Damian Hardwick during Richmond's match against the Western Bulldogs in R4, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

THE problems – and there are now many - at Richmond are real.

Revelations on Sunday of Tom Lynch's broken right foot place the Tigers in a critical state, and coach Damien Hardwick will now be required to be as cunning and masterful as at any stage of a storied 13-season career in charge of this club.

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Hardwick was dealing with significant problems before the Lynch setback. A failure to win close matches, which destroyed the 2022 season, has continued into 2023. Saturday's five-point loss to Western Bulldogs was the eighth time since round 11 last year that the Tigers haven't won a match decided by six points or less.

Trent Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt, both left out of the weekend's starting 22 due to being "managed", may have decided to play one season too many, and the big-name, high-priced, long-tenured recruits Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper may be finding plenty of footy, but impact on outcome is yet to be established.


Injury to important players Jayden Short and Robbie Tarrant and the suspension of Nathan Broad has also been causing great stress, particularly in the backline.

Hardwick is now getting bristly, evidenced in a tense post-match media conference where he angrily refuted questions linking his star full-forward Lynch to illegal contact with Bulldog Alex Keath, who was substituted out with concussion.


When AFL coaches become publicly grumpy, they're often trying to deflect, and Hardwick then had other cracks – at the host broadcasters, and the AFL.

The seriousness of Lynch's injury may not have been public at the time of Hardwick talking to the media on Saturday night, but it would have at least been feared by the club, which now provides a context to his defensiveness.

And the Keath incident, which on Sunday, not long after the Lynch injury news was being made public, was referred by the AFL's Match Review Office straight to the Tribunal, may not have been of great concern to Hardwick at that Saturday night media gathering.

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Whatever the main reasons for his testiness, Hardwick sustained an attack in his Saturday media conference. "I've listened to the broadcast recently, they're not great," he said of the broadcasters. What the broadcasters have to do with his and the Tigers' season right now is anyone's guess.

Of the AFL: "We've got to name people out of the 23 for god knows what reason. It would just be nice if the AFL could do something about that so it doesn't create a big story, if that makes sense. I think it's ridiculous that we've got to do it, and we need to get it fixed. It's farcical that we've got to do it."

Richmond players after their loss to the Western Bulldogs in round four, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Hardwick is obviously entitled to his opinion, and will always seek to protect his players from any form of outside criticism. That is what strong leaders do. But it was nothing but Deflection 101 - throw up smokescreens when the pressure starts to mount. And pressure most certainly is rising at Punt Rd, with just one win and a draw from the opening four games.

Hardwick's criticism on the AFL's match selection requirements may also be valid, but there was nothing stopping him and his club volunteering a public statement on Thursday night declaring that Cotchin would be the substitute. So it was him and his club that created the scrutiny around Cotchin and Riewoldt when they used one word – "managed" – when explaining their omissions for the round four match.

Damien Hardwick and Trent Cotchin after Richmond's R14 match against Carlton in 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Neither player has been performing anywhere near the Tigers-great status they both carry. And Cotchin, who entered play against the Bulldogs in the second quarter, managed only three kicks in wet conditions that have traditionally suited him.

Richmond will play Sydney next Friday night at Adelaide Oval, in the third match of Adelaide's Gather Round.

John Longmire and the Swans have nearly as many problems as Hardwick and the Tigers. They too will be without key backs in Paddy and Tom McCartin, who both suffered head knocks in their team's loss to Port Adelaide on Saturday night.


And they will need to devise a more functional forward line than the one that has failed to kick winning scores in the past two matches. The Buddy Franklin, Logan McDonald and Joel Amartey combination may be worth persevering with, but it hasn't worked against Melbourne (round three, 50-point loss) and Port (two-point loss).

Come Friday night, Hardwick and Longmire, with seven Grand Final appearances and four premierships between them as coaches, will go head-to-head in round five of a season that is not unfolding as they had planned.

Often, the great coaches work best under extreme adversity.