It should go down as ‘AFL coaching move of the year’. Richmond coach Terry Wallace‘s decision to shift Matthew Richardson away from his traditional role at full forward earlier this season was a stroke of brilliance, on so many fronts.
During his time at full forward, Richo kicked goals at a rate of nearly 3 per game, and with an accuracy ratio over his career of nearly 60%, statistics which put him at the top of the game. And yet, his play was regularly a source of frustration to both himself and his fans. He would kick truly from the 50m line on a sharp angle, and yet the simplest of shots from close to goal would invariably be sprayed off the side of the boot. He would openly express frustration that teammates were not kicking to his leads. Watching him play was like the proverbial box of chocolates.
He could have continued to play out his career in this position, but with a young team developing, Wallace had a challenge in succession planning: how do you try out new key forwards such as Reiwoldt, Hughes or Schulz, let alone install them in their new positions, when you have a star incumbent? Indeed, any team with a dominant key forward is faced with the same dilemma. It’s somewhat easier to recruit an already developed full forward as an instant replacement, but what if you want to develop/promote a youngster from within the club?
Wallace’s decision to shift Richo to the wing was a solution to two problems at one time, with added benefits. Firstly, it allowed him to test out his new forward structure. Secondly, it enabled him to continue to get value out of Richo as a roaming, running, marking midfielder.
This shift has resulted in a transformation of the structure and match ups in the team. Who do you play on a running Richo? A traditional full back can barely keep up with him but at least can add to a marking contest. But what run-with player can match him with both athletic and marking ability?
But the biggest transformation has been psychological one. Freed from the physical confines of the forward line, and freed from the emotional burden of being the central focus of the attack, Richo has relished in his new role. His goal kicking accuracy has gone from 60% to 70%, while his marks per game has gone from 8 to 12. This, and the ‘regular’ forwards are producing goals as well.
By stepping away from what is a focal point of the team and a leadership position, Richo has enabled and empowered others to step up. Indeed, Reiwoldt acknowledged this after his nomination for Rising Star, in the wake of a five goal performance against West Coast. Creating dependencies on yourself within a team is not leadership. True leadership is about enabling others to perform and grow and ultimately replace you, even when you are still part of the team.