problem with these types of players is that they generally retire, which means apart from some (sometimes minimal) salary cap relief, you don’t receive anything in return for them in terms of draft picks.
The same quandary faced Jerry Krause, the general manager of the Chicago Bulls and documented so well in The Last Dance. Do they go for another title with their ageing stars or do they refresh by retiring Michael Jordan and trading the others? He opted for a refresh but more significantly, and fatefully, also let go of the coach, the great Phil Jackson. The Bulls dropped off the face of the earth and have never been the same since.
Tigers coach Damien Hardwick, right, with Bachar Houli after Richmond’s 2017 grand final win.Credit:Getty Images
So what path do the Tigers choose? Firstly, I do think they can win the premiership next season. The only player who may retire at the end of this season is Bachar Houli, who is 33 and soft-tissue injuries seem to be slowing him up. They’ve still got talent that can change games in Lynch, Martin, Shai Bolton, Noah Balta and Dylan Grimes/Nick Vlaustin, allowing Cotchin and Riewoldt to play still important but more cameo-type roles.
List manager Blair Hartley and recruiting manager Matt Clarke have also done a wonderful job of bringing in talent during these golden times from the lower reaches of the draft. Jayden Short won the best and fairest last season in a premiership year after being the 11th selection in the 2015 rookie draft. Martin finished second.
So for the sake of discussion, let’s say they win one in the next two years. Where to then? The system has dictated that it is incredibly difficult to stay in finals year after year, with the Cats and Swans the sides who have bucked that trend in the past 20 years.
Interestingly, not one of the teams who had golden runs in the past 20 years with multiple premierships have won a further premiership since that era.
If Richmond coach Damien Hardwick declared after three or four premierships that the Tigers were going to rebuild, he and the club would have the political capital to pretty much do whatever they wanted. And the club would be saying that the coach we’ve had for a record 15 years is here for the next five years at least.
Things got heated between the Tigers and the in-form Lions last Friday night.Credit:Getty Images
Without knowing anything, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do. The club has set itself up off the field for long-term prosperity but in many ways, off-field success is easier because there is no salary cap, soft cap or draft. They’ve made shrewd decisions in other areas – retaining Hardwick, diversifying their income streams and establishing the Korin Gamadji Institute – and it wouldn’t surprise me if they are equally clever with their list management strategy after this golden era.
Wayne Campbell is a former Richmond captain and assistant coach, four-time club best and fairest winner, and former head of football at GWS.
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