Richmond have secured a major off-field coup by enticing highly-respected administrator Neil Balme to return to the AFL club as the general manager of football.
A rebel group seeking a spill of the Tigers’ board claimed last week that they were chasing Balme, who has spent the past few years as Collingwood’s director of football.
But they have been gazumped by current chief executive Brendon Gale, who announced on Monday that Balme – a two-time premiership ruckman at Richmond – had been appointed following a full review of the club’s football department.
Balme coached Melbourne for five seasons in the mid-1990s before coming into his own as a backroom football boss at Geelong and in two spells at Collingwood.
“Neil brings tremendous experience and judgment to the role and a clear understanding of what successful environments look like, having been a part of six grand finals and three premierships as a leading football administrator,” Gale said.
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 return to Richmond was a huge boost for Gale and the embattled board headed by president Peggy O’Neal.
The Focus on Football rebel group, led by cardiologist Martin Hiscock, had pinned their hopes on landing Balme as part of an otherwise ill-conceived push to restructure the club.
On Monday, Gale revealed he was one step ahead of the plotters.
“We have been in discussions with Neil for a number of weeks,” he said.
“He is excited by the challenge that lies ahead and clearly has a passion for a club where his football journey began. We are delighted that he has accepted this new role.”
Balme’s arrival has led to a restructure of the Tigers’ backroom team.
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 ahead of the 2017 season.