In 123 seasons of V/AFL history, only 21 teams have won at least two flags on the trot. Only eight have won at least three flags in four years.
It’s rare company, and for good reason. When you’re at the top, everyone wants to take a shot.
Maintaining a successful side is about two things: keeping the core together and supplementing it with new talent to stay on top. The Total Player Payments cap and the reverse-order draft actively tries to equalise talent across the competition.
With every passing year, the balancing act gets tougher. This makes reworking on the fly key and reinventing what you do best critical.
Change is inevitable. Father time is undefeated. No premiership side has ever run out exactly the same side they used in a grand final in any future game.
Richmond will likely select six different names from their 2017 grand final side — not dissimilar to the turnover of similarly successful sides.
So will Richmond etch their names alongside the most successful teams in the history of the game?
The Tigers’ mark
Richmond has long been known for the Tiger Trap, but things have changed a little.
Around the middle of this year, 70 per cent of the Tigers’ goals came from intercepts. This was in line with their success in previous years — the notion of attacking through defence.
In the finals, the Tigers have flipped the script. Only 50 per cent of their goals so far in the finals have come via intercepts — a radical change in a short period of time.
During the home and away season, Richmond won more clearances than their opponents just twice. In their three finals, they have won the overall clearance battle twice.
The big change hasn’t happened around the ground, but instead at centre bounces. So far, the Tigers have won 24 more centre clearances than their opponents in their three finals. They’ve been able to kick four goals to one from centre bounces from this advantage.
A big part of this has been player availability and role.
For much of the season, the Tigers have been without Shane Edwards and Dion Prestia, and they’ve used Dustin Martin increasingly in roles outside the middle. Since the finals, these three players have combined for more centre clearances than the three opposition sides combined.
The Tigers have also been willing to do different things around the ground to halt stoppage losses — and even gain a late advantage when the game called for it.
In the final quarter against Port Adelaide, the best clearance team all year, Richmond found a circuit-breaker in a tight and tense preliminary final by dominating the total clearances by twelve. The Tigers took a chance by running aggressively at the ball or to planned space.
While some teams may have been more conservative in the wetter conditions, and looking to soak up the ball on the rebound, the Tigers did the opposite.
The gambit worked to neuter Port’s game in difficult conditions, but having shown this hand to Geelong, it may be risky to try to deploy again.
Earlier this year against the Cats, the Tigers lost the clearance battle 16 to 32. Given their win in that game, and the preliminary final last year, they may instead choose to rely on cutting off Geelong’s ball use instead.
An interesting wrinkle is that Richmond see the second least ruck contests per game in the league, and Geelong the second most. Geelong don’t mind locking it in and resetting their structures, being patient and using stable, steady movement.
If the Cats are a patient team who rely on slightly slower ball movement, the Tigers instead rely on an element of chaos. It’s not totally freewheeling. Instead, they use structured and organised frameworks to control that loose oval ball.
The Tigers have a habit of turning nothing into something special, like turning a spilled ball into a quick chain, with the end result often a kick to one of their key targets.
Richmond has long been unafraid to make a mistake, as long as it at least gains territory.
Richmond is a machine almost always moving forward, and it generally runs into the most trouble when it is held up by opposing sides. Covering their errors, their defence remains one of the best in the business.
At the same time, the Tigers aren’t quite the same ground-based force they once were.
When Tom Lynch came to the club in 2019, it was a signal of a slight change of direction up forward. The intense pressure of the Tigers’ ground-ball attack inside 50 took a slight backseat to trying to isolate three of the league’s best targets.
The triumvirate of Lynch, Jack Riewoldt and Martin are extremely hard to stop one out.
Defences this year played with overloading the defensive 50 to stop leads and one-out action. The Tigers have used some interesting tactics to get their forwards open, from blocks to cross-goal kicks and leads away from goal.
But this has come at a slight cost to their damaging ground-based attack. Once among the standard-bearers for winning the ball inside 50, now they trail the direction of the league.
Geelong’s tall defence is one of the hardest against which to find open targets inside 50. Earlier this year, Richmond were able to find 14 marks inside 50 on the way to a winning score. Working on isolating and positioning up forward might be key.
Richmond has done this before. The Tigers have won two grand finals now, with a lot of the same players and staff. This time they’re up against the oldest team ever. They even beat this team in the finals last year.
There are a couple of new elements this year though. They haven’t won a grand final at night, nor in Brisbane, nor in October. They’ve never had to cope with the seemingly never-ending hub environment. Though, to be fair, no-one has.
But as the ball bounces at the Gabba, all of that history, positive and negative, disappears. Then it becomes real.
One game, for the flag, and for that historical status.