“I am not too sure, maybe a little bit,” Daniel said when asked if the fun had evaporated last year.
“The energy this pre-season has been great. The boys have come back all in good nick, they are running really well, lifting [personal bests] in the gym, things like that, and we are having such a fun time doing, it, which is the main thing.”
It remains one of the great mysteries why the Dogs were so ebullient in the spring of 2016 yet fell so dramatically. If they can get things right this year, they could yet enjoy a successful era, for they remain such a young list.
Marcus Bontempelli (23), Jack Macrae (24), Lachie Hunter (24), Josh Schache (21), Tom Boyd (23) still have so much to give, while Aaron Naughton and Ed Richards shape as 10-year players. Then there is stand-out rookie Bailey Smith.
“We have got to go through a process of playing good footy and being happy doing it with each other and enjoying the small things, whether it’s kicking a goal or getting around the boys for a smother,” Daniel said.
Sam Lloyd missed out on a flag with Richmond in 2017 but had a role – and watched first hand – as the Tigers maintained the rage last year, falling in a preliminary final.
Having crossed to the Whitten Oval, he hopes to add greater potency inside attacking 50 – a consistent issue for the Dogs – but likes what he has seen among the group.
“Richmond was, obviously, really established, especially the last couple of years. You see what works and what doesn’t. Coming down here I have really noticed there is already a really good foundation in place – it probably just needs a bit of on-field success to tweak it again,” he said.
In order, to achieve that, the Dogs must score. While they were ranked second for stoppage clearances last year despite the absence of Tom Liberatore, they couldn’t convert this on the scoreboard, whether that was through injury issues or poor connection.
They averaged only 71.6 points per game but of concern is that Champion Data has rated their forward line this the third worst.
“Looking at the amount of times we go inside our forward 50, and the amount of shots on goal that we have, we were probably one of the least accurate teams last year,” Wallis said.
One man who could rectify a lack of goalpower is Schache. Having booted 17 goals in 13 games in his first season at the club after leaving the Brisbane Lions, the Dogs say Schache has become more physical over summer – and the benefits will flow.
“He is working hard. He is a big boy. I think he is just starting to realise he can throw his weight around a little bit and really put oppositions to the sword,” Daniel said.
“He is 200 centimetres – which I don’t know too much about – but I suppose it is pretty nice to be able to run and jump and get up there at the highest point.
“This pre-season, especially when he has been throwing his weight around, he has been able to have that presence. We don’t need him taking 15 contested marks a game. We just need that constant presence. When he finds that he will be a great player for us.”
Jon Pierik is a sports writer with The Age, focusing primarily on AFL football, cricket and basketball. He has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.