The SportingJournal

Tigers need to roar into finals

Each year, the Richmond Football Club and its fans are filled with hope that this will be the year they make finals. The depressing fact for those Tiger hopefuls, is that it’s been over ten years since their last finals appearance: a preliminary final drubbing at the hands of Brisbane.

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The Tigers have not played AFL finals football since 2001.
Image: richmond fc/instagram

In the proceeding years for Tiger supporters,  it’s been a roller-coaster ride of anticipation and disappointment. In a time where they have seen several sackings of senior coaches, and a combination of poor drafting and list management, it hasn’t been until recent seasons under senior coach Damien Hardwick that things have slowly turned around for the Tigers.

They now seem to have the essence of a good team. Their core group of midfielders, lead by captain Trent Cotchin, are young and talented. They have a key full-forward in Jack Riewoldt, a quality ruckman in Ivan Maric – although his output is a little bit down on last season – and Alex Rance can hold his own at full-back. The pieces are slowly falling into place.

Yet despite the hype at the beginning of the season that this would be the year the Tigers would play finals, they sit in an all too familiar position, outside of the top eight on the ladder. With a win/loss record of 5-4, and their wins mostly against the bottom clubs, the fans are starting to get restless. Too many times in recent seasons, the expectation of a return to finals has lead to disappointment, at times missing out by a Tiger’s whisker.

The fans are starting to feel like the kid whose parents won’t let them go outside and play with all the other kids. Their faces are pressed firmly up against the glass window, where all they can do is watch all the other kids having all the fun. The Tigers need to play finals this year – for the club, for the players, and most importantly for the supporters down at Tigerland, who crave the taste of September action.

Missing out on finals wouldn’t mean the end of the world. After all, they are still a developing side, and their best players are still young and probably a couple of years off hitting their peak. No one can underestimate what breaking the drought would mean. This is the year they wanted to let themselves believe they could.

The players also need it. They need a taste of it,  just to keep them hungry, to help them understand what it is they’re building towards. Despite the Tigers looking like they’re not matching it with the really good teams yet, they still need to play like a team that believes it can. Earlier in the  year, they tore apart the struggling Western Bulldogs with run and carry, blitzing the opposition at every contest. They kicked 20 goals that day. The problem for the Tigers is the disparity between that game and the game last Saturday night, against a current top four team in Essendon.

Instead of taking the game on and playing with that same attacking flair, they chipped the ball around, often in a sideways direction. And they only managed nine goals.  Take nothing away from the Bombers, they showed tremendous defensive pressure. However, while watching the game, it felt like one team wanted it more. Like the Tigers club song sings, ‘like the Tigers of old, we’re strong and we’re bold.’ That’s exactly what the Tigers need to be.

They need to be bold to make the finals. They need to take the game on, week in and week out, and they need to play every game like it’s their last. The other issue is the Tigers are last in the league for tackles. Regardless of youth and ability, there is no excuse for a team being unable to tackle. If they want to take the next step, it’s something they need to address, and quickly.

The other reason the Tigers may have trouble matching it against the teams at the top is the gap between the ability of their star players  and the next group in the team is too big. Until that gap is closed, the Tigers won’t be a top four team.

In the short term, the likes of Cotchin, Deledio, Martin and Reiwoldt need more help. They need those around them to at least play at a consistent level, to do the team things, and to run and tackle like their lives depend on it.

The Tiger fans want more, and are not happy at where they are at. So much so, some are now questioning whether Hardwick is the right man to take the team to the next level. The truth is, the Tigers are still building. They have a core group of players that can take the team forward – they’re certainly not the rubble they’ve been in the past, and they have Hardwick to thank for that.

However, after another year of high hopes and expectations of finals footy, it would be a hollow feeling for the club and its supporters if they were to be left hanging just outside the eight again.

Article by: Jeremy Riley

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