One of the big disappointments in 2014 has been the performance of Richmond. After winning 15 home and away games en route to their first finals appearance in more than a decade, the Tigers have inexplicably slumped and now sit in the bottom four on the AFL ladder with just three wins in the first 14 rounds.
The Tigers 10 losses have been of a mixed scale, but the interesting fact is the amount of games they have lost by fewer than 20 points. After dropping the opening match of the season to the much-improved Gold Coast at Metricon, the Tigers narrowly defeated the Blues in round two. However, since then Richmond has played in five matches decided by 20 points or less and lost them all.
These numbers are remarkably similar compared to the Tigers’ 2012 season, in which they played in 11 matches decided by 20 points or less, for a record of just two wins, eight losses and a draw.
Richmond finished that season with 10 wins and a draw, with a healthy percentage of 111.6 and despite the numerous close losses, it was generally regarded that they were one of the best sides not playing finals football that year.
Of course 2013 rectified that, with 15 wins and a percentage of 122.8, but the secret was that Richmond was able to perform in the close games. Before their season ending 20-point defeat to Carlton in the Elimination Final, the Tigers had actually won three of the five matches decided by less than 20 points, a fair turn around on the 2012 numbers.
Unfortunately, this year has seen the Tigers slump to their bad old ways in matches when it gets tight at the end.
More damning, is their record in finishes in matches decided by less than a goal. In the last three seasons Richmond has been involved in eight of these finishes and won just one – against Carlton in the opening round of 2013.
Single figure losses this season have occurred against the Bulldogs (two points) and Geelong (five points), but arguably the most disappointing loss for Richmond was the 17-point loss to the Demons after the Tigers kicked a disgraceful haul of 9 goals, from 29 scoring shots.
In the Tigers’ most recent defeat, they led the Sydney Swans by 26 points at the 22-minute mark of the second term in a low scoring encounter, yet when the match was there to be decided, the general perception was that the Tigers were not going to emerge victorious, and the eventual 11-point defeat was far from unexpected, despite the Tigers lead at half time.
The disposal numbers and inside 50 numbers were damning on Friday night, as 400 disposals resulted in just 37 inside 50s for a measly return of seven goals.
Despite having one of the premier goal kickers in the game, in two-time Coleman Medallist Jack Riewoldt, the Tigers’ inefficient ball use and lack of penetration into their attacking zone rendered him useless for much of the second half, as the Tigers scoring avenues all but dried up.
While Richmond’s next three encounters are all very much winnable, this will only paper over the cracks as it seems the 2014 season is destined for failure at Tigerland, like so many before it since their last premiership triumph in 1980.
Winning football matches is a matter of mastering the physical as well as mental battle, and it will be a long road ahead for Damien Hardwick and his men as they see out the remainder of what has been a fruitless year and look to rectify just what has gone so wrong.
Instilling a belief in the younger players is the only way forward and then the Tigers may just find a way to turn around the monolith of losing matches narrowly and gain some much needed confidence going forward.
In reality, that’s all they can do in the remainder of this year, hope to win as many games as possible and in the process if they can gain some belief and maybe even win a close game or two, this will set the Richmond Football Club on the right track for a much better year in season 2015.
For the thousands of Tiger fans do not want to wait another 12 years before their team plays finals football again.