As the AFL world continues to absorb Damien Hardwick's stunning decision to step down as coach of Richmond with immediate effect, questions have been raised about the Tigers' long-term prospects. Hardwick caught the AFL world, and many of his own players, by announcing his departure in the wake of Richmond's one-point loss to Essendon in round 10.
Hardwick conceded he had lost some of his passion for the job after 14 seasons in charge at Punt Road, a tenure which saw the Tigers resurrected from the AFL doldrums into a three-time premiership winning outfit. The Tigers have fallen away from their dominant best over the past two seasons, scraping into the top eight last year but struggling to keep up in 2023.
The Tigers made a big swing in the 2022 trade period, bringing in GWS midfielders Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper on long-term deals as the club looked to re-invigorate their ageing premiership core. Now, Hawthorn legend Luke Hodge says the club needs to ask itself some hard questions in the wake of Hardwick's departure.
Likening the position Richmond are in now to the beginning of Hawthorn's slip down the ladder following their own period of premiership dominance in the early 2010s, Hodge said some Tigers players might be feeling somewhat aggrieved after Hardwick had vowed to see out his contract - originally meant to conclude after the 2024 season.
" I think the success of what Hawthorn had and the correlation with Richmond and what they've been through (is what they face), both had three flags ... so I guess it's got to the same point as Alastair Clarkson and Hawthorn in 2016 where you go: do you rebuild?," Hodge told SEN.
"But Alastair Clarkson had given his word to the new players and Dimma is the same to what he said to Taranto and Hopper ... to bring players into your club and go back on what you promised them, they both promised their players they were going to strive again for more success and for them to be part of a premiership side.
"We've heard Alastair Clarkson said he might've stayed a year or two too long and Dimma's probably looking at this going well am I up for the next five years of the rebuild or do I hand it over?"
Complicating matters for the Tigers is the impending arrival of the new Tasmanian team in a few years - meaning the draft pool for young talent will become significantly tighter. Hodge said the Tigers would no doubt be hoping to avoid a full list rebuild at a time when Tasmania will likely have priority access to top picks in order to establish their side.
Richmond precariously played on edge of AFL rebuild
Despite that, Hodge said the Tigers likely had no choice but to commit to rebuilding now, rather than trying to contend for finals in the next three seasons. He said the likes of Taranto and Hopper would need more than half a season to fully establish themselves at Richmond.
"The list has changed a lot and they did go in and got Taranto because they were never a big win clearance kind of a team, they thought with the list they've got now they'd have to win it from the (middle) and get it going forward and it hasn't worked out as they would've liked," Hodge said.
"I'd probably look to rebuild, the stars in their side are now the wrong side of 30 and we all know how hard it is to win a premiership if you look at the teams that are up the top at the moment, it's so wide open ... there's probably six or seven teams that could claim they've got a reason or are a good enough list to win the flag."
Hardwick's shock resignation highlights the end of the dynasty that broke their wretched AFL premiership drought and returned the Tigers to a position of strength. Much is made of the "pillars" at a successful club - Richmond's for their three flags were Hardwick, CEO Brendon Gale, president Peggy O'Neal and captain Trent Cotchin.
Then came senior football advisor Neil Balme, a crucial addition when the club was on shaky ground at the end of 2016. O'Neal resigned at the end of last year, with John O'Rourke taking over. Now Hardwick is gone and Cotchin, surely, will retire at the end of this season.
Gale was a candidate for the AFL chief executive role, which went to Andrew Dillon, and the popular thinking now is he is their No.1 choice to take over the long-vacant football manager position. But Gale, the former Tigers star who became club CEO in 2009, said at Hardwick's retirement media conference on Tuesday that he wants to oversee what comes next.
"We want to find the next Damien Hardwick," he said. "We think we're a pretty attractive proposition - we're a strong club with a strong culture.
"I'm committed to this next chapter of Richmond ... this is my focus."
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