Neil Balme says he is still hopeful of a potential Richmond return for Alex Rance but admits that tantalising prospect for Tigers fans is unlikely.
Rance shocked the football world in December when he announced his retirement despite recovering from the ruptured ACL he sustained in Round 1 of the 2019 season.
Balme suggested the decision was somewhat startling, but not completely out of the blue.
“It was not so much a shock, it was a bit unexpected,” Balme said on SEN SA Breakfast.
“We thought we’d got to a point where he was able to cope with the things he wanted to do and still play footy but he decided that he wasn’t.
“You can’t talk someone out of that. We have to respect what he thinks.”
It was expected that the five-time All-Australian and 2017 premiership player would be back in the Tigers line-up in 2020 as they strive to defend their flag, but according to Balme, that remains doubtful even if he is himself holding hope.
“In the back of our mind we are still hoping he might think about coming back, but that’s getting less likely I think,” he added.
“I did think that (he might come back) but it was probably more optimism than evidence. He’s such a strong-minded kid that he doesn’t tell you things for the fun of it.
“So we have to accept the fact that maybe it is the end for him. It will be disappointing because he is such a wonderful player but in the end, as a club, you’ve just got to cope with it because it’s something the individual wants to do.
“We’ll support him in that. We can’t lose out of it. If he plays he’s a great player, if he doesn’t play we can use his spot and spend his money on someone else.
“The club has to deal with it in whatever way we can.”
Balme also touched on the void that will be left in Rance’s absence such was his importance to the playing group.
“Very significant,” he said further.
“Last year he played one game and the players have a vote and week-to-week they go through who is the most important teammate and he won that award, along with Jack Graham.
“For Rance to be recognised that way by his mates just tells you what he’s like.”
Recent comments from teammate Bachar Houli and coach Damien Hardwick indicated that the door remains ajar for a Rance return, but Balme's sentiments suggest Richmond supporters should probably not be holding their breath.