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Saturday, September 30, 2017

A Tiger tale of thoroughbreds and brumbies

Toby Nankervis is not Richmond's best player but it is impossible to envision Richmond in the finals this year, let alone the grand final, without him.
Ivan Maric was fading into the twilight, Shaun Hampson injured. What would they have done without Nankervis? Ruck Shaun Grigg all year?
Nankervis' arrival at Richmond, his identification and his recruitment is emblematic of the construction of this Richmond team which has blended the scarce early draft picks with targeted talent from other clubs.
Yet, for all of the best-planned strategy, some things also are just serendipitous: Nankervis was recruited as a forward and back-up ruck and has carried the ruck all year.
The year 2010 became ground zero for the construction of this grand final team. Other clubs lost out to the new teams Gold Coast and GWS – especially those who list players – but in terms of pain from the new teams' arrival in the AFL no club suffered more than Richmond.
Where they had pick six and took Reece Conca in the 2010 draft, they would ordinarily have had pick two. Where they got pick 15 the next year and took Brandon Ellis – who plays on Saturday – they would otherwise have had pick six. That's the difference in picking, perhaps, Toby Greene instead.
"We knew if we just went to the draft we would be denied the best picks so we had a strategy to retain our first-round picks and explore alternative avenues for securing talent," said list manager Blair Hartley, who was then in the recruiting and list team.
The Fighting Tiger Fund was launched in 2011 under the 3-0-75 campaign for three finals appearances, zero debt and 75,000 members within five years (and three flags within 10 years). The FTF saw then football boss Craig Cameron address coteries and members to raise money to pay the full salary cap even while at the bottom to enable planning for growth and free agency.
The club ultimately positioned itself to retain all four star free agents – Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt, Alex Rance and finally this year Dustin Martin – while also having room to trade in Dion Prestia.
Early on, players such as Grigg and Bachar Houli as well as Maric and Steven Morris, were important in getting the team back to being competitive again.
"Ivan Maric has been here six years. His influence culturally has been significant. The character, the person, his leadership – he has been very, very significant," said Dan Richardson, who came in after Cameron.
"The plan was always to be creative about the list build through trading and free agency through the 2010 to 2013 period. Come 2014, it was the first of the uncompromised drafts so we identified that was a draft we needed to invest in and we did. We kept all our picks."
Out of that 2014 draft, Richmond took Kane Lambert and Jason Castagna as rookies and Dan Butler as a late pick. Early pick Corey Ellis is an emergency for the grand final while Connor Menadue has had a strong VFL finals campaign.
"Because we played two finals series and lost, there was a feeling maybe we need to go a bit harder at free agency then and it was important we held our nerve. Come '15 we had a crack at [Adam] Treloar, we brought in [Chris] Yarran and that didn't work, and we missed Treloar but we drafted well with [Daniel] Rioli and [Nathan] Broad, I reckon," Richardson said.
"These are the sliding-door moments through a bit of luck rather than good planning. We drafted well in Daniel but we could have easily got Treloar and we wouldn't have had that pick. We wanted Treloar, he is a good player so we would have been happy, but we kept our draft picks and got Daniel. We then got Dion [Prestia] the following year and we couldn't afford him if we got Treloar."
Luck and strategy cannot be disentangled. The best-laid plans require all other things to fall into place. Hartley stresses that they brought players in but coaches and the development team, the data analysis, those in welfare and medical all take over.
Francis Jackson was part-time in recruiting yet is one of the few recruiters to have picked two Brownlow medallists in the one team. Matthew Clarke has taken over recruiting with Luke Williams after coming in from Geelong via Carlton. Nick Austin, Curly's son, as pro scout, must have watched Nankervis specifically half a dozen times for the Tigers to be sure he was the one they wanted.
We wrote once before of the Tigers having brumbies playing like thoroughbreds. Peggy O'Neal likes the line and often brings it up for Richmond have kept their thoroughbreds and got their brumbies playing like them. They are not alone. To succeed you need to do that and the Crows would tell a similar story, but this is a Tiger tale.