IT HASN'T been the season Richmond expected.
Back in February, there were few warning signs of what was to come for the 2017 premiers and last year's minor premiers.
The Tigers had landed their long-term target – star forward Tom Lynch – from Gold Coast.
Tom Lynch's arrival had many tipsters predicting another Richmond flag. Picture: AFL Photos
The shock 35-point preliminary final loss from five months ago had seemingly been brushed off by some as an aberration, a game in which Collingwood was at the peak of its powers.
The 2019 season was shaping as one of redemption.
But at the halfway point of the season, sitting in the dreaded ninth position, things aren't quite as rosy as expected.
Walking under ladders while breaking mirrors
It's safe to say Richmond has undergone some sort of injury curse in 2019.
Quite a few breaking points have been passed; the injury crisis "can't get any worse from here," was often the common refrain.
That was until the match against Adelaide two weeks ago.
FULL INJURY LIST Who's ruled out and who's a test?
A sudden slew of soft tissue injuries meant eight of the top 13 players in Richmond's 2018 best and fairest – Jack Riewoldt (PCL), Kane Lambert (Achilles), Alex Rance (ACL), Jayden Short (elbow), Toby Nankervis (adductor) and hamstrung trio Shane Edwards, Trent Cotchin and David Astbury – weren't on the field.
The young Tigers stuck with the Crows for three terms but gave up five last-quarter goals to lose by 33 points.
"We've had four players (Dion Prestia, Tom Lynch, Kamdyn McIntosh and Jack Higgins) play every game together," Damien Hardwick told reporters on Friday.
"You look at the sides who are at the very, very top, the way they've had a great connection and a lot of their players have played together for a sustained period.
"We probably haven't had that, we've been filling gaps along the way. The guys have hung tough for the vast majority, but it probably came to a tipping point in the last couple of weeks.
"Those guys that are available for selection and coming back, they're not going to solve the problem straight away. We've got to play them playing in unison, get them a good understanding of patterns and movement and continue to play well from that."
Dion Prestia has been one of Richmond's most consistent performers. Picture: AFL Photos
In all, 79 games have been missed by 17 players considered to be in Richmond's best 22, with a further 27 games missed by players who generally fill the VFL ranks (including Jack Ross, Oleg Markov and Ivan Soldo).
See ball, not getting ball
The effect these injuries have had is marked.
Average differential Richmond/Opposition
Richmond has never been an overly high-disposal team, but the personnel issues have meant the team simply just isn't getting its hands on the ball.
At the peak of their powers in 2018, the Tigers would average 16 fewer touches in matches than their opponents.
This year, that has blown out to 43.4 fewer disposals, the equivalent of an extra two midfielders.
Breaking down contested versus uncontested possessions shows most of the discrepancy has come from outside run.
It makes sense when you consider the players sidelined.
Half-back flanker Short (dislocated elbow) averaged the most metres gained (523) for the club last year, Lambert (Achilles) is considered one of the hardest runners in the team, while Shaun Grigg (average of 21 disposals in 2018) was forced into an early retirement in May due to a knee injury.
Richmond's scoring has also dried up, averaging 78 points a game this year, down from 96 in (an exceptionally strong) 2018.
The creative Edwards, coming off an All Australian season, was forced to defence, affecting the quality of ball going inside 50.
Shane Edwards has been forced into a less damaging role off half-back. Picture: AFL Photos
"Last year he was either No.1 or 2 in score assists in the AFL (Edwards was second for goal assists), and we've had to play him more down back this year and he's done a stellar job down there," Hardwick said.
"Once again, our connection inside 50 probably hasn't been a highlight for us this year."
So, is it season over?
The short answer is no.
Seven of the Tigers' nine remaining matches this season will be played at the MCG, a ground they play particularly well.
Four games come against teams lower than them on the ladder at the start of round 15, while five games are against top-eight sides.
A whopping six players are returning from injury and illness for today's match against St Kilda.
"The pieces of the puzzle are starting to come back together," Hardwick said.
"I'm really proud of the way the guys have hung tough over the first part of the year, but now all of a sudden, we can put some pieces back where they belong."