Hardwick backs Richmond board in AFL

Coach Damien Hardwick has rebuffed the dissident Richmond board ticket, saying the embattled AFL club is in the best possible hands.

Hardwick used his speech at Thursday night’s club best and fairest function to call for unity.

He strongly endorsed the club’s leadership, singling out president Peggy O’Neal and chief executive Brendon Gale for praise.

Earlier this week, the Focus On Football group launched their bid to force a spill of the board and said the Tigers were 35 years into a five-year plan.

It appeared only one or two members of the Focus On Football group attended the best and fairest night.

“I personally want to thank Peggy O’Neal, the board, Brendon Gale and our administration,” Hardwick said.

“This is an outstandingly run football club and they have a fierce desire to make this club better.

“We are no doubt in the best hands, I can guarantee you that.”

At their launch earlier this week, Focus On Football endorsed Hardwick for next season.

But they also indicated they would want a briefing from him on the team’s game plan.

Hardwick’s response on Thursday night was to side strongly with the current club leadership and he was met with strong applause from the audience.

“Good clubs don’t fracture when things go bad. They hang tough,” he said.

“We need to trust in our leaders, in Brendon and Peggy, and make sure we back them up at every opportunity.”

Pointing to Thursday night’s West Coast v Western Bulldogs elimination final, Hardwick said the club needed actions and not words.

This was the first time in four seasons that the Tigers have missed the finals and Hardwick added the entire club is angry.

“It hurts – there’s a side playing tonight that is giving themselves an opportunity to play in a flag,” he said.

“It’s an opportunity that we have missed.

“I can guarantee you that our playing group are angry and that anger will turn into something special, I feel, next year.

“But once again, it’s just talk – what you want and what we will do, is action. Enough of the talk.”

O’Neal also called for unity and not what she called reactionary decisions based purely on emotion.

“We surely have matured as a club and we can’t let anger and finger-pointing define our future,” she said.

O’Neal said the club had made enormous progress in many areas.

She said Gale’s much-anticipated review of their football operations would be public “very shortly”.

“The change that’s required has never been in question,” she said.

“But this will be well-informed change.”

O’Neal also paid tribute to former club president and player Neville Crowe, who died on September 2.

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