Damian Barrett: When speculation trumps facts

Once more this week we were treated to the sight of the football media choosing to fuel their own narrative with wild speculation rather than let it be extinguished with facts. The value of the ‘Coach in Jeopardy’ storyline was on full show when Damian Barrett, a man who has made his career in the field of rumour and supposition, chose to ignore the strong and consistent message from St Kilda regarding coach Alan Richardson.

Despite Footy Boss Simon Lethlean delivering the message once more after the Saints loss to the Bulldogs, Barrett went on Triple M radio and disagreed. His position wasn’t based on any evidence or in any wavering in the Saints position but from what can only be described as a channelling of Dennis Denuto and the ‘vibe’ of the thing.

What was particularly inventive of Barrett was that he didn’t allow his disbelief to fester until after slamming the Saints as ‘copycats’ in an afl.com article beforehand. Ever the contortionist, Barrett found enough truth in the Saints support of Richardson to deride them for it but not enough to value it higher than his own hypothesizing.

Since the lead up to the Gold Coast game, when speculation about Richardson’s future was at its hottest, Lethlean and the Saints have been almost boringly resolute in their strong and consistent support of their coach. Again and again, he has advised that the club had let Richardson down and that they would rectify the situation by surrounding him with better support next year. While the axe has fallen on the head of recruiting and three assistant coaches, the message in regards to Richardson has remained unwavering.

It is known there is a performance-related clause that threatens to rule obsolete the 2020 part of the new deal, but according to Lethlean, 2019 is guaranteed.

Damian Barrett

Barrett found no reason to dispute the veracity of Lethlean’s claims when he wrote his AFL.com.au article titled Coach Safe with Copycat Saints. Like many he questioned whether it was the correct decision and spent much of the piece highlighting the different situations that confront St Kilda now and that faced Richmond when they decided to back Damien Hardwick at the end of 2016. Comfortable that he had painted the picture well enough that he knew better than the Saints, he condescendingly suggested that perhaps they couldn’t afford to sack Richardson.

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When he spoke on Triple M however, this concern for the bottom line and the club’s almost defiant support of the coach was forgotten, ‘new evidence’ prompted him to speculate once more. “But I look at the fixture – they’ve got a Friday night game against Essendon this week, they’ve got a round 22 game on a Saturday night against Hawthorn and then the last game of the season against North Melbourne in a twilight fixture,” he told The Mid-Week Rub in a manner that would suggest he was unaware that other people are also capable of reading the fixture.

“If I’m Alan Richardson I’m making sure those three games are not blowouts because things can happen when you get to round 21, as we now are, and you have four wins to your name in your fifth season for a total of 37 wins out of 107 games in your coaching career – I don’t think you’ve got any wriggle room for any poor form, so I reckon it’s a pretty crucial three-week patch,” he said like a man who believed his opinion matters more than those responsible for making the decisions he is speculating on.

This is nothing more than self-serving rubbish.

Supporters deserve better than this kind of contradictory click-bait approach to football journalism. They deserve more than a particular agenda to dictate whether the same reporter snidely suggests that a club can’t afford to sack a coach one minute or continues to fan the flames that they might the next.

By all means question whether the club is making the right decision but don’t manufacture feeble reasons to try and get the jungle drums going again. In fact feeble might not go far enough in describing how pathetic it is to use the fixture, released 10 months ago, as an excuse to disregard comments not even a week old. It is insulting to the Saints, but more importantly those listening or reading Barrett, to suggest that they mightn’t have been aware that a big loss or three might lie in store in the final rounds when they once more stated their 2019 plans after the Bulldogs defeat.

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Rightly, wrongly or something else entirely, Alan Richardson will coach the Saints in 2019. We know this because the Saints haven’t just told us but have also made moves in line with their words. The reporting of this should be driven by the facts not by the desire of Barrett and co to drive a preconceived narrative. The big, hungry beast that is the demand for content shouldn’t be fed with blind and unsupported conjecture. We deserve better than that.

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