Tigers aim to build on epic AFL flag

Richmond's stunning banishment of their 37-year AFL premiership drought means this season boils down to one question.

Dustin Martin will again be a key figure as the Tigers look to go back to back in 2018.

Dustin Martin will again be a key figure as the Tigers look to go back to back in 2018.

What's next?

It's in glorious contrast to this time 12 months ago, when the list of queries was long, vexing and fundamental.

The coach, the board, the captain, Dustin Martin's future - everything was uncertain.

As the season unfolded and they lost three games by less than a kick, the fans also were left asking if "Richmondy" was to be their lot.

How can any team win with only one key forward?

When would Richmond win another final, let alone claim their 11th premiership?

In the midst of the club's turbulent 2016-17 off-season, Neil Balme's return was instructive.

It was a significant boost, no doubt.

But the veteran coach and administrator would never have taken the football manager's role if Richmond did not have something going for it.

He had been around the block too many times to be blinded by football romance.

One of the most common-sense operators in the AFL saw that Richmond were holding their nerve.

Just as Geelong had done a decade earlier, bringing in Balme was part of a methodical, considered re-set after a disappointing season.

After decades of dysfunction, they were finally getting their ducks, or tigers, in a row.

True, last season things went their way.

Who could have foreseen that Josh Caddy's hamstring injury would have opened the door for Jacob Townsend's late-season heroics?

Martin's season was one of the best individual performances in AFL history, netting him the Brownlow and Norm Smith Medals as well as the club best and fairest.

All their three finals were at the MCG. Adelaide played there four times all year and looked lost on grand final day.

But these things happen when your pressure is consistently manic, your coach and players have total faith in each other and your senior players, well, lead.

The Norm Smith voting will forever will be a happy bar side debate for Tigers fans and the topic speaks volumes about the way Richmond play.

Any of five or six players had legitimate claims, such was the team's consistency and the lack of any weak links.

It all bears mentioning, because these are basics that stack up, season after season.

Yes, Richmond still need another tall forward. But if they found a way last year, why not again?

How will they react when, inevitably, luck turns against them?

Balme argues that point was proved after their four-successive losses last season, including those three heartbreakers.

"There were practical reasons why it happened and practical solutions were put in place, in a logical, unemotional way," he said.

"All of a sudden, you do overcome.

"It's only when you react badly to those things - and that is your resilience test - I think we passed the resilience test in overcoming those things.

"The method was quite exceptional - it required quite a lot of effort, a lot of discipline, but they did it with a smile on their faces, which is a pretty rare thing to have."

As for the inevitable speculation about a premiership hangover, Richmond have belted Essendon and North Melbourne in the pre-season.

The Tigers do not have the look of a team basking in anything.

"Who knows whether they can 'maintain the rage', but we're pretty confident they can, because they're approaching it in that really positive, simplistic way," Balme said.

"We're just playing footy, it's just a game, we love playing it, we'll do the best we can and whatever comes, comes.

"They're not carrying any excess expectation."

As always, it's funny how something so elusive and complex can sound so simple.

Richmond's premiership history is also worth a glance - 1920-21, then 1932 and '34 and then the glorious Hafey years and their four flags, closely followed by the 1980 triumph under Tony Jewell.

In other words, when the Tigers claim one flag, they have gone on to win more in close succession.

What's next, indeed.


Coach: Damien Hardwick

Captain: Trent Cotchin

Last five years: 7-8-7-13-1

Premierships: 11 (1920-21, 1932, 1934, 1943, 1967, 1969, 1973-74, 1980, 2017).

Key five: Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin, Alex Rance, Jack Riewoldt, Kane Lambert.

One to watch: Jack Graham. The 19-year-old made his senior debut in round 22 last season and was a revelation. Five games later, he had a premiership medal. Big-bodied midfielder with a huge future.

Ins: Liam Baker (Subiaco, WAFL), Noah Balta (Calder U18), Callum Coleman-Jones (Sturt, SANFL), Derek Eggmolesse-Smith (Bendigo U18), Jack Higgins (Oakleigh U18), Ben Miller (Subiaco, WAFL), Patrick Naish (Northern U18, father-son).

Outs: Jake Batchelor (delisted), Todd Elton (delisted), Ben Griffiths (retired), Taylor Hunt (delisted), Ben Lennon (delisted), Ivan Maric (retired), Steven Morris (delisted), Chris Yarran (delisted).

Best line-up:

B: Brandon Ellis, Alex Rance, Dylan Grimes

HB: Bachar Houli, David Astbury, Nick Vlastuin

C: Kamdyn McIntosh, Trent Cotchin, Jacob Townsend

HF: Kane Lambert, Dustin Martin, Josh Caddy

F: Dan Butler, Jack Riewoldt, Jack Graham

R: Toby Nankervis, Dion Prestia, Shaun Grigg

I: Shane Edwards, Dean Rioli, Nathan Broad, Jason Castagna

Predicted finish: 3rd

Betting (William Hill)

To win the flag: $8.00

To make the top eight: $1.40

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