Tigers now enjoying life in AFL fast lane

Dustin Martin reacts after kicking a goal for the Tigers.
Dustin Martin reacts after kicking a goal for the Tigers. JULIAN SMITH

WE'VE all been there.

Stuck in traffic, you jump into the next lane 'cause it looks like it's moving a little faster.

But then when you get there the lane you were just in suddenly speeds up, and takes off.

Brett Deledio must be feeling like that driver this week.

The team he spent 12 years with and played for in 243 games is now preparing for its first grand final in 35 years.

It's a situation 'Lids' would not have imagined when he was happily traded from Richmond to the GWS Giants 11 months ago.

He was seemingly joining the club on the move, with a final destination that 'one day' in September.


Brett Deledio laments the Giants' defeat.
Brett Deledio laments the Giants' defeat. JULIAN SMITH

Admittedly, injuries had been getting the better of the 2004 No.1 draft pick, and he had declared that he needed to "reinvigorate" himself.

But the constant on-field disappointments would also have taken their toll on the two-time club best and fairest and All-Australian.

"I started to lose a bit of ... I wouldn't say passion, but I lost motivation and the love of the game," he admitted.

The Tigers had played in successive elimination finals, 2013-15, losing all three.

But then they missed the playoffs entirely in 2016, scraping together eight wins for a 13th-placed finish - and seeing the season out with a 113-point loss at the hands of Sydney following an 88-point shellacking by GWS.

The Tigers were ready to implode - again - with another major fight at board level looming and the senior coach on the chopping block.

Damien Hardwick had been re-signed in March that year taking him through to the end of 2018.

The Tigers of old would not have thought twice tearing up that new contract.


Dylan Grimes looks for a pass as Deledio watches in the background.
Dylan Grimes looks for a pass as Deledio watches in the background. JULIAN SMITH

He, after all, had seven years at the helm for no finals wins.

Tigers board challenger Peter Casey was adamant last November that 'Dimma' was under the gun.

"Damien's got nowhere to hide. The reality is, next year, 10 rounds in, if we're still travelling pretty poorly, a decision has to be made," Casey said.

But while president Peggy O'Neal and chief executive Brendon Gale remained in charge, so did Hardwick, only now backed by a new support team, and on-field recruits.

Respected football boss Neil Balme had come across from Collingwood, Justin Leppitsch returned from a stint coaching Brisbane, and Xavier Clarke employed to head up development.

They were vital additions, with Leppa masterminding the Tigers' now vaunted forward set-up.

Dion Prestia (Gold Coast), Josh Caddy (Geelong) and Tony Nankervis (Sydney) were key playing signings.

And we all know, from Dustin Martin down to four-goal preliminary final hero Daniel Rioli, players have taken their games to another level.

It might be life in the fast lane, but this is now a club with key personnel all moving in the same direction.

And while he will have mixed feelings as he watches the yellow and black (well, predominantly yellow this week) run out on to the 'G this Saturday, Deledio certainly wouldn't begrudge them the ultimate success.

Topics:  afl afl grand final richmond sportopinion

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