Out of the hole
THEY bumbled and stumbled in critical moments, losing from unloseable positions. They didn't defend well enough for long enough. They didn't have sufficient depth in the midfield or a viable second tall target in attack.
They missed the final eight. Again. Their fatalistic fans suffered. Again. They lost the game they ''sold'' for money to an expansion team. Again. Jake King was their hard man. Again.
Yet, 2012 was not the traditional groundhog season for the Tigers as they emerged into the sunlight with some notable moments. They were the most improved team outside the top eight. They are the only non-finalist, maybe St Kilda excepted, that ought feel positive about what they've accomplished this year, though they should not be entirely satisfied.
Richmond made significant progress this season. If it wins today, which it surely will, it will finish 2012 with an 11-11 record and a percentage of better than 110.
On the most basic measure, this was an improvement of two-and-half victories. The increase in percentage will be about 25 - a number that bespeaks the team's consistent competitiveness.
A 44-point loss to Carlton in the opening game was the heaviest of the season, the next worst was 22 points against Collingwood in round 2. The Tigers were never smashed. They didn't play with a yellow streak once.
The finals were missed because, unlike Fremantle and North Melbourne, the Tigers don't have the experience and leadership to find the winning post. They blundered at the least opportune moments, most comically against the Gold Coast, when they surrendered a lead of better than two goals in the final few minutes, allowing Karmichael Hunt his moment in the Suns.
If the ladder was based upon the scores as every team entered time on, the Tigers would be playing next week. The Suns loss was the first of three consecutive defeats by under four points.
This inability to convert leads into victories was a reflection of a club that usually fielded either the third or fourth least experienced team, the juvenile Giants and Suns included. Teams that play finals typically average 100 games (in the 22); the Tigers were around the 75 game mark.
Next year, Damien Hardwick will confront giddy expectations for the first time. The Tigers should play finals and, like North this year, will be judged on that most basic barometer.
They will likely have Mark Williams ensconsed in a senior development coaching role, with ''Choco'' expected to be deployed as a teacher of younger players rather than in a Rodney Eade or Mark Thompson-style mentor position.
Recognising their dodgy depth, the Tigers have been open about their wish to use the advent of free agency to shore up some potholes on their road to contention. Despite his family's Richmond heritage, Travis Cloke is unlikely to be a target given the high cost of purloining him from Collingwood. Trent Cotchin, Dustin Martin and Jack Riewoldt (plus Tyrone Vickery) are coming out of contract next year. Re-signing them will be the big ticket priorities.
But the Tigers have targeted a couple of affordable Victorians from South Australia who fit their needs. Chris Knights, who struggled for games with the Crows this year, is an unrestricted free agent whom Richmond is favoured to snare. He would add to an attack whose potency was diluted by Vickery's shoulder injuries (he had surgery to both) and consequent struggles. Port Adelaide's tall defender Troy Chaplin is another prospective (restricted) free agent signing. Unlike the Crows, the Power have the right to match Richmond's offer.
Chaplin would bolster the section of the ground where the the Tigers are most deficient. Finals teams, on average, allow the opposition to score a goal from about 20 per cent of forward 50m entries. For Richmond, goals are conceded in 27 per cent of opposition entries. The recruitment of Ross Smith from Hawthorn helped the Tigers better their defensive actions all over the field, but the backline has lacked brute strength and nous. Dylan Grimes, whose hamstrings limited him to nine impressive games, shapes as a cornerstone of the back six.
The ruck was transformed from a remedial need to a position of relative strength, thanks to the success of former Crow Ivan Maric, who became a Richmond rarity - a cult figure who can actually play (Richo, clearly, was one).
In Cotchin, Martin and Deledio, the Tigers have as gifted an on-ball threesome as any team. Nathan Foley's season-ending injury increased the load on that trio, who were assisted by Shane Tuck's pluck. In his second season, Reece Conca showed he can become a midfield presence.
Next year marks the 30th anniversary of Richmond's fall. In 1983, David Cloke, Geoff Raines and Bryan Wood departed to the Pies and Bombers, sparking the retaliatory strike at Collingwood that put the Tigers into a debt which from they've never quite recovered.
The Richmond Football Club's apogee came earlier, during the back to back flags of 1973-74, shortly after the election of another outfit that ruffled their opponents - the Whitlam government.
That leads us to the reason finals are so essential for the Tigers in 2013. It's time.