Jack Riewoldt didn’t have a great preliminary final. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, either.
There was a time that would burn him. It still wouldn’t sit comfortably, for it’s natural to want to be the one kicking goals. But Riewoldt, by his own admission, is different now. So are Richmond, and so is the forward line.
Riewoldt now has an avuncular pride in his forward line. He thinks of himself as a big brother, and of forward coach Justin Leppitsch as a dad to the Tigers’ small forwards.
“The game’s changed a heap in the last five years and I have changed dramatically as well. I have a greater sense of achievement in seeing guys around me succeed, especially in the forward line, where I’m the oldest by a few years,” Riewoldt said.
“I have two younger brothers and I have seen them succeed and had a sense of pride.
”That is the feeling I get when I see Daniel Rioli kick four goals in a preliminary final. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I love going back and watching the footy.
“It’s always great to see yourself play well but I just absolutely loved every second of watching the game back and seeing [Rioli] do so well in a prelim final.
“What gives me great comfort going into the grand final is the attitude. We have two 21-year-olds, a 19-year-old kid, a guy who had not played an AFL game for 19 rounds then came in and impacted straight away and another guy who is at his third club and is showing leadership beyond his years.”
???As Riewoldt confessed at the beginning of grand final week, he didn’t think he would be in this position. Twelve months ago he sat with Trent Cotchin and for the first time contemplated football mortality. A season that started full of hope had ended in embarrassment. It left him wondering if grand finals – finals even – would mock them for their rest of their careers. Maybe, he thought, it would never happen.
“There was a real lightbulb moment at the end of last year when I sat down with Trent and I said: ‘Mate I have come to the realisation that you are a one-in-18 chance of getting there’. One-in-18 is not great odds, I suppose you are two-in-18 to get [into the grand final], one-in-18 to win,” he said.
“I had some honest conversations about the fact that in my lifetime at this football club we may never play in a grand final, we may never even play finals again, let alone play in a grand final, but decided you still wanted to have an impact on what the club would look like going forward.”
It was around this time that Brett Deledio left to play for the Giants. As he stewed over whether success would ever happen for him at Tigerland, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if a similar thing crossed Riewoldt’s mind.
This time last year Richmond fans were hurting, again, and a minority agitated vocally for a challenge to the board. That annoyed Riewoldt. He understood where the sentiment was coming from once he calmed down but at the time the board challenge just felt as if the Tigers were turning on themselves.
“At the time you sit back and think what the [hell] are these people doing?” he said.
“The hardest thing as an AFL player is you live the day-to-day. We understand the inner goings on and the intricacies and then you hear an older player comment on the club or you hear of a board challenge and you think, ‘Just leave us alone. We can get this back on track, full trust’,” he said.
“The other side of me understands you see 95,000 people there at the MCG and you see people crying after we lose and you know it’s important to them and they want to do something to change it, so you can’t fault that, but it was frustrating at the time.
“I am still proud of the leadership in all aspects of the club from [president] Peggy [O’Neal] to [CEO] Brendon [Gale] right down to myself and Trent and Alex [Rance] and the player leadership group in how that was handled.
“Most of the conversations between the older players and Dimma [coach Damien Hardwick] last year were more just checking in on each other and making sure we were still sane.”
Once the board challenge fizzled, Riewoldt contented himself that they could get it right. And they have.
At the final siren on preliminary final day, he wept. He buckled over as the crowd roared and choked up. Then, he literally choked. He swallowed a bug that flew up from the turf, and started to gag.
“Nearly half-died after playing a prelim,” he laughed.