Jack Riewoldt’s decision to break ranks on Wednesday has angered his club and placed even more pressure on his beleaguered coach Damien Hardwick – a man whose mixed public messages during the Tigers’ horror season have only served to further confuse the situation.
Hardwick has been so bereft of answers he has resorted to seeking mediocre positives and making promises his players have repeatedly failed to keep.
Repeated assurances that the club is moving in the right direction, any talk of improvement or mention of injuries is just embarrassing and an insult to the club’s much-lauded record number of members and game-day spectators who were so cruelled at the MCG last September.
Hardwick’s team in 2013 and often even in 2012 was one of the most exciting to watch in the competition. Now Richmond is generally unwatchable; scared of playing and frightened of losing and no one can – or has been prepared to – explain why.
The ongoing commentary about poor recruiting decisions and the mediocrity of the list does not wash. Richmond might not boast a top four list but nor does its list rank in the bottom four. More than one-third of the way through the season it is time for the coaching group to accept as it surely has that it has failed dismally this year.
The club has warned against over-analysing the reasons behind Riewoldt’s comments. As horrified as the Tigers’ were by his apparently thoughtless disloyalty, they believe he is without guile and had no hidden agenda.
On Thursday morning he received a blast from the coach who did not rule out dropping him for the GWS game – he eventually didn’t – and was also lectured by executives Brendon Gale, Daniel Richardson and Simon Matthews.
He is believed to have been embarrassed and contrite and underlined his apology with repeated utterances relating to his strong affection for and admiration of the senior coach. He did not face the leadership group of which he was a part last year. None of which gets away from the fact that Riewoldt was clearly telling the truth when he said: ‘‘We probably tried to copy Hawthorn a little bit too much with our kicking style … we went one way with our game and the game went the other way.’’ Or at least his version of the truth.
The genuine hope now is that the Tigers abandon damage control for five minutes and focus on the disconnect between the coaches and players. Clearly the message is not getting through for so many players to have been down against Melbourne given the stakes last Saturday. Half of the leadership group is failing on the field and collectively that quartet must be struggling off it.
If Riewoldt’s misgivings about the team’s direction are exclusive to him then that too needs to be thrashed out. Perhaps, and it is a belated hope despite empty comments by Brendon Gale and others that finals remain an ambition, the explosive Jack’s gaffe could prove the circuit breaker in tandem with the limp loss to the Demons.
Because the signs that something is not right at the club came long before the Tigers’ listless round-one opening against the Gold Coast. In fact Richmond has not truly looked convincing as a team since – ironically – it defeated Hawthorn in round-19 last year.
What followed apart from some truly mediocre football was the Jake King, Toby Mitchell incident which dragged into summer, a series of Dustin Martin indiscretions culminating in him briefly walking out on the club and some perplexing off-field issues.
President Gary March, having achieved so much, left the club in a huff and almost did not attend the Jack Dyer Medal function. March was angry his man and a board split briefly shadowed the club. Peggy O’Neal was installed in a suprise decision.
Questions also remained regarding the quality of the coaching minds surrounding Hardwick after some departures in 2013 and then early this year came Riewoldt’s omission from the leadership group and subsequent dummy spit.
Perhaps his ill-timed comments on Wednesday suggested that the rudderless onfield rabble we have seen on the playing arena in 2014 is being mirrored behind the scenes.
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