Tigers snare Balme in AFL coup

Richmond’s hierarchy are dismissing the threat of the AFL club’s rebel group, having gazumped them with the appointment of Neil Balme.

The Tigers scored a major off-field coup on Monday by enticing Balme, one of the game’s most-respected administrators, to return to Punt Rd as general manager of football.

The Focus On Football group, who seek a spill of the Tigers’ board, claimed last week they were chasing Balme.

He has spent the past few years as Collingwood’s director of football.

But current Richmond chief executive Brendon Gale announced the two-time premiership ruckman at Richmond had been appointed following a football department review.

Balme coached Melbourne for five seasons in the mid-1990s before coming into his own as a backroom boss at Geelong and during two spells at Collingwood.

Shortly after the appointment, Gale was asked what effect it might have on the Focus On Football campaign.

“I’m not assuming anything and to be perfectly frank, I’m not really that interested,” Gale told 3AW.

“My job is to run the business and that’s what I’m doing.

“Well-informed change has been made … for us, it’s all about `17 now.”

Cardiologist Martin Hiscock, who leads Focus On Football, called on the board to release the full restructuring report and claimed an influence over Balme’s hiring.

“They may not be talking to us but they are certainly listening,” Hiscock said.

Gale quickly rejected Hiscock’s assertion.

“That’s being mischievous – this has been a while in the making,” Gale said.

“We identified a need to bring someone in of really strong experience and judgment to head up our footy program.

“Around the same time, the jungle drums were beating about `Gubby’ Allan’s potential role at Collingwood and at that point, I thought it was worth reaching out to Balmey.

Asked when he first approached Balme, Gale said: “towards the end of the season – weeks I guess – around round 22, 23.”

In taking the job, Balme has turned his back on a potential head of football role at AFL strugglers Brisbane and freed himself from a sticky situation at the Magpies.

Balme was usurped by veteran administrator Graeme Allan at Collingwood, only for Allan to be embroiled by an alleged missed drug test by No.1 draft pick Lachie Whitfield during his time at GWS Giants.

Collingwood chief executive Gary Pert said they were unhappy to lose Balme’s “wise counsel” after he chose not to take up a newly-created coaching director role.

Balme’s arrival at Punt Road means Dan Richardson loses his overarching football role to become general manager – football talent, answering to Balme but remaining an executive.

Matthew Clarke will become recruiting boss after this year’s draft, taking over from Francis Jackson.

Port Adelaide flag-winning coach Mark Williams, who held a senior development coach role with Richmond, along with assistants Greg Mellor and Ross Smith, have already left the club.

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