Tigers’ rise from ‘train wreck’ to two flags
Richmond captain Trent Cotchin describes 2016 as a "train-wreck" season.
It was a campaign capped by the 12th biggest loss in the club's history - a 113-point annihilation at the hands of Sydney at the SCG in Round 23.
"Richmond will enter the summer with a massive review to come and this will add some spice to that review," Fox Footy commentator Dwayne Russell said in the final minutes of that match.
The Tigers limped to the finish. They won just two of their last nine games as a team that came off three consecutive finals appearances finished 13th on the ladder with just eight victories.
There were rumblings.
A Richmond board challenge by the "Focus on Footy" group was already in the pipeline. Coach Damien Hardwick was under increasing heat and many commentators were calling for a complete overhaul of Richmond's list.
But just two weeks before that Round 23 loss, Hardwick gave an in-depth interview with Fox Footy's On the Couch program and declared it was no time to panic.
"We've probably turned over 40 per cent of our list in the last two years, which is one of the bigger turnarounds in a club, and we've invested heavily in the drafts in those two years," Hardwick said.
"People often say, 'Richmond need to rebuild'. Well, we've started that two years ago.
"We thought we were in a good enough position to play finals this year. It's been an incredibly disappointing season. But we were also well thought out and planned that if this day did come, that we've got enough players in the bank from our point of view."
Some 1135 days after the Sydney flogging, Hardwick is a dual premiership coach, Peggy O'Neal remains president of the biggest club in the AFL and there has been no new list overhaul.
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The end-of-2016 review saw a new football boss - Neil Balme - installed, along with a new panel of assistant coaches around Hardwick.
But the greatest changes at Tigerland have come from within.
"I look back now and without 2016 we wouldn't be sitting anywhere near where we are today," Hardwick said last month.
"You often learn most when you're in your darkest times and there's no doubt that happened to me and this football club."
Cotchin quoted American children's author Dr Seuss when he spoke at the Tigers' best-and-fairest count on Tuesday night, the shiny new 2019 premiership cup beside him on stage.
The quote was: "Nobody said it would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it."
"Your greatest growth comes from your darkest times and without the train wreck that was 2016, 2017 wouldn't have actually happened," Cotchin said.
"The reason your greatest growth comes from your darkest times is because it enhances humility and learning - two of the most important ingredients for a successful team. And it's fair to say the first part of this year in 2019 was bloody humbling.
"At one stage we lost our entire leadership group - Dusty (Martin), (Alex) Rance - and lost to GWS by eight goals and Geelong by 11 goals.
"At Richmond, we're either winning or learning rather than catastrophising. We're focused on learning. We learn about ourselves and about who we are. We also learn about the depth of our list and blooding new players like Jack Ross, Sydney Stack, Ivan Soldo and Tom Lynch - just to name a few."
Dion Prestia was a Gold Coast Suns player in 2016 and was in hot demand. He was a Melbourne boy who wanted to return home.
He chose Richmond, believing the club's 2016 season had been an outlier rather than the new norm at Punt Rd.
"I always thought they had an off year in 2016," Prestia told the Sunday Herald Sun.
"It's still a pretty similar list to then. We'd done pretty well in the last couple of drafts and there was a rookie draft (2015) where they picked up a few good players.
"But the way that we've all come through together has just been amazing. We've got a lot of stars, but we've also got a lot of good role players."
Forward Daniel Rioli was in his first season in 2016 and played in the Round 23 loss to Sydney - just his 18th AFL game.
"You probably expect a bit better things, coming into a big AFL club, but then losing the last game to the Sydney Swans by that amount was just crushing," Rioli said.
Two premierships in three years later, Rioli believes he has a good grasp of the changes that have occurred.
"I feel like it has been just our connection as a group," Rioli said.
"As a group we weren't as close to each other in 2016. Now everyone catches up for coffees, dinner, everyone's pretty close. Coaches are catching up together with the players. It's a big connection we have together at the footy club.
"It's pretty special, that bond we have now, and I think it just reflects with the results we're having at the moment."
Defender Jayden Short, also part of the 2016 loss to the Swans, believes that game was where the premiership push all started.
"It was a fair smacking to finish the year with," Short said.
"But I think those times drove the boys. We all love playing with each other and we all want to win, so for us being a part of that in 2016, it hurt.
It was a bit of a turning point to where we wanted to get to. It's exciting times now."
Short was one of the players picked up in the 2015 rookie draft, along with fellow 2019 premiership players Jason Castagna (pick 29), midfielder Kane Lambert (pick 46) and ruckman Ivan Soldo (pick 68).
In the 2015 national draft, Rioli joined the club at pick 15 and fellow two-time premiership player Nathan Broad was snapped up at a bargain pick 67.
At the end of 2016, the Tigers added some cream to the cake. They acquired Prestia, Josh Caddy and Toby Nankervis during the trade period.
The cherry on top came in the form of Lynch when he joined the yellow and black through free agency at the end of 2018.
Hardwick was right in 2016 that he already had the makings of a list that was capable of contending "in the bank".
And the Tigers were right for sticking with him - after a heavy loss that could well have been career-ending.
REMEMBER WHEN ...
Richmond lost elimination finals in 2013, 2014 and 2015 before a disastrous 2016 season which yielded just eight wins.
The Tigers went 1-6 to start the season from hell and finished 2-7 from the last nine games.
A 113-point loss to eventual grand finalist Sydney in the Round 23 was the final dagger in the heart of many Richmond fans, who voiced their frustrations on two Facebook posts the club made that day.
Here is a sample of what they had to say - and how the comments have aged.
THEN: "#sackhardwick" - Tristan
NOW: Senior coach Damien Hardwick survived the axe at the end of 2016 and has gone on to lead Richmond to 56 wins from 74 games in three seasons since, including two premierships. He was chosen as the AFL Coaches' Association Coach of the Year in 2017 and will pass Tom Hafey's coaching games record at the club next year.
THEN: "1300 CLEANHOUSE. Give them a call" - Daniel
NOW: Richmond changed its assistant coaches around Damien Hardwick after 2016 and brought in a new football boss in Neil Balme. But there was no drastic list change. Only five players who played in the final round of 2016 were not on the Tigers' playing list this year.
THEN: "2017. Another 5-year plan. A new broom sweeps clean!" - Robert
NOW: Two premierships in three years is a pretty good start to the new five-year plan.
THEN: "I own a restaurant and I would not have Brendon Gale in charge of the dishwashing." - John
NOW: Financial results aren't yet out for 2019, but Richmond recorded a huge net profit of $4.21 million under chief executive Brendon Gale in 2018, generating total revenue of $79.8 million. Gale has been touted as the next CEO of the AFL.
THEN: "Take my 3 memberships - I've had enough! Done! Finnit! Kapput!" - Chris
NOW: We're not sure if Chris gave up his memberships. But regardless, the Tigers have soared from 72,278 members in 2016 to 103,358 members this year - growth of more than 43 per cent.
THEN: "I think all us supporters should all write to the Richmond Football Club and demand change of the board. Threaten to not renew our membership until something is done." - Stuart
NOW: President Peggy O'Neal has led a stable board since her appointment in October 2013. There have been five new appointments since the end of 2016, but five members remain the same. Hardly an overhaul.
THEN: "Do I keep following the Tigers? … Or do I cancel the membership and start learning the Giants' team song?" - Sue
NOW: We hope Sue chose the first option. Grand Final day this year would have been tough, otherwise.