AFL Round 21 – Fremantle v Richmond: Too little too late?

Jessica Critchley Roy, pictured with fellow red head Daniel Jackson when she was about five, is now 13 and still yet to see her team play a final. She was two when Richmond last made it in 2001.

Pictured a couple of years ago, Rebecca Critchley-Roy (now 11, left), Jess, now 13, and Ben, now 9, have never seen their team play a final despite attending at least 400 games between them (not that Ben cares – he hates footy).

 

Richmond is now officially a mathematical chance to play finals – next year.

The Tigers have shown some good late season form (if we block out Saturday’s insipid performance against Fremantle in Perth), but it is hard to get excited after those losses we didn’t have to have stuffed yet another potential finals appearance.

Call me ungrateful (I know some people will), but too little too late has been our catchcry for too long. And it’s beginning to feel like Groundhog Day.

It’s a familiar pattern: Start the season with massive hype and predictions about coming good only to get done by Carlton. Not that that worries the AFL. Tiger fans always turn out for the season opener because we haven’t lost yet. We’re full of hope that this may finally be our year.  So far no good.

Then once we recover from Round 1 we post some good wins, raising hopes of the club’s first September action since 2001 when my 11-year-old daughter was a baby. This is followed by the inevitable slump and losing the unlosable to the likes of Gold Coast – twice.

For some reason Richmond can’t seem to win as favourites, especially when the game could sneak us into the eight. This year it started against Freo at the MCG, a match we went into displaying great form.  It was the Tigers’ chance to shine and stake a real claim for long-awaited respectability.

The Dockers’ form had been so-so. They hadn’t won at the ‘G for yonks and it was raining, which should favour the local team. Yet we still managed to lose.

Then after a string of heartbreaking close losses to Gold Coast, North and Carlton, all of which we could and should have won, we beat Brisbane at the Gabba and the Bulldogs by 70 points.

Whoopee doo.

A win is a win and we were rapt with those results and Trent Cotchin’s Brownlow-winning form, but it means nothing. If those games had decided whether or not we made the eight, we probably would have lost.

Now that the pressure is off, the Tigers may well have another late season win or two and possibly help shape the eight. That form will then be used to spruik next year’s chances. And off we go again.

There are some really encouraging signs at Tigerland. As CEO Brendon Gale told a lunch recently, our overall on field stats and finances are improving. Our percentage is up and Richmond has one of the youngest lists in the competition.

Cotchin and Brett Deledio are stepping up as superstar leaders of the future and if he can ever turn it on for a whole game, Dustin Martin will join them. Youngsters like Brandon Ellis, Dylan Grimes and Steven Morris also showed great promise this year.

But some diehards I know have given up after yet another heartbreaking season.

Several times this year, I’ve attended games alone because none of my family would go and friends who come occasionally didn’t either. My husband Brian has followed Richmond all his life and our kids have attended most games since they were born. Not this year.

After the Gold Coast loss Brian vowed not to attend another game this year and said Richmond should trade Cotchin and Deledio before they became too “emotionally scarred” by their time at Tigerland.

And he wasn’t joking.

He believes that if Richmond had genuinely improved it would have won the games that mattered. “We wouldn’t have lost to Gold Coast,” he said. “Our season fell apart when we were out coached by Ross Lyon (against Freo). It was wet, it was windy, MCG, everything in our favour. But they beat us, easy.”

My 13-year-old daughter, who has always come to games with me despite never seeing her team play a final (she was two last time we made it), refused to attend the Bulldogs game. She said if The Tigers didn’t make the finals next year she was changing to Collingwood.

She wasn’t joking either.

I’m still turning up every week when we play in Melbourne and will never give up on my team. What annoys me, though, is that after two finals’ series in 32 years, those who raise legitimate questions about this continued lack of success are branded disloyal or still told to “be patient”.

I know the Bulldogs, Saints and Demons haven’t won flags for more than 40 years; St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs’ have only ever won one each full stop. But all three have enjoyed regular finals action.

Since 1982 the Bulldogs have made the finals 12 times and played in seven preliminary finals. Melbourne has played in 12 finals series, five preliminary finals and two Grand Finals. If you include the draw, St Kilda has played in 11 finals series and four Grand Finals.

In that time Richmond has played finals twice and been through no less than six so-called five-year rebuilding periods. Just how patient do we have to be?

Talk has already turned to my team’s potential for next season. What about this year? Didn’t the club say in 2010 that by 2014 we’d have played finals three times? Wouldn’t that include 2012? Pardon me for asking.

Part of the problem is that too many Richmond fans and the media have come to expect and accept second best from this once proud club. Instead of being feared it is now pitied. And that’s what hurts the most.

I’ve had Collingwood and Carlton fans tell me they don’t even hate Richmond now, the ultimate insult from mortal enemies who are supposed to dread playing us. Not anymore.

Things won’t truly turn around for Richmond until all this changes. And the only way to do so is to win the games that matter and put the fear of God back into our opponents.

The club has made some changes that have improved its structure on and off the field, but still has a way to go if it felt it had to sell home games to Cairns, effectively derailing two seasons.

Next year there will be no excuses. If we don’t make the eight with the likes of Martin, Cotchin, Deledio and Riewoldt, Richmond fans will be justified in chucking in the towel. I really hope our players, coach and administration can deliver and I will be there no matter what.

Cheryl Critchley is on twitter @cherylcritchley

Comments

  1. Cheryl

    As ever, well written and you articulate so brilliantly both the love and frustration of being a Tigers fan.

    I agree that the sympathy from other supporters is something I am getting peeved with. If we aren’t to be feared, then what’s the point. It was the same with Richo, being everyone’s fave player, regardless of who they barracked for, much like Brad Johnson or Robbie Flower got sympathy for long careers with little success.

    I firmly believe that Essendon got more sick of supporters of other clubs stopping hating them under Knights and feeling sorry for them, than they did of poor results, and that’s why they acted so fiercly in sacking him and getting Hird/Thompson. They werent being feared or despised, so they went and said it is all about Essendon, stuff the rest of you. I admire that.

    Going into that Freo match, I was full of hubris, looking at the draw open up and thinking we had navigated the awful frst half of the year reasonably well, and would carry good form to rack up some soft wins. In hindsight, North were in the middle of a great run, but dropping that Freo match, then the unmentinable Cairns game, has left us out again.

    Our window is open for a few years, but the lesson from the Western Oal is windows like that aren’t open long.

    Morris for mine has been a standout recruit, and of course the Mullet ruckman. Need a reliable foil second forward (can’t rely on Nahas to be your second goal kicker) and hope for a good injury free run like this year, as well as avoidance of sleeping tablets (boy, didn’t those two games he missed matter).

    If we can smash the Blues in Rd 1 next year, we set the scene for (finally for your brood’s sake) a good year and September apeparances. Maybe even your Ben will come around.

    Sean

    PS, are you the same CC that writes the real estate pieces in the Wekly Review?

  2. Cheryl Critchley says:

    Hi Sean, thanks for that.
    I do have some hope for next year but not unless the club’s overall culture continues to improve and we stop doing things like selling games interstate. We also need a better draw which is out of our control.
    Yep I’ve been writing some stories for the Weekly Review, which is a really good mag. They’ve done well in a difficult print climate.
    Go Tigers tonight (although I am worried)

  3. What’s changed Sean? Essendon are still not hated or despised. They are the 4 point bye these days.

    Post Script: Matty Knights is now incharge of a very well regarded group of young Cats. Lees pressure, more fun.

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