Was Richmond’s Darwin experiment a mistake?

Ben Waterworth Roar Guru

By Ben Waterworth, Ben Waterworth is a Roar Guru

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    Did Richmond cost themselves a finals hope in Darwin?

    Danyle Pearce of Port Adelaide and Reece Conca of Richmond in action during the AFL Round 10 match between the Richmond Tigers and Port Adelaide Power at TIO Stadium, Darwin. (Courtesy: Slattery Media Group_

    While most AFL fans marvelled at the sparkling new Metricon Stadium on Saturday night, another match with far less publicity was being played 3,500 kilometres north-west of Carrara between Richmond and Port Adelaide.

    Unlike the Gold Coast-Geelong clash, the Darwin game didn’t have the glitz of a virgin venue. Nor did it have a glamorous sub-plot of a champion midfielder – the game’s protagonist – playing against his former club for the first time. But what unfolded in Marrara was just as significant.

    In farcical scenes, two of the stadium’s light towers blew out, almost forcing the match to be delayed. Then the AFL was criticised for playing a match in energy-sapping conditions and poor facilities for players.

    However the night’s biggest loser wasn’t the AFL or TIO Stadium. It was the Tigers – the team that finished 16 points behind on the scoreboard when the final siren sounded.

    It was Richmond’s ‘home’ game, even though the ground was 3700 kilometres north-west of the MCG – its normal home ground. In 2010, the Tigers signed a contract to host one game during 2011 and 2012 in Darwin. The two-year deal meant an $1 million – $500,000 for each game – would go into the club’s piggy bank. Handy money, right?

    But has selling a home game to Darwin cost the Tigers dearly? Will it cost them a place in the top eight? Should they have stayed in Melbourne and increased their likelihood of a win?

    Analysing the two teams’ form and respective ladder positions before the start of the game, the Tigers were expected to defeat Port Adelaide comfortably. They sat in ninth spot and had won four of their past five games. Conversely, the miserable Power sat on the bottom of the ladder with just one win from its first nine games.

    The boys in yellow and black led by nine points at half-time and, despite their scrappy first 60 minutes, were expected to run all over the league’s bottom-placed team in the second half. Instead, Richmond left TIO Stadium empty-handed, largely thanks to a lethargic second-half effort, but also due to the players’ unfamiliarity of the surroundings.

    Saturday night’s match was the first time the Tigers had ever played in Darwin, whereas the Power had played there seven times before. Yes, the Tigers should’ve beaten their opponents no matter where and when the game was played. But it’s extremely difficult for a young side to travel three hours north into the unknown and beat a team who has been to the unknown before.

    And the Tigers only had themselves to blame.

    There’s little doubt if Richmond had played Port Adelaide at the MCG or Etihad Stadium, they would’ve won – easily. The Tigers would’ve been far more comfortable in their familiar Melbourne surroundings. They also would’ve had over 30,000 passionate fans attend the match, which always spurs them on because they are a team who often plays on emotion.

    But the club chose money.

    Some will say the trip to Darwin was all worth it.

    That extra $500,000 earned on Saturday night will now go into recruiting, medical management and, most importantly, the football department. If a club doesn’t have a first-class football department with adequate player facilities and medical resources, it’s very tough for it to win a premiership.

    Today, players and coaches are well aware of the importance of the commercial side of footy, in terms of a club’s functionality. Richmond would be as well aware as any other club in the league, after its recent ‘Fighting Tiger Fund’ successfully raised $2.5 million – $125,000 coming directly from the players.

    However, the cost of missing the top eight shouldn’t be dismissed here. If it makes the finals at the end of the season, Richmond will receive a bonus payment from the AFL, which could be enough to pay for the football department itself. That’s a big if though.

    Some will say the loss was just a case of a young Tigers side that were severely underprepared.

    It was fascinating to watch the Richmond players during the week leading up to the Power match. They seemed to be in a reflective mood, basking in the limelight over their inspiring win over in-form Essendon the previous weekend, rather than looking forward to Round 10. This probably should’ve been addressed by the coaching staff and board.

    When the Tigers stepped out onto the field on Saturday night, they obviously weren’t in the right frame of mind. Whether they were still thinking about the previous weekend, or underdone because they hadn’t had a chance to acclimatise to the weather, something certainly wasn’t right. And it showed on the scoreboard.

    We mustn’t forget Richmond is one of the youngest teams on average age. Little shock losses like Saturday night are part of the development of the footy club.

    Let’s not take much away from the Power though, who seemed far more prepared for the match. They arrived in Darwin on Wednesday, trained on Thursday during match time, and wore gloves to help them grip the footy. They knew what to expect and prepared adequately for that.

    Still, Richmond should’ve won.

    And now if the Tigers miss out on a finals spot, selling a ‘home’ game to the Northern Territory could come at a major cost.

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    The Crowd Says (13)

    • June 1st 2011 @ 9:37am
      Ian Whitchurch said | June 1st 2011 @ 9:37am | ! Report

      The logic of a salary cap, established to ensure an even competition and make sure clubs dont go broke, pretty much demands that all football club expenditure counts against it. Player salaries, medical staff, the coach, everything to do with kicking a Sherrin between the big sticks should go into one bucket, defined by N% of total revenue.

      It is then up to the club to decide how much goes to players, how much to the coach and so on.

      Otherwise, you get cases like this, where a poorer club sold a home game, in effect risking premiership points for cash.

    • June 1st 2011 @ 9:45am
      Chris said | June 1st 2011 @ 9:45am | ! Report

      What a load of rubbish! There is no proof whatsoever that if the game had been played in Melbourne the Tigers would have won. In fact I’m ot sure you could even guarrantee a crowd of over 30,000 to come and watch them play the Power.

      And at the end of the day, if the team goes to pieces because they get on a 3 hour flight and play at a different venue then they don’t deserve to be in the eight anyway. At the end of the day, all AFl grounds are large ovals with grass on the ground and four sticks at each end – how hard can playing at a new venue be? These are professional sportsmen after all.

      • Roar Guru

        June 1st 2011 @ 10:00am
        Ben Waterworth said | June 1st 2011 @ 10:00am | ! Report

        In Melbourne, Tigers would’ve beaten Port Adelaide – no question. Just had to look at form and ladder positions. And they would’ve got 30,000 there. They got 34,000 to the Fremantle game in Round 7 and that was before they got on a winning run. And people would’ve certainly turned up to watch, especially after the win against Essendon the previous round. When the Tigers are up and about, like they are now, their fans flock to watch them play.

        Not as easy as it sounds playing at a new venue too. Playing under lights (barely under lights) in 20 plus degree weather in an unfamiliar tropical environment for the first time is completely different to the chilly weather at the MCG. It’s tough, especially for such a young team such as Richmond.

        It was the Tigers’ choice to go up north for extra cash. They could’ve played the game in Melbourne if they wanted to, but they chose cash. However if they make the finals, they’ll automatically get a bonus.

        They weren’t expected to play finals this season, but they are playing well and now they are borderline finals. But last weekend’s loss COULD prove costly at the end of the year.

        • June 1st 2011 @ 11:02pm
          BrissyBoy said | June 1st 2011 @ 11:02pm | ! Report

          If only they’d let the Cats play the ’08 Grand Final at Kardinia Park… We would have beaten Hawthorn – no question. Just had to look at form and ladder positions.

          ‘Cest la vie. The game was good for the Tigers’ coffers, for helping Port to a win and for the people of Darwin, who don’t see enough top-flight footy. And probably for the players too, who sometimes forget that the majority of us around the country play on grounds without MCG-quality lux and plush change rooms. We need more games like that, not fewer.

    • June 1st 2011 @ 9:49am
      Milo said | June 1st 2011 @ 9:49am | ! Report

      Good article. But dont necessarily agree the sentiments that tigers wouldve won had it been played in melbourne. Sure the conditions did affect them and they werent as prepared as they should be physically for the game. That point’s well made. But they werent switched on mentally either and its quite possible they wouldve come a cropper in a screaming heap in melbourne anyways, especially Etihad where Port triumphed over the Tigers only 11 matches ago. We just hope the young tigers and their coaching team learn a lot from this game.

    • June 1st 2011 @ 10:54am
      GrantS said | June 1st 2011 @ 10:54am | ! Report

      Would this article have even been written if the Tigers had won?

      Of course not! But because they lost an excuse has to be offered up and the fact they sold their home game to play in Darwin is used. What a lot of rot!

      “In Melbourne, Tigers would’ve beaten Port Adelaide – no question.”

      On what do you base this? Pt Adelaide beat Richmond two of the last three games played! Not enough?
      How about four of the last six or four of the last sixteen. (Tell me when to stop.)

      Did you pick St Kilda to beat Fremantle or Brisbane to beat Adelaide? How about the other week, did you pick Geelong to beat Collingwood?

      The point I am trying to make is that no matter how much we think we know, nothing is certain in this game of ours (as can be seen by my score in the tipping comp 🙂 )

      As a matter of fact I agree with you and think Richmond would have won if the game had been played in Melbourne, but it wasn’t and they didn’t, so let’s not blame a decision that the Football Club made in good faith.

      • Roar Guru

        June 1st 2011 @ 11:08am
        Ben Waterworth said | June 1st 2011 @ 11:08am | ! Report

        Richmond would’ve beaten Port Adelaide on the basis that Richmond had won four of its past five games, was coming off an exciting win against arch-rival Essendon and was playing much better footy than Port Adelaide, who couldn’t take a trick and were perfoming well below par, winning one of its first nine games. Shouldn’t dwell on past seasons encounters, especially with in such a unique siutation where the Tigers have produced a massive turn around in form.

        Point is the Tigers are more than capable of making the finals this season. However they MIGHT have cost themselves a place in the finals.

        • June 1st 2011 @ 12:11pm
          GrantS said | June 1st 2011 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

          I don’t disagree with the fact that they might have cost themselves a place in the finals but one game rarely defines a season so, if they are good enough, they still have plenty of time.

          Hindsight is ,as always, 20/20.

    • June 1st 2011 @ 12:48pm
      Football United said | June 1st 2011 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

      Selling games off is just silly in the first place. your effectively taking games away from your loyal members for a quick buck. i’d crack it if any of my teams tried to do it.

    • June 1st 2011 @ 12:50pm
      mattamkII said | June 1st 2011 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

      The sheer angle of what if’s in this article are amazing.

      Either way, the whole thing is a further example of the most poorly run professional sporting club in the land…and perhaps the worst I know of. Everything this mob have done for the last 20 years is a joke.

      Sacking good players while keeping over rated jokes….sacking good coaches because over rated players refuse to perform and countless boardroom issues.

      Now to the points of the article. So the players complained about the change rooms and playing in the heat….Actually I rest my case with that.

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