Coaches can't win sometimes. Fail to bring out the big stick after a disappointing team performance and they'll cop criticism for being too soft. But cut to the chase and they'll get a whack for demeaning their players.
Which was the sort of feedback Richmond coach Damien Hardwick was receiving on Monday after singling out a couple of younger Tigers and a more experienced pair after his team's first-up loss to Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium.
In the annals of coaching public sprays what Hardwick had to say after the game would be lucky to rank in the top 100. In fact, all he did was nod his agreement with observations anyone watching the game could have made. Namely, that their senior midfield core of Trent Cotchin, Brett Deledio and Dustin Martin didn't get enough support. And that Richmond's forward line didn't exactly live up to its potential.
"The disappointing thing for us – second-tier mids didn't stand up," he said. "I thought we'd get more out of Reece Conca and Brandon Ellis today, but unfortunately they just didn't lift their game to the standard that was required. Whereas for [the Suns] guys such as Prestia had a good game, Rischitelli as well."
It seemed pretty tame stuff. And nothing that the players named wouldn't freely concede if they were being honest with themselves. But there were enough learned football judges for whom it raised the eyebrows.
Former Hawthorn champion Dermott Brereton was just one who felt Hardwick shouldn't have actually named the players. "I'm not big on singling players out," Brereton said on SEN. "I'm big on that within a team environment, but then it's about presenting a united front."
But did what Hardwick say really leave his charges embarrassed or humiliated? Is the mere observation that two players haven't played to the level their side needs, a conclusion any supporter with yellow-and-black blood would have reached, a cause for consternation?
It was hardly a stunning revelation, particularly given the Tigers have all summer spoken about the need for the younger brigade of Conca, Ellis and Nick Vlastuin to get on board the midfield train if Richmond is to advance its cause as a potential top-four contender.
As for the forward line, just six goals to three-quarter-time was a long way short of a competitive tally. Jack Riewoldt's nine disposals, three marks and 1.2 was poor, and Ty Vickery, not for the first time, raised questions about whether he has sufficient class or nous to hold down a key forward post in a side that aspires to much more than the odd token finals appearance.
Not surprising then that Hardwick observed: "I thought Jack was well below his best, as was Ty Vickery.'' Boy, stop the presses! That's eyebrow raising? What would those critics make of something on the scale of former Adelaide coach Malcolm Blight's legendary "pathetic [David] Pittman" comment back in 1997.
Is a coach now not even allowed to remark that a player was below his best? Or is AFL now at the stage of some junior so-called competitive sport, where everyone has to emerge with some sort of pat on the back?
You can argue about whether Riewoldt's use further up the ground at times is to the benefit of the side, or whether a Coleman medallist should be used as a forward-50 target just three times in a game compared with Vickery's 14.
But a player of eight years, 135 games and 321 goals' experience should be depended upon for more than Riewoldt served up on Saturday night. He knows it, Hardwick knows it, and so did the fans watching. Any reference to the forward line makes it obvious Hardwick is talking at least in part about his gun spearhead. As if we're not all capable of filling in the blanks.
Richmond and its coach have rightly set the bar higher these past couple of seasons. Last year, Hardwick refused to shy away from the expectation his side would play finals. Perhaps this season it's about demanding a certain minimum standard from key members of his team. That's his right, as long as the criticism isn't personal.
Hardwick's wasn't. It referred only to some less-than-sparkling performances in one game of football. And if he isn't given the leeway to even do that, how can his players be expected to develop thick enough skins to be consistent parts of the action at the top end of the ladder?