AFL 2016: Rough for Richmond when cream on top turns sour

Disappointment for Tigers skipper Trent Cotchin as the Magpies celebrate on Friday night. Photo: AFL Media/Getty ImagesLast Friday in these pages, we pondered how Richmond needed more than one Dustin Martin. You’d like every speculative piece to turn out as prescient as that did.
Nanjing Night Net

Martin proved clearly the Tigers’ best player in their heartbreaking last-gasp loss to Collingwood. Four teammates had as many or more than his 30 disposals, but none looked as dangerous either in the middle of the ground or inside 50, where Martin kicked one, could have had a couple more, and gave one away.

But he couldn’t be everywhere, particularly not in those hectic last couple of minutes when Richmond badly needed a steadying presence.

Perhaps, though, we didn’t go far enough. Friday night’s defeat seemed to suggest that it’s not just a couple of Martins the Tigers could use, but a couple of Brett Deledios and another version of skipper Trent Cotchin besides the one already out there.

As Richmond prepare to take on an Adelaide brimming with confidence, a potent attack and a genuine explosive quality about it, the Tigers, even in a first-round win and a second they should have won, are looking decidedly pedestrian.

Class appears in short supply, and with Deledio unlikely to return from a quad injury for Saturday’s game and Cotchin under fire for an alleged lack of impact and leadership in the loss to the Magpies, that surfeit doesn’t look likely to be bridged quickly.

If anything, Deledio has proved an even more reliable barometer of Richmond’s fortunes than has Martin.

Over the past two seasons and a bit with him in the line-up, the Tigers have won 25 of 37 games, a strike rate of 68 per cent. Without Deledio, they’ve won just three of 11, or a miserable 27 per cent.

His has been a costly absence indeed over the first two weeks. And symptomatic of how injuries, not the quantity but the importance of those to whom they have occurred, have knocked around Richmond’s fragile team structure.

In both games thus far, Deledio’s absence has forced Martin to spend more time forward than in his superb 2015, which was spent mainly in midfield. The Tigers have been without another key in ruckman Ivan Maric. In defence, there’s been no appearance from recruit Chris Yarran or Reece Conca. And now Dylan Grimes has a hamstring problem.

The defensive holes forced coach Damien Hardwick in round one to play Brandon Ellis off half-back in an attempt to generate some drive, a move that didn’t prove successful.

Richmond football manager Dan Richardson says Deledio would have to get through full sessions on Tuesday and Thursday to make the cut. Shane Edwards will return from a hand injury, but Maric he rated only “a chance” to play against the Crows.

Then there’s the issue of captain Cotchin, who last Friday night had one of his less-conspicuous 38-possession games, enough for commentator David King to declare he should be replaced as skipper at season’s end.

Richardson says Richmond won’t be getting into a slanging match about their skipper. “I don’t think he’d want us to,” he says. But the Tigers remain bemused by the vociferousness of the latest round of criticism.

Only 13 of Cotchin’s 38 disposals against Collingwood were contested, and he didn’t lay a tackle. His contested-ball percentage of 39 in 2016 is his lowest since his second AFL season of 2009 and he ranks No.1 at Richmond for handball receives, averaging twice as many as last year, all hallmarks of a more “outside” player.

But that is also consistent with Hardwick’s intent to ease some of the midfield pressures on Cotchin, implicit also in the recruitment of Jacob Townsend and Andrew Moore.

Richmond weren’t unhappy with their contested game against the Magpies, winning the contested ball count narrowly and the clearances handsomely. Cotchin also managed a dozen of his disposals in that final term and finished the game with more stoppage wins than any teammate.

“People forget how fine a line it is in footy between winning and losing and I think that will be shown this season,” Richardson says. “That doesn’t make losing any easier to stomach. In fact it probably makes it harder, because it was an opportunity missed.”

But it’s an even finer line when your cream is stacked so heavily on top of a perhaps still questionable cake. When Martin is forward he can’t be a mid. When Cotchin is outside he can’t be inside. And when Deledio isn’t there at all, it’s arguably a difference between a 2-0 win-loss record and the same questions being asked all over again.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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