As Richmond chief executive Brendon Gale cried in the MCG stands on Saturday alongside club president Peggy O’Neal, his thoughts drifted away from his club’s historic AFL success.
Two flashpoints went through Gale’s head, himself a 244-gamer at the Tigers.
First, there were the trying weeks of last season, when he grappled with coach Damien Hardwick on how to transform Richmond from also-rans to a competitive team.
The Tigers’ decision to stick with Hardwick – without a finals win in seven years at the club – has become the stuff of legend.
Gale maintained he never contemplated getting rid of Hardwick, opting instead to tinker and back in their man.
He wasn’t proud of the way the Tigers ran out the season – with two wins in nine games – but said he saw the start of something during the torrid run.
“Once (our chance of playing finals) was done mathematically, we fell off a cliff,” he said.
“We had to play kids, play guys in different positions. We started to see (Dan) Butler, (Jason) Castagna, (David) Astbury. We did fall away but there were green shoots.
“I was confident we could rebound strongly but I would never have thought we could get to a preliminary final and win a premiership, I’ll be honest.
“My heart is bursting with pride.”
Gale was also thinking of May this year.
Richmond began the season with five-straight wins before collapsing as winter set in.
Somewhat ironically, it was Adelaide who started a run of four-consecutive Richmond losses, with a 76-point win in South Australia.
Tight defeats to the Western Bulldogs, Fremantle and Greater Western Sydney followed for the Tigers but Gale saw leadership in the manner of the defeats.
“They became extremely resilient,” he said.
“Those three games in succession we lost narrowly, I just thought ‘wow, there’s something in the way they keep coming back’.
“(Our leaders) went through a period of self reflection last year.
“The captain (Trent Cotchin), (Alex) Rance, (Jack) Riewoldt … they all stood up today .
“And look at young Jack Graham, kicking three clutch goals. That’s leadership.
“I’m proud of the coach, I’m proud of the players and I’m full of joy for our fans. They’ve flocked to this club to support it. It’s just incredible.”