Nathan Buckley's truth bomb for Damien Hardwick amid ugly Richmond woes

Damien Hardwick is locked in as Tigers coach until the end of 2024, but Nathan Buckley says he has to consider his position much sooner than that.

Nathan Buckley and Damien Hardwick.
Nathan Buckley says Damien Hardwick has to ask himself if he is up for coaching a Richmond side that may not reach the same heights of success in years past. Pictures: Getty Images

Former Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley says it is crucial that Damien Hardwick asks himself whether he is up for the challenge of coaching Richmond in years to come, with AFL commentators predicting the Tigers may be headed towards somewhat of a rebuild. Richmond are 16th on the ladder after seven rounds this season, their worst start since 2016.

After a draw and a win in the first two weeks of the season the Tigers have gone on to lose five games straight, putting their finals hopes in serious jeopardy. There have been some mitigating circumstances, chiefly a broken foot that has ruled key forward Tom Lynch out for months, however the Tigers have still fallen short of expectations thus far.

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Hardwick admitted to feeling 'flat as a tack' after Sunday's loss to the Gold Coast Suns, with Richmond's short and medium term future a hot topic among AFL observers. The club has enjoyed a remarkable run of success with premierships in 2017, 2019 and 2020, but the mainstays of that era in Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt and Dustin Martin could all potentially retire from the league at the end of the season.

Speaking on Fox Sports, Buckley said it was crucial that Hardwick figures out whether or not he has the energy to stay on as coach during a different phase in club history, after engineering the Tigers' strongest seasons in decades. Buckley said Richmond were now in a tricky phase faced by clubs after a period of success, which he said were typically accompanied by changes in coaching and personnel.

“I think when you get to this stage of the evolution for a team, you’ve got assume there’s potentially a little dip now before Richmond come back – this is about where clubs make changes in coaching leadership and tenure," Buckley said. “They’ve got to have the conversation.

“Have you got the energy to go through this dip and come out the other side? Do we believe you’re the right guy to do that? Those conversations will happen behind closed doors.

“Richmond entered this year knowing the bottom half of their list was green, green as. (They were) trying to see where they could take Grimes, Cotchin, Riewoldt and whether they could have one last crack at it and now there’s a price to pay for that – maybe we’re seeing it now."

Hardwick's comments after the loss to the Suns reflected the fact that he is 'still invested' in Richmond's success, Buckley said. Hardwick is contracted to the Tigers until the end of the 2024 season.

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Hardwick said the Tigers have struggled to score consistently after the loss to the Suns, 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.

Tigers coach Damien Hardwick confers with his assistants.
The Richmond Tigers have endured their worst start to an AFL season since 2016 this year. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images) (AFL Photos via Getty Images)

“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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