After seeing an impressive Richmond side end his own side’s AFL finals hopes, Hawthorn boss Alastair Clarkson says the Tigers can win the flag.
And so can Melbourne. Or West Coast. Or Essendon. Or Western Bulldogs.
Or any of the other sides still in finals contention.
But that list no longer includes the Hawks after their 29-point loss to the Tigers on Sunday at the MCG.
Clarkson – who has steered Hawthorn to four of the last 10 premierships – sees a wide open premiership race.
“There’s 11 or 12 sides that could win it,” he said.
“We saw that last year. It’s an unbelievably even season.
“(Richmond) are doing everything right at the present time but they need to do that in September.
“That’s what the Bulldogs were able to do. They won it from seventh for goodness sake.
“Dare I say it, if we were able to sneak in I reckon we would be able to give it a shake as well.
“The team that can get it together in the last four weeks of the season is going to be lifting silverware.”
Clarkson was full of praise for Damien Hardwick’s Tigers, who he said were “harder and ore polished” than his own side.
He said Hardwick – and the Richmond executives who agonised over whether to axe him after failing to win a final in his first seven seasons – deserved credit for sticking at the task.
“Coaching is a tough caper … it takes some soul searching,” he said.
“They’ve been able to change some things around and that’s a credit to Dimma and the whole club.
“When the drums start beating … it’s really easy to make a change but continuity and stability are the two buzzwords in footy. If you’ve got that you’ve got some sort of chance.
“They’re a good side. They’re in the top four for a reason.”
Clarkson said his sidelined senior players – with the exception of Paul Puopolo – were unlikely to return this year.
Injured recruit Jaeger O’Meara is touch-and-go to play senior football in 2017.
“We’re really eager for him to get back and play some footy and then get back, have some rest before pre-season,” he said.
“Jaeger will hopefully play in the next week or two. Maybe even next week. That’s really encouraging but it’s unlikely to be at a senior level.”