Ten years ago Richmond CEO Brendon Gale drew up a plan that envisioned them becoming the top Victorian club by 2020, winning three flags and having the most members.
Those of us who grew up with the Tigers in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s scoffed. And laughed. And ridiculed.
Richmond? They were going to achieve this? The Tigers, who’d become synonymous with a revolving door of coaches, chicken manure being dumped on their doorstep and a series of other catastrophes?
Here’s a different way of looking at it: I went to the 1980 grand final as a clueless ten-year-old. Richmond smashed Collingwood. After the presentations a Richmond supporter in front of me triumphantly held up his scarf and proclaimed, “Just three more, Tiges!”.
He was alluding to the premiership table. In 1980 Collingwood led the flags in the VFL with 13. Carlton, Essendon and Melbourne came next with 12. Richmond’s victory in 1980 gave them a tenth.
This supporter was saying just three more to catch Collingwood. As that clueless ten year old I recoiled and feared Richmond would equal and pass us.
As it was, Carlton would equal Collingwood in 1981 and pass them in 1982. Essendon would do the same in 1984-85.
But Richmond? They competed in the 1982 grand final but lost. Then they whirlpooled into a recruiting war with Collingwood through the 1980s that decimated both clubs.
Richmond wouldn’t again make the finals until 1995 and then 2001 after that.
In the time that has lapsed since 1980 St Kilda and Melbourne are the only two VFL clubs that haven’t won flags. Fremantle, Gold Coast and GWS have been the only national-competition additions who haven’t broken their duck.
Most other clubs have won at least two, but usually during concentrated phases. Carlton won in 1987 and 1995 and made a grand final in 1999 but have struggled since. Essendon’s last flag was in 2000. North Melbourne won in 1996 and 1999, and though they have punched above their weight in finals campaigns since then, they have never come genuinely close.
Clubs can do the contemporary rebuild – clean out the list, bring in young talent, pump games into them and finish the build with some targeted recruiting – but it doesn’t guarantee them ultimate success.
Let’s go back to the Saints. They finished wooden spooners in 2000, second-last in 2001 and 2002 and 11th in 2003 before making the finals in 2004. Despite preliminary finals in 2004, 2005 and 2008 and grand finals in 2009 and 2010, they weren’t able to snare a flag.
They’re not easy to win.
You can do all the right things within your power – build a great team, play competitive football – and still fall short.
As a Collingwood supporter I know this better than most.
But one of the problems that can contribute to failed premiership assaults is the lack of an agenda – checkpoints to hit progressively and targets to aspire to. These parameters can compartmentalise a club’s focus(es), provide structure through the rebuild and act as continuing motivators.
In the case of Richmond, Brendon Gale gave them something to work towards and through.
I believe Hawthorn have a blueprint called ‘Hawthorn 2050’, which breaks down their goals all the way up to 2050.
Other clubs just seem to go with it.
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That can become a trap – a misdirect that a club might be closer than they think because they’ve been thereabouts. Their actions then are neither here nor there – middling choices that keep middling clubs doing what they’ve done best: middling.
Essendon’s a prime example. They seemed to believe they weren’t far from contention and targeted mature-age recruits. While their best was scintillating, it was spasmodic. Even at their best you couldn’t see them challenging the genuine contenders. Now their latest build is unravelling on them and the club is in disarray.
That lack of a definitive agenda did little more than offer false hope and keep them meandering until the bottom dropped out.
Writing from my own perspective as a Collingwood supporter, I saw Collingwood contend the 2002-03 grand finals and fall short. Mick Malthouse declared that list would only get them so far and that they needed to rebuild.
Now, as far as I’m aware, there were no fixed goals, but Malthouse knew he could rebuild while he had a senior core to prove the team’s framework, who could model for the younger players coming in.
Their drafting over the next six years built a spine and stellar midfield. Trades completed the team. It was the most logical and systematic list build I’ve seen at Collingwood ever.
They won a flag in 2010.
But since the succession I’ve felt Collingwood’s had a shapelessness about how they’ve moved through the competition.
Going into Nathan Buckley’s tenure they seemed to try contend with that premiership squad. When that didn’t work, they decided to rebuild on the run, cutting or trading out the likes of Darren Jolly, Alan Didak, Heath Shaw, Dale Thomas, Chris Dawes, Heritier Lumumba, Sharrod Wellingham et cetera.
Unfortunately their drafting struggled and the free agents they brought in failed to become mainstays of the club.
The club plummeted.
During that period they paid heavily for the likes of Adam Treloar and Will Hoskin-Elliott and tried moneyball-like acquisitions with guys such as Jesse White, Lynden Dunn, Chris Mayne, Daniel Wells and Jordan Roughead while also netting some top talent in the draft with Jordan de Goey and Jaidyn Stephenson.
They got within a kick of a flag in 2018 and seem to believe they are right there. They paid overs to bring back Dayne Beams, which has bloated their salary cap (and still has no closure) and have since shed players like James Aish, with guys such as Hoskin-Elliott, Treloar and Tom Phillips being floated for trade.
This is not a comprehensive recount of Collingwood’s list management, but I use it to demonstrate that it seems Collingwood’s always reacting (and being reactive) rather than being proactive and working to a plan.
Since the succession, as an outsider looking in it feels like they’ve always tried to play catch-up to where they believe they should be.
Now, having a fixed plan obviously doesn’t guarantee success – I’m sure Hawthorn’s form in the last couple of years doesn’t correlate with their blueprint’s expectations – and obviously a club has to adapt and improvise at times or perhaps even reassess.
As a Collingwood supporter, though, I am curious what Collingwood’s vision is for the future beyond a generic ‘to be successful’.
I don’t put this exclusively to Nathan Buckley either but also to Eddie McGuire, who’s been president since 1999.
Where do they see Collingwood in five years, ten years and 20 years?
I know this time of the year is replete with scurrilous trade rumours – and sometimes outright fiction – but when I hear about Collingwood’s proposed list management I’m worried that they might just go the same way as Essendon.
I’m sure I could ask this question of a lot of clubs, but my interest pertains to only the one.
Do we have a plan? Or are we still just reacting?