As a kid playing footy, you knew that you needed your stars to play well.
It’s a team game but the team is the stars. If the best players didn’t train, you raised an eyebrow but know that you needed that bloke on the weekend, so the coaches turned a blind eye because the sport is based around stars.
The AFL has been the same, the best have dominated over and over again and team play hasn’t really mattered.
The Sydney Swans were far inferior to the West Coast Eagles in the mid-2000s and they split the honours in two grand finals. Why was that the case? Some say coaching, there are probably some other reasons.
But the reality is that its all about the big dance. And being prepared for the moment. Sydney had way less talent but split two finals and they would take one flag, but as an Eagles fan you can’t help but respect them.
Respect. It’s a word thrown around but not always earned. What exactly is it? Is it being elite and delivering on that? Or is it being an average player and doing everything you can, all the time to win?
Richmond were a basket case until 2016. Damian Hardwick was a brilliant used-car salesman who was a terrible coach, but he kept his job for reasons unknown to the common man. Maybe it was a selling job on the worst car in the lot?
In any case, he entered 2017 knowing that he didn’t have much room to move. In 2017 they came third but decimated Geelong in the first week and then got lucky in the preliminary final. Lucky in that they played the kids in the Giants. Or maybe they were good?
Adelaide entered the big dance off a ten-goal win and kicked the first two goals of the main game, but Richmond pushed and pushed and won the flag. Fans were right in doubting what they saw.
In 2018 they were the best side but come the preliminary final they cracked. Collingwood smacked them in the chops early and Richmond couldn’t respond. A damn American owned them, as the most overrated player of our generation (Alex Rance, for those playing along at home) was made to look foolish – just because your dad captained a side doesn’t make you good.
But in any case, they responded in 2019 and smashed the kids. The Giants might have had talent, but they didn’t handle the day well. It was over early in the second quarter, and the scars have remained for the Giants.
Richmond are the ultimate ‘cog’ team; almost all of their players play a role and need everything to go right for them to be effective – Kane Lambert, Shane Edwards, Kamdyn McIntosh, David Astbury, Shai Bolton, Nathan Broad, Jason Castagna, Tom Lynch, Dan Rioli, Dylan Grimes, Jack Riewoldt and the recently retired Alex Rance.
Anyone referring to Rance as a star doesn’t watch footy and looks only at his surname. And I am happy to continue the conversation, but I digress. As juniors, you choose the fastest, the most skilled and the most athletic but maybe we are doing it wrong.
Richmond legitimately plug the gaps in a jigsaw puzzle. I’m not sure how it works, but geez it sure works. Is it Hardwick or the assistant coaches? Who knows, but three flags in four years is absolutely incredible for a team full of role players with exactly one generational player.
Gary Ablett is probably a top ten all-time player, but also the second-best player in his family. That is both bewildering and fair.
Patrick Dangerfield is a polarising figure; the head wobble is frustrating, and before today he was arguably the best player to have never played in a grand final. Now he is the best player to have never won a flag.
A Brownlow, three best and fairest award and by any measure one of the best three players in the competition. But the fact remains that before today he has never made a grand final and after today, he probably wishes he plays for Richmond. By any statistical measure, he is an all-time great but Broad, Rioli and Castagna have three more flags than him.
How that works is a modern marvel, but let that sink in as a win for structure and teamwork. And consider it a lesson for young players without the skill but who do that extra lap after training and toe the coaches’ line.