It wasn’t pretty but Richmond’s workmanlike win over Essendon says a lot about how much they’ve grown as a team this season.
The Tigers stayed in the hunt for a top-four finish with their hard-fought 27-point win over the brave Bombers in a low-scoring affair in slippery conditions at the MCG.
It came on the heels of two completely different wins where Damien Hardwick’s men blasted Gold Coast then Collingwood off the park, scoring over 20 goals against each.
“I think there’s no doubt the side’s grown,” Hardwick said.
“You expect that over a period of time.
“I can’t pat them on the back enough in that area. We can win a fast, uncontested game, but we’ve also got the ability to play in the arm wrestles as well, as we’ve shown over the course of the year.
“Once again, the maturity of the group under Trent (Cotchin) and his leaders have stood up. They’ve got a greater understanding now of when and what is required.”
Richmond notched their 14th win of the season with Cotchin sidelined by a back injury but Hardwick expects him to be available for next week’s clash against North Melbourne, which could decide the Tigers’ top-four fate.
Veteran midfielder Brett Deledio put in another influential performance but was involved in a frightening incident late in the last quarter when his head was driven into the turf in a Courtenay Dempsey tackle.
The Essendon forward lifted Deledio, who escaped serious injury, off the ground before dumping him in a move that will be scrutinised by the match review panel.
“I think the lifting, to me, is dangerous,” Hardwick said. “The sling (tackle), to me … is part of AFL footy but as soon as you lift, you’re in a bit of trouble. You probably owe the duty of care.
“I’ve got no doubt Courtenay didn’t mean it but now it’s probably changed a little bit with the goalposts moving in that area. “I’m just glad everyone walked away ok.”
Interim Essendon coach Matthew Egan was overseeing his second game since taking over from James Hird, with the undermanned Bombers, who trailed by just four points at halftime, putting in another competitive performance given their lengthy injury list.
“Maybe we’ve simplified some things for them and narrowed their focus on doing the basics really well,” Egan said of their recent improvement.
“They were obviously under severe pressure throughout the year. But all I can talk about is the last two weeks, which feels like their effort’s strong, and no matter what happens in the game – even if things aren’t going well – they can keep going and keep contributing.”