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.



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TV ratings of over 250K for the game. That's a huge number. The crowd was a decent size, and such was the contest the atmosphere was very good all game.

Well done Borough on an incredible win, never-say-die comeback, and full credit to Richmond, they crashed in all day and matched Port in that area but they weren't quite as organised or as polished on the outside, even though Port were a little down in that area too.

VFL Grand Final – Port Melbourne v Richmond: The Borough win the VFL Grand Final

Don't forget the $$$$$$ Minka. Very important also !!

We might be from the bush. but we ain't green

The VFL mob would have hated the result.

Just goes to prove a lot of the imported US bullshit the AFL teams now employ -multiple coaches,fitness experts,special diets, analizing the games for days on end dosent translaate into success,

The game hasent changed that much its always been about will to win and guts to do the hard things and believing you can win at all times

Most of that cant be taught from a computer.

BTW I reckon the Tigers will have the same fate in the seniors on Sat Adelaide by 20pts

Sorry to disappoint you Billy, but the stand alone teams do all that stuff now too. You have to if you want to give your players a fighting chance.

Port are a very highly structured team this year, which allowed them to capitalise on their ball winners, something they couldn't do last year with a more traditional style.

They wouldnt have a quarter of the hangers on that the AFL clubs now have  Paul!

The AFL is no different now to a government qango- the more money you get the more ways you find to spend it and not all of it in a way to grow the game.The top 6 or 8 execs at the AFL are on $700,000 that is a disgrace 

That money should be going to the grassroots because that where the future of our game lies and without all the thousands of people that give their time for free there would be no grassroots footy as we know it..No body at the AFL is worth more tha $200,000 except the boss.

There was a really good interview with Nick Carnell when he retired from the VFL two years ago, where he explained the weekly preparation for each match. Paul, I'm guessing the level of preparation that goes into each match for the standalone sides is miles ahead of where it was even six or seven years ago?

Absolutely, at stand alone and aligned clubs the professionalism has gone through the roof.

The interest AFL clubs pay in their VFL teams has changed the comp. Ten years ago most aligned teams didn't really play the same game style as their AFL partner, by this year every aligned VFL team and their development team played the same game style.

The talent in the competition has dropped over that time, there are less experienced players on VFL lists and on the bottom half of AFL lists, but the fitness and game plan side of things has improved to an incredible degree.

I love Billy's point about the wages, someone pointed out to me that if the AFL didn't replace just one of their pants happy executives they could fund the VFL devt league each year! Talk about priorities.