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Why can’t Richmond win the premiership?

It is entirely possible that the Tigers are back.

Obviously, Richmond is in the finals, and clearly the team nobody wants to see in week 1 of the finals. Especially not Brisbane, whom Richmond has beaten for fun over the years.

But that is not the ‘back’ that I mean. The ‘back’ that I mean is Jack Nicholson in The Departed, or Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino: truly and honestly back to their best.

But let’s stick with this year for now, because why not? To quote the great Francis Albert, it’s been a very good year. Or specifically very good back part of the year.

Do you know what I have been asking myself about this year? It’s a big question, hard to answer a lot of the time but it’s especially hard to answer this year: why not us?

The Tigers are heading into the finals on the back of a four-game winning streak with the best win being over the week 1 finals opponent and team of pests who have nothing good coming to them, Brisbane. Richmond have kicked over 100 points in each of the last four games.

No, wait, you can’t talk about him yet.

Prior to the four-game winning streak, Richmond had a five-game run of one win, three losses and a draw. Pretty grim reading and one of those losses prompted me to write an article saying that Richmond are not premiership contenders.

However, I’m learning that in media being wrong has absolutely zero consequences and you can still go on and pontificate as if you’re the smartest person in any room you could ever conceivably helicopter into. Just ask Tom Browne. He was $1.05 to feature in this article.

Anyway, that grim record requires some analysis. The draw should have been a win, but for some extraordinarily dumb football and the play of a bad forward at the time, who is now playing in his actual position as a good defender.

One of the losses was to Geelong in one of the three best games of the season and the other two losses were by a grand total of six points (yes to North and Gold Coast. Whatever. I’m being positive). All three losses were by a combined total of nine points. Richmond have been in virtually every game over the second half of the year.

Jack Riewoldt of the Tigers celebrates kicking a goal.

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

No, mate, not yet. Save it.

Richmond rank first in the league in points per game and second in the league in inside 50s per game, despite ranking 17th in clearances. This statistical profile indicates that the defence is still holding up okay, despite rumours to the contrary.

Additionally, the clearance number is misleading because Richmond ranks third in football in centre clearances – arguably the most valuable and damaging clearance to win given the 6-6-6 rule. This is especially true for the Tigers with their ability to lock the ball in forward of centre and the fact that they are kicking the ball into Christ the Redeemer.

Beyond that, the Tigers’ chaotic style is holding up. Richmond is first in 1 percenters per game, first in metres gained per game, third in intercepts, and fourth in team to opponent intercepts per game differential. Finally, while the Tigers are 15th in tackles inside 50 per game, and 17th in tackles per game, they are 13th in least opponent effective disposals per game.

This shows that while the tackles are not always getting home, the pressure is enough that it’s affecting kicking and forcing turnovers. I don’t know if you have been following the news lately, but forcing turnover is how to win premierships nowadays.

You have to eat your vegetables before dessert. Not yet. There’s still a whole thing of green beans that you need to eat. But those green beans do have a nice little garlic oil on top with some crispy but not burnt bits of garlic.

It’s time to talk about the players who will deliver us to the promised land. Tom Lynch is fine. The most watched groin in Melbourne since the Elvis movie came out seems like it will be fine. And thank goodness for that.

He has played 16 games this season and was subbed early in the first quarter in the Gold Coast game so, for all intents and purposes, that’s 15 games. He has taken 58 contested marks to lead the league by eight. He is second in marks inside 50 per game, and fifth in total.

He has kicked 60 goals to only 25 behinds, two behind Coleman Medallist and ferocious celebrator Charlie Curnow despite playing seven fewer games. But beyond all of that, his last month has been more dominant than Christian Gray. From Round 20 onwards he has kicked four, four, eight and five goals, taking no fewer than six marks in any of those games.

But it isn’t just Lynch and the Lynchettes this year. Dion Prestia and Jayden Short are having career years in the engine room, freeing up Trent Cotchin to play his best full season for at least three or four years.

Dion Prestia of the Tigers celebrates a goal

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Shai Bolton has been an honestly ridiculous player. He has been a little quieter the last couple of weeks but tackling him must be like grabbing an eel with one hand underwater. He is so explosive and springy, but also absurdly talented and slippery with ball in hand. A joy to watch this year.

All of that is to say nothing of the frenetic and energetic born finals player Liam Baker.

Speaking of born finals players…no! No dessert yet.

Ben Miller has been a revelation (this is a generous use of the word revelation) as a second ruck and has freed up Noah Balta to play as a defender, which is absolutely, without question, 100 per cent his position.

Speaking of defence, Nick Vlastuin and Nathan Broad have had stellar years picking up the slack for Dylan Grimes whilst also being solid enough for Josh Gibcus to have the occasional growing pain and still relatively hold up. It is not a dominant defence like it was in years past, but it might just be good enough.

Speaking of Gibcus, the youth movement has also been impressive. Noah Cumberland has been a revelation (much better use of the word revelation), going at better than two goals a game and basically one assist per game.

Tyler Sonsie may not play in the finals given the walk-up returns but he will be a very handy player. Jack Ross seems to have turned the corner, or maybe he was just playing Essendon. Time will tell.

But the key thing is that the middle-aged (for footballers) tier of players who are not quite at the required level are basically being phased out of the side in favour of exciting youth. Jake Aarts has barely featured this year, Jason Castagna has been relegated to being a sub (and he is a bloody good one at that), and Ivan Soldo is now a defined back-up.

Richmond are almost going the old SuperCoach model of guns and rookies with the list profile at the moment.

Speaking of guns, the crème brulee can be eaten now. You ate the broccoli. The cauliflower. The beans. It’s time for dessert.

There’s a pretty handy player coming back too. He’s got tattoos. More medals than the St Kilda football club. He is the greatest finals player in the history of football and it would be honestly insulting not to change the name of the Gary Ayres medal to this guy’s name.

Dustin Martin will be back.

So, I ask again: why not us?

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