Author Topic: How Hardwick turned himself and the Tigers around (Australian)  (Read 163 times)

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How Hardwick turned himself and the Tigers around (Australian)
« on: September 29, 2017, 02:22:09 AM »
How Hardwick turned himself and the Tigers around

The Australian
September 29, 2017

This was the moment that captured the change that would bring Richmond to tomorrow’s grand final.

The siren had sounded to send the Tigers into the showdown with Adelaide. “Yellow and Black” was being sung at such a volume they danced upon the moon.

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick, standing up at the back of the box, was clapping like a father might a son; like a mate might a friend; a fan might a hero. Nothing could have camouflaged the pride.

Hardwick was celebrating an achievement that he knew was a week away from something so extraordinary it had the power to change a young man’s life irrevocably and memorably.

Hardwick knew how the players’ hearts were beating, minds careering. He had played in premierships with Essendon and Port Adelaide, an obdurate defender. He was an assistant to the guru of coaching boffins, Alastair Clarkson, when Hawthorn won the 2008 flag. He knew premierships, he knew coaching.

Yet, while Hardwick had barely teased that he might deliver Richmond to this moment in the previous seven years as coach, this was an unselfish moment. It was not about him but about his players, the club and its supporters.

Therein lies the answer why Richmond, who finished 13th with just eight wins last season, will play Adelaide in front of 100,000 people for the club’s 11th overall premiership. And the first since 1980 — a 37-year silverware vacuum.

Hardwick continued clapping.

This was not the Hardwick we saw last year. Nor the Richmond players. Back then the Tigers won the first match of last season and lost the next six.

It was Hardwick’s seventh year in charge. Three finals appearances had not forced one win in September. By any measure used to judge a coach’s worth and promise three stuttering appearances in the finals (2013-15) followed by a non-competitive year and Hardwick was no longer the tiger in the room but the elephas maximus.

To look at him last year was to see a bewildered and isolated man, temperature in the cooker, and angry supporters demanding his sacking.

A two-year extension to his contract granted Hardwick early in the year meant sacking the coach would certainly be expensive. But there was a powerful group within the club who doubted the sense in a sacking as any sort of resolution.

A challenge came at the board from disgruntled — we are being so kind — members. It proved to be the most inept bid for power in AFL history. Had they worn clown suits with spinning flowers that spat water they would have come with more gravitas.

Such was their embarrassment they melted away but not before they had demanded former Richmond champ Neil Balme be brought in to run the football department and Hardwick be overthrown.

The rebels even stuffed up the timing of their nuisance-making. The club had already approached Balme and he was on his way from Collingwood to take over as general manager of football. Club chief executive Brendon Gale was well into a review of the club’s football protocols and culture. It would see the club stick with Hardwick.

In truth, that was the easy part. Making the club think as one and professionally was the challenge for Gale, Balme and Hardwick. Unless all the energy bubbling around Richmond — the club, the community and supporters — was synchronised it might lose what remained of the momentum generated by three consecutive appearances in the finals.

Hardwick took matters into his own hands and mind. Because he could find no answers as 2016 moved on miserably, he made the easy error of turning inwardly. The other voices at the club he didn’t hear; the other opinions and football intellect he didn’t seek. What he saw on the ground rattled him and what he tasted was not success.

First, Hardwick fixed himself. He invested heavily in a new Damien Hardwick which was very much like a previous model. One that would take advice, share his thoughts and reinforce the relationship between coaches and players. He restabilised rapport with his staff. The fortified and freshened playing list committed to each other and, importantly, remained true to Hardwick, whose constantly changing and cluttered plans they saw as indicative of his desperation to help them improve rather than a man out of his depth.

It is unlikely any club would have stuck with Hardwick when last year fell apart. President Peggy O’Neal backed in her man. Brave. But quickly things began to turn.

List managers made shrewd choices. Josh Caddy, Toby Nankervis and Dion Prestia came to the club. Justin Leppitsch came in as forward coach, ball movement was Blake Caracella’s jurisdiction.

Some reports have it that the small forward line that was refined during the year came almost by accident. But it was Leppitsch’s theory which got its chance when no second tall forward could establish himself alongside Jack Riewoldt. Caracella has simplified ball carriage. Hardwick is the conductor, interpreting the new music and ensuring everyone gets to play their part. All around the club roles are recognised and appreciated.

Hardwick has proudly spoken of the love the players have for each other. It is a club finally back in tune with itself. To turn Richmond around Hardwick had to find himself. That everyone at the club helped him in the search was the making of Tiger Time.