I have kept my silence about football since May 2009, when I was so fed up with my team I decided to just put them on ice for 12 months. Exactly one year later, after round 6 this season, I sat down and looked at the pros and cons of going back to supporting the Richmond Tigers.
(Er - I just checked and I did in fact blog both the AFL and SFL grand finals last September. But those were more cultural event than football matches, right?)
After Round 6 they had lost every game, and were fielding a side that was being called "the worst AFL twenty-two to take the field since the days just before Fitzroy folded". I made some notes, and my expectation was that they would somehow win one game this year, and would actually never make the finals before 2020, when the club would be merged or relocated and cease to exist. That was my prediction.
So I decided to come back to Richmond and stick with them to the bitter end. I'd had my blissful 12 month holiday, where their problems weren't my problems. It was the respite I needed to build up my strength.
After 10 rounds we had still not won a game. My prediction was looking pretty accurate. The former drug addict big news recruit was suspended by the club for a week for punching a drunk teammate, then was hospitalised with "stomach problems". It all seemed to be sliding downhill as per the script.
Then the Tigers cracked their first win, and followed it up with four more over the next five weeks. After that they only managed one more win, but generally were competitive. Today was their last game of the season - after a valiant comeback from 54 points down, they fell short by 10 points. Our young full-forward Jack Riewoldt came good so spectacularly that he won the league goalkicking award. Our list which looked dismal in May now looks incredibly promising. The former drug addict recruit finished his footy career today, so the club will be all about youth and the future, rather than a sideshow to his smugness.
To be honest - just about everyone at the club has been unstinting in their praise of his efforts on and off the field. I have never liked him, didn't want him, and am glad he's gone. That's just me though.
As the Tigers never make the finals, Round 22 is the end for them. Each year on one weekend eight clubs bow out, and a number of champions are farewelled from the game. (The sad truth is that old players who aren't champions are usually elbowed aside earlier in the season, and make their last appearance playing in the Ballarat Bombers or the Preston Bullants in front of a crowd of 1377). The smug one has pulled a lot of focus this year, but it's really wonderful to see the warm and generous tributes that all these guys get from opponents as well as team-mates.
And I am optimistic for the Tigers next year. Will I never learn?