With Richmond all but assured of missing the finals this year after winning the last two premierships, sensationalists is the sports media are already throwing out phrases like “end of an era” and “dynasty over.”
I prefer a different one. “Blessing in disguise.”
After three flags in four years Richmond succumbed to a mounting injury toll in 2021 which seemed to coincide with an overall drop in form, particularly in the forward line.
Premiership defenders Nick Vlasitin, Nathan Broad, Bachar Houli and Noah Balta all missed large chunks of the season.
Toby Nankervis missed a few games and received little help in the ruck with Ivan Soldo sitting out the season with injury.
Key midfielders Dion Prestia and Kane Lambert missed games, and the season-ending kidney injury to Dustin Martin didn’t help.
Some so-called fans have accused the team of being lazy and disinterested this year, but I reject that. With the mounting list of key players injured I suspect more still played through with their own minor niggles, unable or unwilling to take the week or two off their bodies probably needed.
Lazy and disinterested? More like tired and sore.
Premierships in 2017, 2019 and 2020, as well as preliminary final appearance in 2018 mean many players on the list have had shorter downtime and pre-seasons over the last four years. Perhaps one of the costs of sustained success is the greater wear and tear on players, something that finally became insurmountable in 2021. I’m sure there’s plenty of Tigers who are looking forward to the season being over to have a rest and get their bodies right.
Would they be disappointed in missing the finals and not being able to chase a third-straight flag? Absolutely. But sometimes either the mind or the body (or both) just isn’t up to the challenge.
Now, of course every team has their injury problems and there’s probably a few clubs who can claim to have had a worse run in 2021 in that respect. Injuries are a part of footy and every club has to manage it.
Richmond simply has not managed their injuries as well as they have in previous years. Damien Hardwick has admitted as much. Perhaps their list isn’t as deep as it once was.
But there’s a silver lining to what has been a disappointing 2021 season. A longer off-season should do wonders for the senior players and hopefully those already missing with injury will have strong pre-seasons and come back fit and hungry.
Also, the Richmond has been forced to play more of their younger players who will only be better for the experience. Hugo Ralphsmith has shown great potential (despite his terrible haircut), Sydney Stack has played well after earning a return to the seniors and Maurice Rioli Jr has shown glimpses in just two games so far.
The rise of some of these young guys should create healthy competition for spots in the side.
Aside from physical health, the only other area for concern at Tigerland is their forward line. Structure and composure going forward has been a problem all year, with Lynch and Riewoldt finding themselves triple-teamed under high kicks more often than not. Talented as those two big men are, there’s little hope of them being effective in those contests.
The Tigers need to find a way to make more space for those two to operate in. If they can find more one-on-one contests in the forward 50 then scoring should be much easier to come by, particularly with the crumbing skills of numerous small forwards and midfielders.
If that can be sorted out then there is no reason why the Tigers can’t be back in the hunt for silverware in 2022. The premiership window is closing but it isn’t closed yet.
Richmond’s best squad is still good enough to finish top four if they can stay healthy. The likes of Cotchin, Riewoldt and Houli are probably closest to hanging to the boots within a year or two so they will be hungry for success.
The disappointment of 2021 has probably stung the pride of many players, too. It should absolutely re-light the competitive fire under them.
Dynasty over? Not so fast.
Let’s see what a fit and rejuvenated Richmond can produce next season first. I for one expect them to be right back in the hunt.