MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 24: Tigers head coach Damien Hardwick celebrates winning the round five AFL match between the Richmond Tigers and the Melbourne Demons at Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 24, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

A tough road for the 2017 Grand Finalists

A premiership would mean the world for both clubs competing in this Saturday’s AFL Grand Final.

The two surprise packets of 2017, as Adelaide are coming off a semi-final loss last year, while Richmond finished 12th.

Last season’s 62-year premiership drought for the Western Bulldogs was one of the most emotional triumphs ever, and this weekend’s game looks set to hold a similar feeling for either club.

We’ve heard so much about both sides’ reincarnation this season, but what about the significant dark times they’ve endured prior to that?

It has been nearly two decades since this season’s minor premier, Adelaide, last lifted the cup, when they won back-to-back flags in 1997 and 1998.

They have since suffered significant off-field hardship, losing key personnel to other clubs, including Jack Gunston, Phil Davis and Patrick Dangerfield. They went on to become a dual premiership hero, a captain and a Brownlow Medallist respectively.

A host of other meaningful names defected to other sides, including Nathan Bock, Kurt Tippett, Bernie Vince, Matthew Wright, Ricky Henderson and Jarryd Lyons. Had any other club lost such substantial talent, they probably would have bottomed out, or at the least, tumbled down the ladder.

Should Jake Lever request a trade after the Grand Final, the reported asking price from Adelaide is two first-round draft picks, which seems dear. However, with all the above mentioned in mind, can you blame them?

In 2014, former Melbourne coach Dean Bailey lost his battle with cancer, who was the Crows’ strategy and innovation coach. The club suffered their greatest loss in 2015, when their senior coach Phil Walsh died in tragic circumstances. Interestingly, Walsh stated that this side’s premiership window would open in 2017, in accordance with their age demographic and experience.

Even just a short month ago, star ruckman Sam Jacobs’ brother passed away. Yes, they’ve faced their obstacles, but it seems that all these downfalls have only made the mighty Crows better. Their ability to bounce back from adversity and grow stronger is a testament to the club’s culture and successful administration.

On the other side of the fence, Richmond face a 35-year drought since they last tasted their own premiership glory, rolling over 13 different senior coaches since.

In just the last 30 years, this once proud 132-year old football club has suffered four of their seven wooden spoons. Between 2002 and 2012, Richmond’s highest finish on the ladder was, you guessed it, ninth.

The number nine became an icon at Richmond for all the wrong reasons, a jeer from other supporters to tease the club for their inability to make finals, often just falling short. Their largest membership numbers from 2000 to 2010 was just 35,960, a far cry from their league-best figure of 75,459 in 2017.

The list of names Richmond recruited with their first picks, including games played for the club between 2002 and 2005 include:

2002 – Jay Schulz (71)

2003 – Alex Gilmour (0)

2004 – Brett Deledio (243), Richard Tambling (108)

2005 – Jarrad Oakley-Nicholls (13)

One profitable return from four first-round picks and a pick 21 is a poor return for nearly half a decade of heartbreak and despair, passing on the likes of Buddy Franklin, Jordan Lewis, Shaun Higgins and Nathan Jones in those drafts.

Of course, just a year earlier from all of this was the fabled 2001 ‘super draft’, where Luke Hodge, Luke Ball and Chris Judd were taken with the first three picks.  Jimmy Bartel and Nick Dal Santo were also taken in the first round of the 2001 draft, while Richmond’s first selection was 33rd after finishing third in 2001.

It felt like an eternity where Mathew Richardson and Deledio were the only two true talents on the Richmond team, the franchise players, yet both failed to taste any significant glory. Richardson holds the record for the most goals kicked at the MCG with 464, while Deledio was traded to GWS ahead of the 2017 season out of respect to allow him to compete for a premiership. We all know how that ended.

From 2006 onwards, the Tigers picked up names such as Jack Riewoldt, Trent Cotchin, Dustin Martin and Brandon Ellis with their first selections, showing significant improvement at the draft table and developing the core for what would be their next Grand Final side. If only the Tigers drafted efficiently earlier, their return to relevance could have happened sooner.

For many Richmond fans, 2017 is the first time they have seen their club as a genuine premiership aspire, regaining their powerhouse label. A side that was the laughing stock among Melbourne’s school classrooms and workforces through the 90s and 2000, fans can once again answer confidently when asked, “which AFL team do you barrack for?”

We were expecting an all-Sydney Grand Final at the start of the year, but the spirit of two proud football clubs has propelled them onto the grand stage.

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