This time last year, Richmond were sitting pretty on top of the AFL ladder with 12 wins from 15 starts and were certainly the favourites to go “back to black”.
Fast forward to the now: they’re sixth on the ladder and won nine of 15 games so far this year.
It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the 2017 premiers, who have been hit with countless injuries since the beginning of the season.
The first – and the most costly – was defender Alex Rance, who suffered a season-ending injury (despite his determination to return before the year’s end) in the 2019 opener against Carlton.
It became a domino effect.
He was the first of many key players to fall.
Rance was joined on the sidelines by Jack Riewoldt, captain Trent Cotchin, Toby Nankervis, Shane Edwards, Kane Lambert, David Astbury and Jayden Short at different times throughout the year.
2019 has also been challenging for star midfielder Dustin Martin, whose inconsistent form has been at the forefront of discussion all year.
One minute, he’s recaptured his scintillating, career-best form. The next, there are question marks surrounding him.
There has also been a lot of commentary surrounding new recruit Tom Lynch’s season.
Despite kicking 34 goals to this point of the season, he has underwhelmed some spectators and media personnel.
Back in May, Essendon legend Matthew Lloyd labelled the former Suns captain a “liability”.
“He’s a massive concern,” Lloyd said on 3AW.
“He’s a liability at the moment, Tom Lynch – at ground level, defensively, turning.
“Compare him (to) Cameron (who is) the benchmark. Pretty much unless he marks it he’s not effective as a player.”
For what it’s worth, I think he’s been pretty good.
Also for what it’s worth, he came across to Richmond with a lingering knee injury that was due to set him back half a season.
But he has stepped up and been serviceable in the absence of Riewoldt.
Has he blown us out of the water? No, not really.
But that’s not to say that he never will.
We’ve seen glimpses of brilliance; none better than the inspiring six-goal haul against Port Adelaide in Round 4.
You’d think there is more to come.
This season has been the first genuine test to the Tiger’s depth since their rise to the top a couple of years ago.
And they’ve navigated through the challenges very well.
We don’t know where they’ll finish at the end of 2019, however this season may have prepared them for even better yet to come.
In the absence of many key players, they have unveiled some talented kids who’ve had the whole AFL world talking.
The obvious one is Sydney Stack, who has taken the competition by storm in 2019 and has been one of the rising stars to watch this season.
The 18-year-old excitement machine from Perth has given us everything – he’s bold, fierce, creative, willing to take the game on and is a genuine talent that has grown every week in front of our eyes.
And the best part? His raw emotion is on display week in; week out and you can see how much being out there means to him.
You only need to look at his interaction with Eddie Betts from earlier this season to prove that.
Game recognise game.
— AFL (@AFL) June 13, 2019
While Stack has largely been the talking point, he’s not the only one that’s impressed.
Despite being on the list for a couple of seasons, Shai Bolton looks to have taken the next step in his game this season and has an incredibly bright career ahead of him.
Liam Baker has had some great moments in his appearances for the Tigers, as have Noah Balta and Maibor Chol.
But it hasn’t just been the development of new comers, with some familiar faces stepping up when the situation has demanded it of them.
Dylan Grimes has been absolutely outstanding in defence, standing tall in the absence of Rance.
Kamdyn McIntosh and Bachar Houli too, have been superb.
And it’s been the development of the team as a whole, who appear better rounded than the side 12 months ago, despite the slight slide down the ladder.
They have managed to win two games interstate – that’s two more than they did last season.
And now, their last seven games of the home-and-away season will be played at the MCG – the ultimate boost ahead of September.
The timing perfectly coincides with the return of many of those key players we spoke about earlier, who are coming back from injury.
But whatever the rest of 2019 holds of the Tigers and whether it includes September success or not, this may have been their best season yet.
Sure, there are some problems they’ll still need to over come.
The focal point is an average losing margin of 46 points from their six losses this season, showing a few cracks in the side.
And as for that poor percentage, it is still the weakest of the top eight, but was given a boost thanks to a demolition job of the Gold Coast Suns over the weekend.
— George Megalogenis (@GMegalogenis) July 6, 2019
For Richmond fans, dreaming of September glory is certainly not far fetched but the foundation this team has built in 2019 will keep them in good stead for the long haul.
The fast tracked development of some exciting kids will ensure competition for spots and push this team to the best of their ability.
The emergence of new cult heroes will lift the hopes of supporters.
The return of many crowd favourites will boost morale on-field.
And Tigertime may be upon us again soon.