So what now for Richmond?
A lot of the commentary around Sunday’s elimination final focused on which coach would be under the most pressure with a loss and Damien Hardwick now confronts that harsh reality.
Despite the likes of Trent Cotchin and Brett Deledio largely failing to rise to the occasion, Richmond led North Melbourne at halftime on Sunday before falling to a 15.15 (105) to 14.4 (88)) elimination final defeat – their third in three years.
The Tigers still haven’t won a final since 2001 and you need look no further than the steady stream of Richmond fans departing the MCG as the final minutes ticked down to understand just how hard that thought is for the Tiger Army to stomach.
Perhaps most galling for fans is the promise that things would be different this September given Richmond’s more even, more mature entry into the finals series, built on strong wins over the likes of Fremantle, Sydney and Hawthorn.
“It’s hard to relate three elimination finals (from one) to the next,” Hardwick said.
“The fact of the matter is we put ourselves in a position to contend, we failed today, but we’ve just got to give ourselves an opportunity to get back there.
“There’s certainly some areas of our game we know we can improve and we have to improve.
“From a performance point of view we didn’t execute today but we learn from that and we move on.
“Unfortunately it’s a long road back. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to get back into finals next year but we’ll work our backsides off to earn that right.
“We accept responsibility as leaders and as coaches that we just didn’t get the job done today.
“It’s a tough six months to battle through and realise that a lot of our better players didn’t play to their level of expectation. They’re the first to admit that.”
Hardwick lamented his side’s inability to win the battle for the contested ball – an area where his onfield leaders let the side down.
With North tagger Ben Jacobs never far away, Cotchin managed just nine touches in a disappointing return for the skipper.
“I thought Jacobs did a good job and you can only help so much really,” Hardwick replied when asked if Cotchin’s teammates could have done more to help him shake the tag.
“Cotch is an elite midfielder of the competition and sometimes you’ve got to fight your own battles. He’s a quality player, it doesn’t happen often but it happened today and he’ll learn from it and bounce back.”
Despite his side’s issues at the stoppages they led early in the final term when Jack Riewoldt kicked his fourth goal.
After relinquishing that lead in a pulsating finale they looked to have earned an opportunity at goal when Shane Edwards caught Ben Cunnington in a good tackle only for play to be waved on, with Lindsay Thomas goaling soon after.
“That was a diabolical decision really,” Hardwick said.
“I can understand one guy being blindsided but there’s probably two other blokes … I reckon 80,000 people could probably see the decision.”
While months of introspection await the Tigers, North go on to play Sydney in a semi-final at ANZ Stadium.
“(We) probably lost our composure early in the game and then wrestled that composure back and probably had a pretty commanding performance in the end,” coach Brad Scott said.
“It was a really hard-fought affair and when things sometimes go against you, immature and inexperienced groups can drop away but our guys held firm.”