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Blue the looking glass

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PATIENT Ronny Richmond has seen his club rebuilt more often than the Parthenon, but the design is always flawed. Instead of a restored monument, what is promised always ends in ruins.

So Ronny, a 44-year-old bloke from Rowville, is entitled to be cynical about Richmond Rebuild Mark 10. He's heard the words ''youth policy'' and ''will take time'' with the same vomit-inducing frequency that Wayne Swan uses the phrase ''working families''.

Yet, this latest Punt Rd Project does feel different. Encouragingly, the club has managed to persuade the ''Ronnies'' that Damien Hardwick is, if not the messiah, then a skilled tradesman who deserves the five years that Terry Wallace and Danny Frawley had in which to make something from the rubble.

Ronny isn't too worried about the 1-4 start. The AFL sadists handed the Tigers a terrible early schedule and, with a pinch of better fortune and more steel from Jack Riewoldt, they'd be 2-3 or even 3-2.

Ronny doesn't like Carlton. As a child in the '70s, his view of Robert Walls was similar to Kevin Sheedy's and he cannot fathom how the Tigers hired a Carlton schoolteacher as coach when John ''Swooper'' Northey left. Hardwick's OK. He was coached by Sheeds, was tough and played in the back pocket.

Yet, much as it would pain Ronny and his ilk, the Blues are the club that Richmond should aspire to emulate. Carlton is a living example of how to turn a pile of rubble into a powerful club again. Richmond's attempted restoration is mirroring Carlton's on multiple levels. The extent of the parallels is obscured by the time lag - the Tigers of 2012 are in roughly the same position of Carlton circa 2008, when Chris Judd and Matthew Kreuzer arrived and Brett Ratten began his first full season as senior coach.

For Ronny, that his team may become a Carlton copy should represent glad tidings. Yet it is also a sobering reminder of how long it takes to bring a club into premiership contention. The Tigers are one Olympics behind the Blues. Thus, if all goes well and they recruit and develop their players as well as possible and pick off a decent free agent or two, they will be in the mix in 2015-16, a year or two before the expansion teams threaten.

This is the first year in which Carlton has been a genuine premiership chance. Taking the recruitment of Marc Murphy and the since-departed Josh Kennedy with early picks as year zero, it has taken seven years of mostly correct decision-making - trading Brendan Fevola for Lachie Henderson and a pick, drafting Chris Yarran, bringing Jeremy Laidler and Nick Duigan on board, surrounding Ratten with the right lieutenants - to bring the Blues to the point where a premiership is eminently possible.

Like Carlton, Richmond is building from the midfield first, using early picks on prized on-ballers, and then seeking to cobble together a defence. As with the Blues of 2008, they have scant senior players and thus the path to contention should be incremental yet inexorable. The Tigers have even fewer decent senior players than the Blues then and are weaker in the ruck. On the plus side, target forwards Riewoldt and Tyrone Vickery are superior, at weight-for-age, to Jarrad Waite and Shaun Hampson.

What has been most impressive about Carlton is the fact it has improved every single year since 2007.

Richmond's Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin are their club's answer to Murphy and Bryce Gibbs - the prized early picks and elite talents that provided the first real impetus. As a midfield duo, Cotchin and Martin have the capacity to be the equal of Murphy and Chris Judd or Scott Pendlebury-Dane Swan. They and Brett Deledio give the Tigers a match-turning turbo charge that most mid-range teams - North, Adelaide, arguably even Essendon - don't own. The Tigers are below those sides because a) they aren't as defensively adept and b) their senior players aren't as numerous or good.

Deledio isn't in Judd's company, but he is about the same age the champ was four years ago, when the Blues first demonstrated that they were coming. Deledio has been marked hard to date - consider how he would have fared at, say, Geelong. Hardwick's decision to hand him more midfield duties has enabled him to develop a harder edge and take responsibility.

Carlton didn't become a significant threat until its defence improved.

The same formula applies to the Tigers, who were hopeless in defending - in the back half and everywhere else - last year, but have fared better in restricting the opposition so far in 2012.

The addition of ex-Hawthorn assistant Ross Smith to teach team defence helps, but the Tigers won't ascend like Carlton until they find or develop their Michael Jamison. They need an anchor of the back line who can subdue 108-kilogram gorillas. The promising Dylan Grimes is still slight in body. Alex Rance is vastly improved and braver than Braveheart, but he might be a number two - Bert Newton, rather than Graham Kennedy.

The best measure of Richmond's progress this year is its percentage of 94. It's a number that, should it be maintained until round 22, ought to give the Tigers 10 or so victories and a spot just outside the eight. In 2008, the Blues won 10 games and had a percentage of 94. They finished 10th.

The Tigers have only laid foundations. Rightly, no one will believe they're truly restored and respectable until it happens. And after 30 years of frustration, Ronny might as well endure another three or four.

1 comment

  • one big difference is Richmond has't cheated the system like Carlton

    Commenter
    Barry
    Date and time
    May 06, 2012, 1:41PM
    Comments are now closed
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