Sport AFL AFL Finals 2017: The reason Richmond has finally come good

AFL Finals 2017: The reason Richmond has finally come good

Dustin Martin (centre) is this year's Brownlow Medal favourite. Photo: Getty
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Richmond fans know what it is like to suffer.

The Tigers have played just nine finals since 1982, losing seven of them in a remarkably barren run that has seen various coaches come and go amid a series of false dawns.

Despite massive gaps between finals series appearances – they didn’t compete in the post-season from 1982 to 1995, and 2001 to 2013 – Richmond’s supporters have remained fiercely loyal, all in the hope that the wheel would eventually turn.

The club’s membership is more than 72,000 and there are few greater sounds in football than the roar of the Tiger Army at the MCG when Richmond is playing well.

Close to 95,000 fans are expected at the famous venue when the Tigers aim for their first finals win since 2001 against Geelong on Friday evening.

Should the Tigers salute and book a spot in a preliminary final, a first premiership since 1980 will become a real possibility, according to Richmond legend Francis Bourke.

“Those boys who will run out to play for the Tigers have an opportunity of really establishing themselves in the minds and the hearts of our supporters as being part of the drought-breaking team,” he told The New Daily.

The former player, captain and coach knows what it takes to succeed at Richmond, having been part of the famous side which won five flags in a dominant 13-year period from 1967 to 1980.

“No one would’ve thought that after the stellar run we had in the late 60s and 70s and early 80s, that this comparable unsuccessful period would’ve unfolded the way it did … I do feel for our young supporters,” he said.

It’s the young Tiger fans who have suffered

“My children and their children, of course, suffer … as a club, we didn’t handle the change from part-time football to full-time football very well.

“I think the club lacked stability in the middle 1980s, got into financial difficulties, didn’t draft as well as they probably hoped.”

Despite recording their first top-four finish for 16 years, long-suffering Tigers supporters will know that nothing is won yet.

Joel Bowden, a member of the Richmond side which reached the 2001 preliminary final but lost to eventual premiers Brisbane, told The New Daily he thought the finals appearances would keep coming.

“We left Brisbane and flew back to Melbourne with our tails between our legs, but confident we would get an opportunity again to play in finals. Unfortunately, it didn’t eventuate,” he said.

Only nine Tigers have played more Richmond matches than Joel Bowden. Photo: Getty

So, how have the Tigers bounced back?

Bowden, who played 265 matches at Richmond from 1996 to 2009, said the club’s new-found stability had played a key role in its rise.

“Only in the last, let’s say, 10 or so years, have Richmond really got their act together to become a powerhouse off the field,” he said.

“And it’s been reflected on the field with an even contribution from the players … although there are a couple of superstars, in [Alex] Rance and [Dustin] Martin, there are even contributions across the board.”

Bourke shared a similar view, adding: “The club has made enormous strides forward this year and there is enormous effort that has gone into that too, which has been very satisfying.”

Flag droughts not unknown at Richmond

This isn’t the first time Richmond supporters have suffered a premiership drought.

They had to wait 23 years before Bourke and his mates won the 1967 premiership – a fact that made the first of his five flags more significant “because it broke the drought”.

Ahead of Friday’s blockbuster, both Bourke and Bowden were optimistic.

“On our day we can beat anyone,” Bourke said. Bowden added: “They won’t be favourites [against Geelong], but they are good enough.”

And the prospect of further success?

“When the Tiger Army is on the march, it’s something special to be observing,” Bourke said.

Bowden thinks “there’d be 160,000 people crawling up to Punt Road if Richmond won the premiership”.

For now, at least, it remains a dream. But what a sight that would be.

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