AFL: Claiming the ultimate premiership bragging rights is one thing, but successfully defending it can be a completely different ball game.
It’s a challenge the premiers, Richmond Tigers, are starting to grapple with, but they are more than up for it if they can maintain some form of mental fortitude, according to assistant coach Justin Leppitsch.
The Tigers wrapped up their pre-season training camp on the Sunshine Coast yesterday, and Leppitsch believed it had taken on a different feel compared to last year.
“It’s always different every year,” he said.
“At the start of last year we went into the season hoping for a little bit more with our performances.
“(But) This year, we’ve been at the top of the tree and it’s just a matter of being able to reproduce that.
“The path is there but we have to still do the hard work obviously, and have the season play out, but this time it’s about the players and getting them fit, firing and getting their minds right. That’s what these camps are designed to do.”
Richmond midfielder Dion Prestia has already boasted about the outfit’s improved pre-season physical strength early in the week.
But, now that the 37-year AFL flag drought was over, Leppitsch said altering the mental attitude of the players to maintain that winning form was also vital.
He said last year the Tigers entered the season with “a bit of despair” on whether they could achieve a premiership and changing their attitudes had been important.
However, the Tigers now enter the upcoming season after riding the massive highs of a successful year and maintaining that feeling was “not easy”, according to Leppitsch.
“You’ve got a challenge in knowing how to win and maintaining that as much (as you can),” he said
“Our mindset has shifted in that, but I won’t give away all our secrets on what we’re doing.”
When it comes to achieving back-to-back title success, Leppitsch is uniquely qualified.
He claimed three premierships with the Brisbane Lions in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
But, he said the lofty prospect of another flag hadn’t been discussed among the playing group.
“In my era you never used to speak about those things and, let’s be honest, you can’t talk about back-to-back until you’re in the last month of September otherwise it’s useless,” he said. “You’ve got to qualify first and if you don’t qualify then the whole conversation isn’t worthy.
“We’ve got a lot of experience on our coaching panel that’s won premierships as well so I’m not the only one there that’s had any success.”
With Richmond maintaining much of it’s premiership core, the year looked promising, according to Leppitsch.
“We’re very lucky that we’ve got a nice young list so we won’t have many retirements or many changes this season,” he said.
“Most of our list is intact and as long as we have a healthy year, which is also critical, (it’s looking good).
“You can do a lot of prep work but if you don’t have a healthy list, as the season goes on, then it can hinder you as well. So as long as we do all the right things we still think that we can be there at the end in the September action.”
The Tigers fly home on Friday, with the Western Bulldogs already in the middle of their Coast camp.