Fine line between pleasure and pain: Unlucky Richmond could easily be in Collingwood's position

Where have all the taggers gone? (1:23)

Matt Walsh & Jake Michaels discuss the disappearance of tagging in the AFL, and if the role could limit recent dominant performances from midfielders. (1:23)

SEASON 2022 IS turning into one of the tightest we've seen at the top of the ladder. And as the close finishes continue, I'm sure I'm not the only one who's found themselves humming the line from The Divinyls' Chrissy Amphlett about the "fine line between pleasure and pain".

Heading into Round 19, just two games separated top team Geelong from seventh-placed Carlton, a rare compacting of teams in the eight. Indeed, that's been the case at this same stage of the season just once previously in the past 25 years.

Tellingly, too, that occurred in 2016, when the Western Bulldogs made history by coming from seventh to win the premiership, no side having previously done so from any lower than fifth. This flag really could be anyone's.

It's more than that, though. In a ladder this tight, the narrow margins between victory and defeat seem to be counting for more. Just ask Collingwood or Richmond.

The Magpies have played in eight games decided by 11 points or fewer this season and won seven of them. The Tigers? They've been in four games decided by a goal or less. And lost every one of them. Talk about a stark contrast.

What would a few extra points have meant to either side? Well, Collingwood is currently fifth on the ladder, Richmond clinging to eighth.

Using just single figure margins as the baseline here, Richmond, had it scored another 19 points across those four games, would now be on 13 wins and four losses, sitting equal on points with top-of-the-ladder Geelong and Melbourne.

And Collingwood (the Pies having won five of those six single-digit results)? Had the Magpies scored 30 fewer points across those five games they won, that win-loss record of 12-5 would instead now read 7-10. That would have them sitting in 12th spot, not fifth.

We're not suggesting for a moment however, we hasten to add, that the Pies have got where they are in 2022 purely on the back of good fortune. For the sake of the exercise, we've also looked at scores registered from the close shaves.

And Collingwood, in its five single-digit wins, has registered more than or at worst equal to the same number of scores as its defeated opponent.

On weight of opportunities, the Pies have arguably deserved to win every one of those games in which they scraped over the line. And the one they didn't, the seven-point loss to Brisbane in Round 5, was also arguably a just result, the Lions having had two more scores than the Pies.

What that all suggests, of course, is that Collingwood's relatively poor conversion could still end up coming back to bite it. The Magpies rank only 13th currently for goals scored per inside 50 entry.

So, did Richmond deserve to lose those narrow squeaks on which it has come out on the wrong end? Anguished Tiger fans probably already know the answer to that question.

Of the four single-figure defeats, only against Sydney did Richmond concede more scores to its opponent. Indeed, last week's disaster against North Melbourne saw the Tigers (11.22) somehow rack up 33 scores to just 22 and still lose. The loss to the Swans was also, for what it's worth, the only game in which the opponent had more inside 50 entries.

The particularly cruel irony here for Richmond is that until the last couple of losses to the Roos and Gold Coast, the Tigers' conversion had been very good.

In fact, even after last weekend, Richmond is still ranked equal second for conversion at 55 per cent, behind only Brisbane, and third for goals per inside 50 entry, at 24.4 per cent, behind Brisbane and Hawthorn.

We'll find out soon enough whether it's been an aberration for a tell-tale sign. But don't forget that even in 2017, when Richmond won the first of its glorious three flags in four years, it also lost three games by less than a kick in three consecutive weeks.

The other teams to have had more than their share of close shaves so far in 2022 are the South Australian clubs, both of whom have been involved in five games determined by single-figure margins.

Both the Power and Crows have had the same returns, too, having won two and lost three of them.

Obviously, for Port Adelaide, that could end up being the difference between finals and not. Eighteen more points across those three defeats to their crosstown rival, Carlton and Fremantle would have the Power now 11-6 and comfortably inside the eight instead of 8-9 and likely to miss out.

The Divinyls put it very accurately in "Pleasure And Pain", turning out to be a very appropriate theme for this football season. And for Richmond particularly, another narrow loss or two and another well-known Divinyls track, "Back To The Wall", will seem even more apt.

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY.com.au