Neil Balme’s appointment to the helm of Richmond’s ailing football operation has been a highly sensitive negotiation given his long and close relationship with Daniel Richardson, the man he has replaced, and Richardson’s family.
In essence Balme has come over the top of Richardson in the manner that Collingwood intended Graeme Allan to come over the top of him.
AFL plays of the finals: week one
Giants monster battered Swans
Crows end Roos’ season
The best niggle from Swans v Giants
Bulldogs fight home over Eagles
Cats edge Hawks in thriller
Smith miss hands Cats win
AFL plays of the finals: week one
Sons of the West win big in the West, Hawthorn and Geelong play out yet another classic, GWS have giant win over their cross-town rivals and Eddie Betts’ brilliance is breathtaking.
Richardson will remain on the Tigers’ executive but report to Balme and focus less on managing the coaches’ and players’ performance and more on list management and recruiting.
One difference, of course, is that Balme is significantly more experienced than the younger Richardson, who came to the role at the start of 2013 as a highly respected player manager who had never worked at an AFL club and should benefit from working under Balme.
The other difference is that Balme was one of several Collingwood staffers who felt conned by the Allan appointment, while Richardson saw it coming. He would have felt initially marginalised by Brendon Gale’s decision but has ultimately taken it on the chin and should only benefit from his new role.
And the true sensitivity naturally will come over the next nine or 10 months. Because, to be brutal, it is Balme who will have to make the call to sack Damien Hardwick should the coach continue to struggle next season.
Just as Balme came to Collingwood in the late 1990s to assess Tony Shaw’s coaching ability, it will be a key role for him again as he returns to Tigerland for the first time since he retired from the VFL in 1979.
Hardwick has been his own worst enemy at times. Stubborn, indecisive at times and not strong enough or perhaps confident enough to force a true cultural transformation upon the teams he has overseen for the past seven years, he remains at the helm clearly due to the obligation the board made to him at the start of the year. Others around him have been let go and more could follow.
The board and some executives continue to scoff at the Focus on Football group and the other dissidents in the wings but to be truthful they must accept some blame for the damaging disharmony that has come their way.
They have under-performed, failed to deliver due process to a number of key decisions, contracts and appointments and, to be honest, could do well to take a leaf out of Collingwood’s book and hold a member forum of their own. It’s all good and well to bang the 70,000 membership drum but with those numbers comes even more pressure to perform and the Tigers have not.
There will be other big decisions for Balme apart from the coach. The recruiting team has been reshaped but clearly that remains a work in progress and there is no leadership program at Richmond, a club where, on-field, that has been sadly lacking.
Balme, whom the Tigers have approached many times for many roles since he left after a decade as a player and two premierships, starts work next Monday and has been contracted to oversee football for the next three seasons.
And Collingwood, for the second time, has in its fashion, let him go.
At that club the coach Nathan Buckley said he had no clue that Allan was coming in to run football and Balme demoted. At Richmond the coach Hardwick confessed recently he was ill-equipped to do the job when he took it on in 2009. Both look at football’s crossroads.