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Tigers ready to take on AFL's big spenders

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DAMIEN Hardwick calls it footy's ''arms race''. Richmond has been outgunned for years in football department spending, and knows that it matters. The club sees a clear link between that figure and success, as presented by football director Craig Cameron in The Age a few weeks ago.

So when $5.5 million is raised over two years in a fighting fund (albeit mostly to retire debt), and the club hits 50,000 members for the first time ever, it can only be good news for the Tigers.

''It becomes an arms race with regard to our football department spending,'' said Hardwick yesterday. ''To eradicate some debt with the Fighting Tiger fund, they raised another $2.5 million and that's brought it above $5 million. To get this facility we're standing in today, we're going to get the [Punt Road] ground done in the not-too-distant future, it'll allow us to bring in more coaches, spend more resources in our football department.''

According to figures published recently, Richmond was 13th in the AFL last year for football department spending at around $15 million, about $4 million behind the top-spender, Collingwood.

Hardwick thinks of Richmond's improved stocks as an ability to go with the pack. ''It certainly helps us to compete because we're probably only at the level now where we break even with a lot of clubs,'' said Hardwick. ''A lot of other clubs are above and beyond. I read today the Magpies are going to Port Douglas [for the break]; we're heading down to Port Melbourne for our break! Those things make good clubs great and that's where we've got to get to. We've got to increase our spending in our football department to play with the big boys.''

Hardwick was in a jovial mood yesterday, appropriately for the head coach of a club on a roll as it confronts Fremantle at the MCG this weekend. Don't believe him if he utters the old cliche about one week at a time; Richmond's players actually operate in four-week blocks. The coach says it's easier to do it that way. ''This is week three of a four-week block. We're two-and-zip at the moment. We're looking to go four-and-zip.

''Fremantle would be exactly the same. Maybe [it's] a step back if we lose, depending how we play there might be some positives from it, there also can be some learning lessons. We're five-and-five sitting 12th or 11th on the ladder, whatever it may be. We're not in the eight. We're a long way short of where we want to go, a long way short of where we want to be.''

The bandwagon may be rolling but Hardwick is not trying to stop it. In fact, he embraces it. ''It's relatively easy because nothing changes for us. We go about our preparation and our review process, we speak about the way we're going to attack the game. Nothing changes.''