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After the siren: Tigers find the September groove

Highlights: Adelaide v Richmond The Crows and Tigers clash in the 2017 Grand Final
Jack Riewoldt and fans with the spoils of victory - AFL,Grand Final,Richmond Tigers,Adelaide Crows,Damien Hardwick,After the Siren,column
Jack Riewoldt and fans with the spoils of victory

WHEREVER it was that the AFL heavyweights gathered on Saturday night to celebrate the end of the season, the bubbly stuff would have tasted better and the canapes would have gone down a treat.

The League has long craved parity and the magnificent premiership triumph by Richmond on Saturday was proof positive that the equalisation measures the League implemented a few years back are clearly taking effect.

The AFL's much longed-for 'Any Given Weekend', a direct rip-off of the NFL's 'Any Given Sunday' mantra, is taking hold.

Last year's premier was a club that rose from seven wins and 14th place in just two seasons. The 2017 premiership team won just eight games last year and finished in 13th spot. It was the biggest turnaround in terms of ladder position in League history.

What does this tell us? Pre-season prognostications are bunkum. This was supposedly the year the Greater Western Sydney juggernaut was supposed to take hold or that Lance Franklin would deliver the Swans the premiership his handsome pay packet was going to ensure.

Instead, the premiership cup now sits in the trophy cabinet at the Richmond Football Club, delivered there by a group that defender Dylan Grimes described as "not the most talented list … but we fight and scrap. We're rough around the edges. Yes, we have our superstars, but the role players are just as important."


Richmond's premiership win also validates the idea of the finals as an entirely new season altogether. Adelaide was the best team of the season, but the Tigers owned September and these sorts of premierships are becoming more common. Not just the Western Bulldogs last year, but Hawthorn in 2014, Sydney two years before that and the Hawks in 2008 are examples of clubs that were good all year, but really found their groove in September.

Tigers coach Damien Hardwick noted afterwards that there were similarities between Hawthorn's 2008 premiership (he was an assistant coach at the Hawks that year) and Richmond's triumph this year, most notably a late season hiccup that proved to be the final loss for the year. In '08 the Hawks lost to Richmond (!) in round 20 before winning every subsequent game, while the Tigers crashed to Geelong in round 21 this year before their slashing end to the season.

The premiership betting for next season has opened up with the Swans as $5 favourites, ahead of the Giants. But recent history suggests a team like St Kilda, Melbourne, or, heavens forbid, Collingwood could make a run from the middle of the table to claim next year's silverware.

The Tigers ended a 37-year drought with their win on Saturday. The Bulldogs saluted last year for the first time in 62 years. Based on the last two years, Melbourne (53 years) and St Kilda (51) should be encouraged that their time is nearly due.

Damian Hardwick celebrates with Peggy O'Neal as Neil Balme looms large. Picture: AFL Photos

The case for sticking fat

Embattled coaches should also take encouragement from Richmond's win. Hardwick might only have survived as Richmond coach this time 12 months ago because he had two years remaining on his contract.

You would think Nathan Buckley and Ken Hinkley are two coaches who would have watched Saturday's events unfold and thought to themselves, "Why not us in 2018?"

Full credit to the management and board at Richmond. The easy decision for president Peggy O'Neal and chief executive Brendon Gale would have been to replace Hardwick, and few would have argued with them for going down that path.

But there is something to be said for stability and for backing your people, and for a club whose history is littered with bloodshed, the Tigers have been remarkably stable for quite some time. Since the turn of the century, Richmond has had just three presidents, four chief executives and three permanent coaches. Danny Frawley and Terry Wallace were given five years each as coach, while Hardwick has just completed his eighth season in charge.

They haven't jumped at shadows and they have ignored the white noise. This premiership isn't just the triumph of a very good team and an excellent coaching staff, it is a victory for sound management and solid, understated leadership.

There are a few other clubs in the competition, particularly one just the other side of Swan Street that could look towards Richmond for some inspiration.


Crows face tough post-mortem

In the scheme of the real-life hardship Adelaide has endured in recent years, losing a Grand Final is a mild inconvenience.

But as the fog lifts, the Crows will ask why they saved their poorest effort of the season for the biggest game. Their running game only briefly got going and their gun forwards couldn't get near the ball.

The post-mortem in the next day or two will be brutal, but the Crows have been close enough to the mark to suggest that with a few tweaks, they'll be playing deep into September again next year.

Bryce Gibbs anyone?

The pain of defeat as the Crows watch the Tigers collect the cup. Picture: AFL Photos

Other observations

1. The Alastair Clarkson coaching tree continues to take root. Six of his former Hawthorn offsiders are coaching elsewhere in the AFL, and the last two premiership coaches, Luke Beveridge and now Hardwick, coached under him at the Hawks. Forget about the other candidates, Gold Coast needs to follow the winning hand and choose between two more of Clarkson's former Hawks, John Barker and Stuart Dew, for its still-vacant senior coaching job. And count me in for those who loved Clarkson's 'interruption' of Hardwick's press conference on Saturday evening. The pair – and their families – are incredibly close and with the exception of when they compete against each other, Clarkson is genuinely thrilled when his former assistants do well. His theory has long been that these men worked so hard for him, who is he to begrudge them their own success down the line. 

2. It was also great to see Richmond assistant coach Justin Leppitsch enjoy the celebrations on Saturday evening. He went to hell and back during his three years as coach of the Brisbane Lions. There are doubtless some episodes he would like to take back from his time there, but he was dealt an awful hand when he arrived at the Gabba and his chances of success there were only ever fleeting. He is one of the good guys and he is part of the fold at Richmond now. Let the records show that it was at his urging that Hardwick agreed to let the small forward line work its course.

Justin Leppitsch and Alex Rance embrace after the Grand Final win. Picture: AFL Photos

3. Channel Seven went to the 'eye in the sky' camera for the opening bounce of the final quarter on Saturday, and might have missed history in the making. The bounce went awry and had to be recalled so it was all a bit anti-climactic, but it might well have been the last to mark the start of a quarter of a game of AFL football. It is one of the most iconic and treasured aspects of the game, but the umpires are making loud noises about getting rid of it, and its future will be one of the first items of business for new AFL footy boss Steve Hocking when he starts his new job later this month. 

4. And speaking of history, was this the last 2.30pm Saturday Grand Final? The AFL almost moved to a twilight start this year, and might finally be convinced to give it a try on the basis of the magnificent preliminary final a week ago. Having a loud and passionate supporter base like that of Richmond's cannot be guaranteed every year of course, but all the elements seem to be in place for the AFL to trial it for a couple of years so that it has some hard data to play with when discussions begin after that for the next TV rights agreement. 

5. So much for the doom and gloom prognostications for Victorian football. That's now five straight premierships, and 10 of the last 11, that have been won by Victorian-based clubs.

6. The trendy point of view of late has been that Eddie Betts has gone past Cyril Rioli as the best small forward of the last few years. Not sure about that. I know who I'd rather take into a final, especially at the MCG. That would be the bloke with a Norm Smith Medal to his name.  

7. This will be the last 'After the Siren' column for the 2017 season. Thanks so much for taking the time to read this every week and for your (mainly kind) feedback. Only 172 days until the opening bounce next season.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs