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The Age

RICHMOND COUNTDOWN TO 2000

Author: ROHAN CONNOLLY
Date: 25/02/2000
Words: 1191
          Publication: The Age
Section: Sport
Page: 2
Another summer, another clean-out at Punt Road. So what's new? This time, however, it does appear that a perennially under-performed club has made a concerted effort to drag itself into the modern football era.

The Tigers didn't just change coaches again, they opted for a whole new football brains trust featuring first-time coach Danny Frawley, but also former senior coach Greg Hutchison, recent premiership player Darren Crocker, and former Essendon and Collingwood strategist David Wheadon. As well, for perhaps the first time in ages, the old-fashioned Tigers have even talked about strategy, signalling a clear intent to move Punt Road away from the passion-fuelled histrionics that have proved as much of a millstone in the current climate as they were assets in the golden era of the '60s and '70s, and a badly overdue concentration on skills and method.

It's a big step in the right direction, but Richmond can't change its player list overnight. Much of the Tigers' fortunes will again come down to the fitness and performance levels of the usual suspects - Wayne Campbell, Matthew Richardson, Matthew Knights and Nick Daffy. At least in 2000, however, they have a little more assistance.

Leon Cameron's recruitment should ensure some less haphazard disposal out of defence, and Clinton King is just the sort of burrowing little man to complement the free running of Campbell and a much fitter Knights. What could lift the Tigers higher is the continued emergence of young talent such as Brad Ottens, almost ready to take on the No.1 ruck mantle and a handy resting goalkicker, and skilled runner Marc Dragicevic, both of whom can expect substantially more time on-field this season.

Gains

The Tigers have been kicked from pillar to post in recent times for their unskilled defensive set-ups. The recruitment of Western Bulldog veteran runner Cameron is a specific plan to solve that problem. Collingwood little man King, who was eighth in the Pies' best and fairest last year, is another good acquisition. Draftees include highly rated Aaron Fiora, who played senior football for Port Adelaide Magpies, Scott Homewood, Andrew Mills, Ezra Poyas and Ty Zantuck.

Losses

The Tigers collectively lost patience with several players who had been nurtured for some time, only to be found wanting continually at senior level. One-time Punt Road cult figure Justin Plapp was traded to St Kilda, big man Steve McKee to Collingwood, while Ashley Blurton, Ross Funcke, Ben Moore, Jason Ramsey, Ben Hollands and Paul Greenham are also gone from the list of 1999.

Coaching

There have been a few brooms sweep through Richmond coaching departments over the years, but seldom as comprehensively as this latest re-stock, in which Frawley was appointed to his first senior AFL coaching job, joined at assistant level by three faces equally new to Punt Road - former Melbourne coach Hutchison, former Essendon and Collingwood assistant Wheadon, and former Kangaroo premiership player Crocker.

The draw

The Tigers are going to have to do it on their own this year, because the draw certainly isn't going to help. Richmond plays last year's top three sides - the Kangaroos, Carlton and Essendon - twice, as well another finalist, Sydney. The Tigers also travel interstate four of a possible six times, missing out on away games against West Coast and Adelaide.

Why the Tigers could be better

If Ottens and Dragicevic, and possibly even highly rated and polished draftees Aaron Fiora and Ezra Poyas, can break into the side on a regular basis, the Tigers will suddenly have opponents looking at several danger areas, rather than the standard couple. The Tigers' backline could improve substantially with the likes of Cameron and Paul Broderick stationed there, and key defender Darren Gaspar is ready to return to top form after an illness-afflicted 1999.

Why the Tigers could be worse

Like most sides in the bottom half of the ladder, Richmond's depth is thin. The consequences of serious injury to either Richardson or Campbell, in particular, could be horrendous. If the Tiger second tier doesn't start picking up the slack soon, its leaders could have the stuffing, not to mention their enthusiasm for another underdog cause, knocked right out of them.

The verdict

It's hard to see Richmond improving enough to make the final eight, but it still has enough pluck, and just enough talent, to worry most sides above it. A good start to the season, for momentum's sake, is essential. Likely finish: 10th-14th.

LAST YEAR: 12th

THIS YEAR:

ROBERT WALLS 13th

The new coach and his team of assistants have declared they will play long, direct football, so the tall timber of Richardson, Gale, Holland and Ottens will need to star. Problem is, are there enough Tigers who can kick a decent ball to give the big fellas a chance?

MALCOLM BLIGHT 12th

It must be frustrating supporting the Tigers. History says they will have some great wins - only to be let down with "soft" losses.

DERMOTT BRERETON 14th

Always prone to having long flat spells during the season. While the coach is on a learning curve as well, it will be hard to negate that trait.

 
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