Damien Hardwick's sad admission as Richmond sink to seven-year low

Not since the 2016 AFL season has Richmond endured a stretch this bad to start the year.

Damien Hardwick is seen left, with Dustin Martin leading Richmond players off the field on the right.
Richmond coach Damien Hardwick said he was feeling 'flat as a tack' after the Tigers lost a fifth straight match on Sunday. Pictures: 7AFL/Getty Images

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick has admitted to feeling 'flat as a tack' after the Tigers collapsed to a fifth-straight AFL loss against the Gold Coast Suns. The three-time premiership coach says Richmond are in desperate need of answers as a finals appearance looks to be increasingly unlikely.

Though the Tigers have been affected by injuries to key players like Tom Lynch, Hardwick remained upbeat about their overall ability to compete, but lamented several key moments he suggested had 'zapped our energy' against the Suns. Not since the 2016 season have the Tigers endured a worse start to an AFL season, however fans can be buoyed by the fact that Richmond broke their longstanding premiership drought a year later, in 2017.

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Premiership glory appears to be a fair distance from reality right now though, after the Suns inflicted a 25-point loss on the Tigers in round seven. Inaccurate goalkicking did nothing to help Richmond's cause, booting 6.12 for the game, a stat that will haunt them after they won both the clearances and contested ball count.

Hardwick said the Tigers have struggled to score consistently, with promising attacking moves too often coming to nought, only for the opposition to score soon after. Optimistic about his side's ability to play good football, Hardwick said their early season slump was a matter of confidence as much as anything else.

“There’s bits of play where we look great, we should get out and then we don‘t score and it’s like ‘argh’. Then all of a sudden it’ll come down the other end and they do,” Hardwick said in his post-game press conference.

“Those 12-point swings – which when things are going well for your side and you‘re actually up and about and you’re actually OK, but unfortunately, for whatever reason, we’re lacking confidence and our execution just falls off a little bit and then it goes back the other way – it becomes demoralising. I think what happens is it can zap our team’s energy – and I felt like that today.

"It feels like that now for me. I feel flat as a tack. I feel flat for our team, our supporters, our coaching group, our club.

“I’m the eternal optimist, I still think our best is good enough, but we’re a long way off that at the moment and we’ve got to figure out how the hell we get back to what we need to be.

"And there’s only one way to do it and it’s to stick together, it’s to turn in and sit there and understand when we play our best footy we’re capable. We aren’t doing that at the moment, so how the hell do we get back to it?”

The Tigers made the finals with a 13-8 record in 2022, including one draw. They face a long road back if they hope to replicate that feat, with just one one, a draw and five losses to start the season so far.

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Their scoring woes won't get any short-term remedy either, with key forward Tom Lynch still sidelined after copping a broken foot back in April. Only the Hawks and Eagles have endured a worse start to the season than the Tigers, with North Melbourne one spot higher courtesy of their two wins so far this season.

Former St Kilda midfielder Leigh Montagna said the frustrations at Richmond were understandable, with an aging and injured list this season struggling after holding themselves to an impressively high standard is seasons past.

Richmond Tigers players walk off the ground.
The Tigers slumped to a fifth straight loss this season after being trumped by the Gold Coast Suns. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

“For a group that had so much continuity when they were winning flags, there’ so much injury, there‘s so much change, so many young players coming in and they’re not quite getting it together. It’s frustrating because they’re used to high standards," he said.

The club made high-profile acquisitions over the off-season, recruiting GWS Giants pair Jacob Hopper and Tim Taranto in last year's trade period. Their pair had been seen as crucial pieces for a team with ongoing premiership aspirations, but their arrival has not yet provided the midfield revitalisation fans had hoped for.

However the recently acquired pair, Taranto in particular, were defended by David King, who said their age profile fit with what the Tigers were trying to do. Tigers veterans Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin are in the twilight of their careers, with Hopper and Taranto well-placed to keep the Tigers competitive according to King.

“I think they’re still good acquisitions,” King told Fox Footy. “A lot has been made of the cost of those guys, but you’ve got to pay to get a player.

"I mean Taranto was almost the reason they were getting back into that game late. That last quarter was on a knife‘s edge and it was Taranto who was getting all those clearances.”

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