Richmond supporters will enter the new year with last year’s impossible dream now realised.
But those who still find what happened hard to believe can take solace that every step of their exhilarating journey towards their drought-breaking, expectation-defying 2017 premiership was captured in a wonderful book, Yellow and Black: A Season With Richmond.
The book, written by Age journalist Konrad Marshall, was a leap of faith by club and publisher alike as an initial attempt to cover the club in 2016 was aborted as the Tigers’ season travelled like a deflating balloon.
The brave decision to resume the project in 2017, with the intention of publishing no matter what, was rewarded in spades as the Tigers turned everything around to eventually adopt the mantra ‘Why not us?‘ as they chased that elusive premiership.
That perspective on what the Tigers were, and what they became, is the real strength in the book for sports lovers as it details the transformation of Richmond from a place no one wanted to be in 2016 to a fun-filled environment with a sense of purpose in 2017.
Central to that narrative is the coach Damien Hardwick, a man who took time to realise he had become his own worst enemy and rediscovered his true self in order to, in his pre-season words, “make Richmond great again”.
To close observers, Hardwick has always impressed as a decent person that remained susceptible to falling so far inside football’s bubble that he lost his natural sense of perspective.
Seeing him return with a different view of the world, and the joy it gives others, provides readers with not only the book’s biggest thrills but also their greatest insight into the transformative effect a united club can have on individual performance.
When Hardwick tells the players it wasn’t that bad when he ventured into public after they lost to Fremantle in laughable circumstances at the MCG in round eight you realise the coach has finally grown up, putting the result into its right context to arrive at peace with himself and the world around him.
“You know what I’ve found? It’s not actually that bad…Were you blokes unlucky? Yeah, you were. The stories we tell ourselves at this time are often shit, but the reality of life is that we have got a great gig.”
It’s a lesson many in football could take on board when results fall on the wrong side of the line.
The fresh approach allows Hardwick to come up with brilliant anecdotes week after week that keep his players’ fresh, united and enjoying the game in a childlike manner.
At the opening pre-match of the season he tells his players to take the same child-like approach into the game against Carlton he observed them taking when fighting over a blow-up shark in a pool at the pre-season camp in Maroochydore and he is still joking by the time he is explaining why Jack Graham, Jason Castagna, Shane Edwards and Brandon Ellis will start the Grand Final on the bench.
His daughter, Imogen, had asked Hardwick how he decided who starts on the pine and his response has the players’ laughing before the most important match of their lives.
“And I said, ‘well, Imogen, I’m glad you asked that. As you might know I was awarded coach of the year during the week and these four selfish pricks…’ – he points to the magnets of Ellis, Edwards, Graham and Castagna – ‘…not one of them sent me a bloody text of congratulations!'”
Hardwick’s willingness to be authentic, and the club’s preparedness to recognise the coach’s strengths, allows others to flourish, from the skipper Trent Cotchin to the assistants to the star in Dusty Martin to the role players such as Dan Butler.
The sense you get through the pages is the role an AFL coach plays in ensuring that the enormous breadth of contributors who are now involved in any performance a club delivers are given space to use their expertise.
You also recognise a football department growing in confidence and clarity with each win.
The book contains anecdotes of all those main players, the highlights being the honesty sessions that connected the group, exemplified in wingman Brandon Ellis’ story, and the difficulty players such as Ben Griffiths encountered in dealing with the growing challenge of concussion.
Like any book written on the run and published so soon after the completion of the season, there is a little too much information on the support cast at times but it’s not a quibble just a reality because even the extras give an insight into the modern AFL club.
It must be remembered that the real difficulty in writing such a book doesn’t so much lie in the telling as in the building of trust within a football club that is naturally wary of outsiders.
Marshall has triumphed in that area, to support the quality of his writing, and as a result, given all supporters, and particularly Richmond supporters, a footballing treasure to trawl for all time.
Now the Tigers’ start their climb up the mountain once again, their story of 2017 captured beautifully for all time.
Yellow & Black, A season with Richmond, Konrad Marshall, published by Slattery Media
Peter Ryan once worked for Slattery Media and wrote Side by Side, A Season with Collingwood in 2009