Another Richmond gag, and it’s beyond a joke
Brett Deledio dejected after a loss in the AFL Round 18 match between the Carlton Blues and the Richmond Tigers at the MCG, Melbourne. (Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/AFL Media)
Richmond is the most mentally fragile team in the AFL, and it’s high time they were taken to task.
Back in May, I wrote that the Tigers were going to be a force in the coming years, and with top-end midfield quality the envy of most, there’s no reason to suspect otherwise.
While there’s no doubt they’re on track to play finals in 2013 and beyond, unless they overcome their appalling lack of composure in crunch moments, they’ll forever be the most pitiful of laughing stocks.
Oh, there’ll be talk of a young side learning from their mistakes, and valuable experience being gained, but the time for such platitudes and empty talk has long since passed.
Actions are the only currency by which elite sportsmen are judged, and right now the Richmond players couldn’t cobble together enough tender to buy a bag of mixed lollies from the local milk bar.
Richmond’s percentage of 105.58 with a 7-10 record might indicate that they no longer offer up soft performances that lead to old-fashioned beltings, and there have certainly been plenty of those over the years, but it has now been replaced by a galling inability to perform fundamentals under varying degrees of pressure – sometimes immense, sometimes non-existent. Naturally, there’s plenty in the middle.
Six times this season the hapless Tigers have been in front in the last quarter and conspired to lose the game. Convert just half of those inept performances into wins, and they would sit just one game off sixth position, with a friendly run home.
The rot started in round five against West Coast at Etihad Stadium, where a lack of composure on the last line of defence gifted the Eagles two easy goals, then Jack Riewoldt and Brett Deledio – outstanding players and reliable kicks – couldn’t finish truly when the game was on their boot.
In round eight against the Bombers, Richmond gave up a 41-point start early in the third quarter before turning on some of the most scintillating football of the year to take the lead halfway through the last. But as has been the case so many times, once the game was there to be won, the ferocious, daring Tigers became timid cubs.
Next we head to round 14 and Adelaide at AAMI Stadium. Opening a match with 8.3 to 3.0 would normally be enough to ensure victory for any semi-respectable team, but not for the side that makes Australian golfers look nerveless.
For Richmond supporters, it simply means that the agony has longer to take its grip. The lead hadn’t been whittled away by three-quarter time, but it soon would be, and the Crows went on a procession to win the game comfortably.
Had Tiger fans had enough of this? It’s fair to say they had, but the players were just getting started.
We all remember Karmichael Hunt’s famous goal after the siren in round 16, and what a moment it was. But let’s not forget that the Suns were 16 points in arrears with seven minutes to go. They were still 10 points behind with 30 seconds of game-time on the clock, if you can believe it. Hunt should never have been in position to take a match-winning shot.
Gold Coast had lost their previous 21 matches, making this particular loss Sam Stosur-esque.
If ever a team was custom-built to lose a game under those circumstances, it was the paper Tigers, and they didn’t disappoint.
A week later, and it was North’s turn to inflict more pain and torment on the long-suffering supporters that comprise the black-and-yellow army.
Richmond hit the front and held the lead with more than half of the last quarter gone. But first a sloppy free kick, then a shanked kick-in, and match-winning goals were provided to the Roos. The Tigers charged late, and Shaun Grigg, in the middle of an exceptional year, had time to steady and kick the winner from close range, but hurried the kick for a behind.
Lack of awareness or lack of talk from teammates are the two reasons a player needlessly rushes, and no doubt both were part of that scenario.
With two single-figure losses snatched from the jaws of victory, Richmond was on a hat-trick against Carlton on Saturday night, and to the glee of the football world, they did it again.
With 23 minutes gone in the last quarter, the Tigers looked home after three goals in a row to secure a 13-point lead. The Blues got one back through Armfield, then Richmond panic-merchant (and full back) Alex Rance gave away a silly free kick when teammate Bachar Houli had taken a saving mark in the goal square.
Brett Thornton made no mistake, and Brock McLean did the rest with 40 seconds on the clock. At least the Tiges found a new way to give up the winning goal this time – McLean wasn’t even having a shot and it still managed to bounce its way through.
When six of your ten losses come from positions of scoreboard superiority deep in the match, it speaks of a mental fragility that is not easily overcome.
Know what else is remarkable? In the final quarter of another three losses, the Tigers were level with Geelong, three points down against Fremantle in Melbourne, and six points down against Carlton in round one.
While there’s plenty to like at the top end of the Richmond list, there are still some players that don’t measure up when the heat is on.
Jayden Post, Luke McGuane, Kelvin Moore and Alex Rance gives supporters the jitters when they have the ball in hand at the best of times, and it must be noted that all are key backmen.
McGuane, in particular, makes angel weep whenever he shapes to kick.
Rance certainly deserves his place, but the coaching staff must start insisting that he look to others to make the play. Mistakes made close to goal crush the spirit of a young side, and he makes more than most.
The future at Tigerland under Damien Hardwick is bright, not bleak, and there is reason for the masses to hope that success isn’t far away.
But unless they eliminate howlers in terms of both skill and composure, and stop costing themselves games, the wait may extend for another decade yet.
Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for in his mind there is nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.
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