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Richmond in ruins, Hardwick must go

Will Tigers head coach Damien Hardwick still be in charge at the end of 2019? (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
Expert
1st August, 2016
76
3484 Reads

The only thing less impressive than Richmond’s on-field ‘performance’ against Greater Western Sydney on Saturday was the mealy-mouthed responses off it by coach Damien Hardwick and CEO Brendon Gale.

If Richmond fans have to hear one more time that the players and coaches will “learn from it and move on” they will be within their rights to burn Punt Rd Oval to the ground.

The Tiger faithful are frothing at the mouth over the abject failure of their team this season, and are demanding change. They have a point.

‘Long-suffering Richmond fans’ is a phrase beyond cliché, but the only thing worse than having nothing remotely approaching success for 30 years is to have brightness and hope dangled in front of you, only for it to crumble away and be worse off than you were before, and seemingly further away.

The biggest problem the Tigers have under Hardwick and Gale is the same mistakes being made over and over again.

Back in April I wrote about Richmond’s version of Groundhog Day, which was the slow starts to each and every season. The Tigers have never been better than 3-3 after six rounds under Hardwick, and even being square was achieved only once.

It means every year the club begins each season under pressure, not banking any early credits for when the hard times come. Finals were still achieved in the last three seasons, but one or two of those elimination finals could have been a double chance with a brighter opening, and being ready to go early in the year.

The same mistakes, over and over.

In 2013, Richmond played Carlton twice in the home-and-away season. In Round 1 that year, the Tigers held a 36-point three-quarter time lead before hanging on to win by five points after freezing in the spotlight when the Blues made their charge.

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They met again in Round 21. Once again, Richmond established a five-goal lead, and once again couldn’t control the game, this time losing by ten points.

And so what happened in the famous elimination final that year? Another Richmond lead (33 points this time), another Carlton comeback, and a result that became inevitable well before the Blues hit the front.

The same mistakes, over and over.

Richmond has also been addicted to bringing in players that had two of three failings (can’t run, can’t kick or can’t find the ball) in some sort of delusional idea about big bodies that has never been adequately explained.

Some of these were offcuts from other clubs (Sam Lonergan, Matt Thomas, Ricky Petterd, Nathan Gordon) while others were homegrown and undeveloped (Matt Arnott, Brad Helbig, Matt McDonough, Steven Morris).

The same mistakes, over and over.

Let’s not forget, Hardwick has access to five of the best seven players Richmond has produced over the last 25 years. The results haven’t followed.

Alex Rance, Jack Riewoldt, Dustin Martin, Brett Deledio and Trent Cotchin need no introduction as elite players in the competition. Since the VFL became the AFL in 1990, only Matthew Richardson and Matthew Knights would be comfortably in the conversation as fellow Tigers to be ranked in their midst.

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Most talk you’ll hear suggests Richmond must hit the draft and rebuild, and perhaps cast off one or two of these players for picks. What nonsense.

Did the Dogs off-load Matthew Boyd, Bob Murphy, Dale Morris or Liam Picken two years ago when the faeces was hitting the fan? Murphy was All-Australian last year, Boyd was in the squad of 40, Morris may well be AA this year, and Picken has had the best two years of his career as the Dogs have made finals and are firmly in premiership calculations.

The common contention in the football world is that the Richmond list lacks depth to complement the big names, as if successful teams have 18 All-Australians on the field at any one time, with several more in reserve.

The Tigers had enough depth to win the fifth most home-and-away games across 2013-15, with a great number of second-tier contributors both drafted (Brandon Ellis, Shane Edwards, Nick Vlastuin, Ty Vickery, Dylan Grimes) and acquired from other clubs (Anthony Miles, Shaun Grigg, Bachar Houli, Ivan Marich, Troy Chaplin).

Most of these players have gone backwards this season, while others continue to battle inconsistency, form and injury.

Richmond supporters are weary. They are exhausted. They are almost bereft of hope. Many are disenfranchised.

The Richmond executive team crave stability at the expense of all else. The off-field has flourished among financial growth and tackling of a great number of social issues. The football department comes off as a minority group, and the odd one out in its failure.

But coaches don’t come back from this. The ugly and inept type of football that has been played, and the maulings that have been suffered. And when all hope is lost, these sort of losses will keep coming.

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Hardwick has had seven years. Many coaches don’t even get half of that before they’re shown the door. He’s had a fair run, and has some positive attributes, but has too often looked out of ideas, and is unable to inspire supporters or convince the people that he can take them to the promised land. Rarely do you learn anything about the game when he speaks.

We’ve seen the spike a new coach can make in recent times. Chris Scott taking a falling 2010 Geelong to a flag in 2011. Ken Hinkley and Luke Beveridge both walked into a trainwreck, and coached Port and the Bulldogs to immediate back-to-back finals.

If Richmond starts slowly again next year (and how could you back against anything else?) Hardwick will be sacked and we all know it. He’s a dead man coaching.

Just like everyone knew Mick Malthouse would be sacked last year. Just like we all knew Mark Neeld would be sacked when he was. Scott Watters. It became inevitable with James Hird. We all know what fate awaits Justin Leppitsch too, whether it is in days, weeks, a month or next year. He will not last.

The biggest fear of Richmond fans is that Hardwick is allowed to coach next year, only to be inevitably sacked when things go south, wasting another year to follow on from this one.

The Tigers are to be commended for seeking stability in tumultuous times. But accepting mediocrity for the sake of it is no virtue. It’s time for Hardwick to go.