Paul Amy, Port Phillip Leader - Full article - Click here
MORE than a year on, Craig McRae remembers the loss acutely. It was accompanied by the beating of drums on the Frankston hill.
The Brisbane premiership star was three games into his role as Richmond’s VFL coach when the Tigers were toppled by the Dolphins.
It was Round 3 of 2016. Frankston failed to win a match in 2015; its most recent success had been in July, 2014.
“We did it!’’ timekeeper Michael Robinson fizzed on social media after the Dollies came from 29 points down at quarter time to win by 13.
McRae regards the match as a pivotal moment in Richmond’s rise in the VFL.
From defeat emerged a resolve to get better.
“It was their (Frankston’s) first win in, I’m not sure how long,’’ McRae was saying at the VFL grand final press conference at Carlton on Wednesday.
Richmond Coach Craig McRae says his side’s lost to Frankston in round three last year was a turning point. Picture: David Crosling
“I do remember that game vividly. It changed our culture. I remember the siren went and, you can imagine down at Frankston, the drums were beating and everyone’s going nuts …. and our guys went to ground and laid on the ground and it looked like we’d actually lost a grand final.
“It made me realise this group needs to build its own self-worth and understand it was a loss. It wasn’t a grand final loss and we’ve still got life in us.
“So it was a real opportunity and an experience that we went through that I’ve got no doubt started to make some shifts in how we behave, acting like winners when we lose.’’
By the end of the 2016 season Richmond had split its season at 9-9. Significantly, it won its last six matches.
This year the Tigers pushed into the top eight for the first time since cutting ties with Coburg at the end of the 2014, and bursts of goals were the bedrock of their victories over Casey Demons in the qualifying final and, last Saturday, Box Hill Hawks in the preliminary final.
The Tigers can score quickly. They can defend grimly. Form is on their side. And many fans are by their side.
Luck is also with them; there is hardly an injury at Tigerland and the selectors can choose up to 20 AFL players for the VFL decider.
Sam Darley after the win over Casey in the qualifying final. Picture: Graham Denholm
“To be honest, for most of the year we’ve only had about 11 or 12 AFL players,’’ McRae said.
“We’re in a fortunate position at the moment with 19 available, actually 20 available this week, so the professionalism is there.’’
McRae was often spectacular around goals in the fabulous Brisbane teams for which he played 195 games.
But he’s been a steadying presence at Punt Rd as Richmond has shaken a reputation for being flaky, which came from modest 2014-15 seasons.
“He’s an unbelievable coach, but I think Craig’s two greatest strengths are his people management and how he is with us as people — he invests in us not just as footballers but people outside of the club — and then he coaches players to their strengths,’’ captain Sam Darley said of the coach whose heads spins to “Fly’’.
“I guess, as a kid, you get drafted or go through any sort of elite systems, you’re always told what you can’t do or things that you need to improve on.
‘Fly’s’ big message for us is, you’re here for a reason, you can play, it might be someone’s kick or their attack on the footy, and I guess he encourages us and puts us in positions to those (strengths).’’
McRae said Richmond had focused on “creating high standards’’, bringing in players with “the endeavour or the motivation to be hungry to improve’’ and developing “a real connection between the AFL and the VFL’’.
In Sunday’s grand final at Etihad Stadium, the Tigers meet Port Melbourne, which is playing its fourth decider under former Hawthorn champion and Geelong and Adelaide coach Gary Ayres.
Ayres is in his tenth year with the historic Borough, who on the eve of the season had cause to celebrate a Sam Newman putt on The Footy Show.
Port had revealed a loss of $300,000 at the AGM. Ayres said it had led to suggestions the club might not be able to field a team in 2017.
Gary Ayres is in his tenth season as coach of The Borough. Picture: Lawrence Pinder
Because of his friendship with the legendary Borough spearhead Fred Cook, Newman offered to help with a membership drive. The putt was a gimmick but earned Port $10,000, which as Ayres said is better than a boot up the backside.
The players and coaching staff were asked to take pay cuts. As a compromise they decided to forego their match payments for Round 1.
Captain Toby Pinwill said the club’s shaky financial position had more galvanised than demoralised the players.
“We thought, this is a real opportunity to show how much we’re behind the club and together as a group,’’ he said.
“Often from adversity you get your best growth and that was certainly the case early in the year.’’
Ayres agreed. “They’ve taken it as a positive rather than a negative. That’s been a real strength of the group this year … we’ve overcome a fair bit …. we’ve got some momentum out of it as well.’’
Pinwill played his 200th senior game for Port late in the season and is one of the few VFL players whose reputation extends beyond the competition.
Toby Pinwill after the win over Williamstown. Picture: Michael Dodge
Some of it comes from his liking for a scrap. Infamy fell on him some years ago when he was red-carded out of a final for being reported twice in a quarter.
Two weeks ago in the semi-final he did a beeline for Bulldog Tom Boyd, tangling with a group of Footscray players at quarter time (and he is a diehard Western Bulldogs supporter!). The VFL wasn’t amused.
But he has the finesse to match his fire and desire. Pinwill was best-afield in the grand final in 2011. As he’s often cracked to his mates, only good players win the Norm Goss Medal.
The Borough were bounced out of an elimination final last year but despite their financial woes recruited ex-St Kilda pair Eli Templeton and Brodie Murdoch and former Carlton flanker Dillon Viojo-Rainbow.
Robin Nahas returned from the AFL and Williamstown premiership players Dylan Conway and Anthony Anastasio crossed the bridge after feeling unwanted by the Towners.
The newcomers have blended with stalwarts Pinwill, Chris Cain, Sam Dwyer, Hugh Sandilands, Tom O’Sullivan, Jordan Lisle and Damian Mascitti.
The grand final teams met once this season, in Round 3, when Port achieved a 30-point victory at North Port Oval.
Sunday’s match at Etihad will start at 3pm.
It will be preceded by the VFL Women’s grand final between Diamond Creek and Darebin Falcons at 12pm and followed by the TAC Cup decider between Geelong Falcons and Sandringham Dragons at 7.35pm.