Only one opposition team can dream of copying Richmond

Josh Elliott Editor

By Josh Elliott, Josh Elliott is a Roar Editor

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    If you want to win a game of AFL football, is it better to grind your opponent down by getting the little things of defensive pressure right every time, or blow them away with big, bold strokes of unbeatable superstar play?

    If you asked Richmond of 2017 this question, I imagine they’d answer in the immortal words of Tony Stark: “Is it too much to ask for both?”

    The Tigers’ premiership victory was built on a foundation of hard work and defensive pressure, but it’d be a mistake to say that this alone was the reason they came home with the flag.

    It had to be supported by the stratospheric, game-breaking talent of Dustin Martin and Alex Rance, a superstar combination boasting enough might to make even the staunchest Dangerwood devotee blush.

    More likely a focus on suffocating defence will stifle the team that plays in that style almost as much as it does the opposition, a paradigm anyone who has supported a side coached by Ross Lyon would be familiar with.

    Going into the grand final against Adelaide, Richmond had both the superior superstar talent, and the better-drilled grunt workers. In retrospect, I have no idea why I was so reluctant to believe they could pull it off.

    Or, as it was put so much more eloquently by Jay Croucher: “But on the big day, Adelaide walked into the exam room armed simply with an expensive pen and visions of exquisite handwriting. The Tigers brought neck tattoos and a baseball bat. And they had a nicer pen too.”

    But you need a Martin and a Rance to make it happen. Accept no substitutes.

    In December last year I wrote an article titled ‘Planning to copy Richmond? Good luck’, which despite being 2600 words long, you can probably get the gist of from that title alone. Many will try it. Many will fail.

    However… there is one from the 17 teams that is not Richmond, that has what it takes. Today, I’ll tell you who it is.

    Dustin Martin mural

    I was interested to read on Friday that, according to co-captain Steven May, the Gold Coast Suns will be modelling their 2018 gameplan under new coach Stewart Dew on Richmond’s 2017 efforts.

    “It’s no secret we haven’t been the best defensive side the last few years, so that has been the focus this pre-season,” said May.

    “Look at Richmond last year – their ability for their forwards to be laying the most tackles makes the life of the defenders a lot easier. That’s the model we’re trying to implement.”

    At this early juncture, it looks like a wise decision on Dew’s behalf to make defence the defining characteristic of his young team, and comes as no real surprise given his coaching influences.

    Paul Roos, Alan Richardson and Brendon Bolton are all examples of coaches who have rebuilt lowly clubs from the ground up by focusing on defence first.

    There are two key benefits here. Focusing on defence reduces the likelihood of getting absolutely smashed on the scoreboard, leaving players a little more proud of their performance, even if they’re losing most weeks.

    And – perhaps more debatably – teaching young players defence first is conducive to establishing a culture of hard work and professionalism, rather than one where talent alone gets you everywhere.

    There is a competing theory of course that focusing on attacking footy is the better way to rebuild, something that’s clearly in practice at North Melbourne (ninth for overall scoring despite finishing 15th) and Brisbane (13th for scoring despite finishing last).

    We could debate forever which is the right way to do it, and perhaps in five or ten years the success or failures of these clubs will give us evidence with which to do so.

    In the meantime, what can be said for certain is that last year’s premiers provide an aspirational example to all those young teams being raised on a defence-diet – but, do any of them have the class-A talent needed to balance it out?

    In the case of Gold Coast, it is far too early to tell. The same is true of Carlton, though there are some promising signs. As for St Kilda, I’m worried they simply don’t – but let’s talk about that more another time.

    That leaves one team, the one team who can give us a repeat of what Richmond achieved and how they achieved it in 2017: the Melbourne Demons.

    Tom Bugg

    Just every now and then I’m able to look back on something I predicted in years past and think that I was onto something at the time.

    Here’s me writing in March 2016:

    “In the year 2020, we may be looking at the centre square combination of Max Gawn, Jack Viney, Angus Brayshaw and Clayton Oliver as the hardest to play against in the competition.”

    In February 2018, I stand by it. Those are four ultra-hard players who will make opposition midfields fear for their lives. And at Melbourne that approach to the game extends well beyond the four in the square.

    After the disaster that was Jimmy Toumpas – a player with more than enough skill but seemingly not a competitive bone in his body – we’ve seen a shift in the Dees’ recruiting pattern towards only picking those players who have impeccable mental attributes.

    No one is more emblematic of this than Tom Bugg, a player whose competitiveness might be literally his only footballing virtue, but it runs so strong in him that he almost commands a spot in the team solely because of it.

    In time, we’ll come to see Jack Watts’ forced departure from the club last October as the end of an era where there was any kind of toleration for not having the right stuff between the ears.

    It’s this kind of attitude across the team that you need to maintain the high volume of defensive pressure that was crucial to the Tigers’ success.

    But, perhaps unlike some other sides who practice the same sort of philosophy, the Dees also have the top-line talent needed to make the side not just persistent, but potent.

    Dustin Martin? Christian Petracca. Alex Rance? Jake Lever. Trent Cotchin? Jack Viney. Jack Riewoldt? Jesse Hogan. For all of Richmond’s ‘big four’, there’s someone at Melbourne that, in their prime, can be just as good.

    It’s pretty rare for a club to have two players who are top-ten quality in the league like Martin and Rance. But if you want to see how highly I rate Petracca and Lever, consider that I included both of them in my predicted top ten AFL players in 2025.

    Let’s be clear – I’m not saying this will happen in 2018. So many of Melbourne’s key players are young to the point where that’s just not realistic. But give it time.

    Key defender? Small defender? Rebounding defender? Inside midfielder? Outside midfielder? Ruckman? Key forward? Small forward? There isn’t an area on the ground where the Demons don’t have a player that is either already elite, or has the talent to get there.

    The Dees might not ultimately decide to go down this path – they might eschew Richmond’s example altogether and blaze their own path towards premiership contention. Regardless, that’s where they’re heading, sooner or later.

    And if they decide to do it like Richmond, they just might have the talent and the temperament to pull it off.

    Josh Elliott
    Josh Elliott

    Josh Elliott may be The Roar's Weekend Editor, but at heart he's just a rusted-on North Melbourne tragic with a penchant for pun headlines - and also abnormal alliteration, assuredly; assuming achievability. He once finished third in a hot chilli pie eating contest. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshElliott_29 and listen to him on The Roar's AFL Podcast.

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    The Crowd Says (34)

    • February 20th 2018 @ 5:50am
      Mattician6x6 said | February 20th 2018 @ 5:50am | ! Report

      Josh- Melbourne have to make top six at very least to consider this season in anyway a success, but I agree that yes they are among the teams that could win the whole thing, but not via a emulation of the tigers but an an emulation of every premiership team since time began. A key fwd of note (which they possess) is critical but more so a team first defensive mindset built on unrelenting pressure, which I would say has been the major difference between the winners and losers on the big day, not just a isolated event to the tigers gf triumph.

    • February 20th 2018 @ 7:09am
      Milo said | February 20th 2018 @ 7:09am | ! Report

      Thanks Josh,
      Agree the Dees have the talent and the grunt to go a long way. Have been saying to anyone who will listen since last year. My only hope is that they start to believe this and fail. But even if they do, its hard to think they’ll be out for long. I think of all the teams the Tigers played in 2017 the Demons gave them as much a hard time as any. And while the Tiges reversed three of their losses, Im sure they were glad they didn’t have to play the Dees again. I wonder how much of the Round 5 game they left at the G Richmond, when they travelled across to Adelaide the following week?

      Anycase they are a certainty for the top eight in my view the Dees and who knows a bit of luck here and there and as we’ve seen over the past couple of years, anything can happen.

      • February 20th 2018 @ 3:39pm
        Rob said | February 20th 2018 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

        Melbourne were 2 men down – including their ruckman – by half time. Diffrent season to be had for both clubs had Jake Spencer not injured his shoulder thst night…

    • February 20th 2018 @ 7:42am
      Les said | February 20th 2018 @ 7:42am | ! Report

      Fair enough…..but to be honest people have been saying that about Melbourne in the preseason for about 4 years now….nothing’s ever happened.

      I’ll believe it when I see it. They’re too mentally weak for me.

      • Roar Guru

        February 20th 2018 @ 9:49am
        JamesH said | February 20th 2018 @ 9:49am | ! Report

        Yeah, I’m not convinced that getting rid of Watts is suddenly going to improve the stuff between their ears. They had a few opportunities to secure a spot in September last year but couldn’t get over the line against the likes of North and Collingwood, losing 4 of their final 7 matches after being in a position to aim for a home final.

        Physical aggression =/= competitiveness. If they can find some mental toughness then they’ll be a strong side, but that’s perhaps the hardest thing to develop in footy.

        Missing finals this year would put a bit of heat on Goodwin.

    • February 20th 2018 @ 8:14am
      Harsh Truth Harry said | February 20th 2018 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      Melbourne huh? Between 1955 and 1964 the Melbourne footy club were unstoppable. In that ten year period the Demons won 6 flags. Hawthorn, in eight years between 2008- 2015 won 4. Oh yes Hawks fans, the Demons had a way better era than you. Clowns in here like to think they decide when AFL records start, Hawthorn fans in particular like to think it all started in the 80’s. Guess what folks. It don’t work that way. Records are records and the VFL comp evolved into the AFL, aint a new comp blokes! Here’s another stat which quite rightly should put fear into Hawthorn fans. It has been 53 years since that 6th flag in ten years for the Dees. 53 years.

      1964 folks.
      The average income was $9,000.
      Petrol was 8 cents a litre
      You could buy an average suburban house in melbourne for $6,000
      The new group The Beatles toured Australia’
      The third commercial network, Channel ten began

      What does Big Harry’s history lesson tell you? Two things:
      1. Hawthorn are going to founder for at least a decade with what they have done to their list (like Melbourne did back then).
      2. Melbourne can’t win flags and won’t now even with this solid list

      • Roar Rookie

        February 20th 2018 @ 11:49am
        Lord Dunsborough of the MCC said | February 20th 2018 @ 11:49am | ! Report

        Some interesting stats there Harold, but I’d also like to add that it’s been 4917 days and counting since the Essendon Bombers won a final – I would have thought that’s a stat that would put some fear into Bombers fans.

        AFL records started in 1990, when the AFL started. I would have thought that was perfectly obvious. I could refer back to all the glories my ancestors created too but ultimately no-one really cares.

        If you want to watch a real team with red flourishes on their kit win a final, come and see the Fuchsias bloom this year. The only thing flatter than Bombers supporters come September will be the drop-in wickets at the G.

    • Roar Rookie

      February 20th 2018 @ 8:53am
      Lamby said | February 20th 2018 @ 8:53am | ! Report

      Don’t be ridiculous! What is happening in 2018 is that the Crows win the flag and the Dees finish last so the Crows also get the #1 draft pick 🙂

      • Roar Rookie

        February 20th 2018 @ 9:07am
        Lamby said | February 20th 2018 @ 9:07am | ! Report

        And Lever becomes the new ‘Jack Watts’. He is used as the new whipping boy for Demon fans frustrated by his lack of ability to play on a key forward and cannot re-capture his Adelaide form – probably something to do with the lack of 3 All-Australians to back him up in defense.

        Yes, I do hold grudges. But with Tippet retiring I at least have a new guy ‘bad guy’ 🙂

        • February 20th 2018 @ 11:04am
          Vocans said | February 20th 2018 @ 11:04am | ! Report

          Grudge? A spade is a spade, ain’t it Lamby?

          The Dees will have a good year with another Crows addition as coach. If they don’t there must be something in their gatorade.

        • February 20th 2018 @ 12:28pm
          tim said | February 20th 2018 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

          Beautifully put. Lever is no Rance. His one on one defense is ordinary. He will be found out early, then he will adapt or die.

    • Roar Guru

      February 20th 2018 @ 9:08am
      Cat said | February 20th 2018 @ 9:08am | ! Report

      No one wins flags by doing what the last premier did. Every team will have spent the off season working out Richmond’s game plan. Sure, take parts, use it as inspiration or whatever but following the leader has never won anyone a flag. Teams need to find their own ‘way’.

      • February 20th 2018 @ 11:09am
        Vocans said | February 20th 2018 @ 11:09am | ! Report

        To start with there is actually a way to tackle Martin and his don’t argue: low and hard, forget about the ball or a possible off load by hand, just go for him and the efficiency will fall. The don’t argue is only legal if it is applied to the chest region, so don’t offer it to him. He can’t legally don’t argue a player’s head that’s coming in low around the hips.

        • Roar Guru

          February 20th 2018 @ 12:04pm
          Dalgety Carrington said | February 20th 2018 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

          Fyfe reckons he’s got a technique worked out that goes a long way to nullifying Martin’s fend-off so he can nail him in the tackle more often than not.

          • February 20th 2018 @ 1:04pm
            Mattician6x6 said | February 20th 2018 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

            It will be good to see a fit and firing fyfe remind ppl he’s yen times the player martin is.

            • February 20th 2018 @ 1:53pm
              guttsy said | February 20th 2018 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

              But how fit is Fyfe? His roll as an inside mid is incredibly wearing on the body because of the opposition attention his talent attracts. He could be used in a much less wearing mobile strong marking forward role, where he could easiy average two goals (if not closer to three) a game as well as assisting others with the same number. If I was his coach I would use him as a forward and try to find others to fill the midfield void he leaves behind.

              • February 20th 2018 @ 9:36pm
                Don Freo said | February 20th 2018 @ 9:36pm | ! Report

                Fyfe has shown his fitness. Did you see his second half of last year? Even the glimpse against Ireland?

                The boy has only played 138 games. Do you expect him to be worn out? Dusty has played 40 more games…albeit lots cruising up forward. Wouldn’t you expect Dusty to be worn out?

        • Roar Rookie

          February 20th 2018 @ 1:56pm
          Lamby said | February 20th 2018 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

          “He can’t legally don’t argue a player’s head that’s coming in low around the hips.”

          But it doesn’t mean the umpires will actually pay the free kicks against him. (see 3:46

          • February 21st 2018 @ 11:08am
            vocans said | February 21st 2018 @ 11:08am | ! Report

            Nothing is guaranteed in umpiring. The don’t argue going low will infringe above the shoulders, or push downward which in is the back or only slightly affects the momentum of the tackler. Especially on a one off, but over a series of mistakes they usually get it. So, keep at it, and if he continues to offend, he should be pinged.

        • February 23rd 2018 @ 1:39pm
          Peter said | February 23rd 2018 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

          Agree, but going hard and low leaves his arms free to get a handball off

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