Tiger tactics: Richmond's Shaun Grigg was brought in to fill a specific role. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
RICHMOND and Melbourne for the past decade have been like Beirut — in a perpetual state of rebuilding.
Most recently the sides have tracked one another’s progress after finishing bottom together in 2009, the Demons just edging the Tigers out for the wooden spoon and with it the open choice of any teenager they wanted. In the years since they have followed one another around the ladder, never finishing more than a few places apart and never far from the bottom.
Melbourne started the process of rejuvenating its playing list sooner than Richmond, having finished bottom in 2008 when Richmond finished in the loveless ninth place — close to finals but still a long way from it.
But both teams understood that the bulk of their existing players were not going to be premiership players at their clubs so they set about constructing the teams that would win them a flag. The approach Richmond has taken in the past three years differs from the one Melbourne has adopted. It is premature to judge the success of either approach regardless of Melbourne’s as-yet winless season, but rather to acknowledge a difference of philosophy.
Melbourne has taken the classic youth-driven path of investing in the draft to stockpile talent, following what it considers the Geelong model. Richmond, partly due to a more limited access to the draft, has followed the model taken by Sydney, in keeping its best picks but also chasing some experienced players. The Swans have long believed they could not afford to bottom out so have not been as enamoured of untried youth. They have been more prepared to trade for bankable commodities (players of exposed assets and liabilities) and players who were at once still young in years but mature of body.
The Swans have cannily acquired Josh Kennedy, Shane Mumford, Ted Richards, Rhyce Shaw and Ben McGlynn. All of them were chased not just because they were available but because they served a specific purpose and were available because they were starved of opportunity at their clubs. The most outrageously successful of these is Kennedy.
This is the model Richmond adopted when coach Damien Hardwick arrived. When he walked in, Richmond had a batch of over 30s who all departed, and left behind a classroom of kids.
Richmond made another telling appointment in Blair Hartley (former Essendon opposition scout, then Port Adelaide recruiter) as the club’s ‘‘pro scout’’, or recruiter analysing other AFL, VFL and other state league lists. Other clubs had such a scout but not the Tigers.
The issue for Richmond — and one reason it was in a different situation to Melbourne, which had more of an even generational spread of older players — was that, also unlike Melbourne, it was going to be denied the best draft picks that had been available to other teams at ground zero and facing a rebuild. Richmond’s ground-zero moment coincided with the arrival of the expansion teams and the loss of the best draft picks. The classic youth rebuild was not available to the Tigers.
‘‘We were not going to be able to do the rebuild by just going to the draft all the time for 18-year-olds,’’ president Gary March said.
‘‘We are by no means saying we are there yet. But if you ask about rebuilding, we looked at our list when Damien came in and we knew we had a big hole in the players in their mid-20s, and there was a clear strategy from the footy department to bring in guys in the 22-25 bracket to complement the list.
‘‘Blair Hartley was a really important appointment for us and he and Craig Cameron went out and really looked at the players that were out there in that age bracket.’’
Ivan Maric, Shaun Grigg, Bachar Houli and Steven Morris have all been brought in to fill specific roles, and were available because of lack of opportunity. Maric had his best game yet last week as he delivers on the promise of being an honest competitor with known limitations. Grigg is a big-bodied, strong athlete with enormous aerobic ability who has an ability to find the ball. He can sit on a wing and collect 30 possessions instead of a 19-year-old gathering 15 and being buffeted.
Brad Miller was gone from Melbourne but taken by Richmond as a mature-aged rookie. In many ways he will be the classic ‘‘bridging player’’, but he has been a big body to help ease the burden on a young Ty Vickery and Jack Riewoldt.