AFL Round 12: Richmond v West Coast: Tiger Kop barely moved to song by humdrum win

By Sam Steele

They’ve got a Kop at Richmond these days!

Rushing into Docklands just as the ball is bounced, I’m expecting a new dawn of sorts as the Tigers start life under new coach, Jade Rawlings.  He’s dropped all the old-timers in the team apart from Cousins, and is expecting our youngest team in 15 years to do the job against the struggling West Coast Eagles.

But the last thing I expect is to find myself standing amongst the unreconstructed lads who for as long as I can remember have stood behind the cheer squad (because they drink and are too uncouth for the flogger waving and playground chants of the teenyboppers in the front row), and hear them singing “He’s our Deledio” to the tune of La Donna e Mobile.

If this is a surprise, so too are the first 15 minutes of the game.  Whatever JR has said and done during the week, it’s made an impression.  The ever-maligned Richard Tambling is like a man possessed, winning the ball all over the ground and delivering, long and accurately, by foot and hand – 14 times by the quarter-time break.  We’re dominating all over the ground, Morton and Deledio are providing targets up front and we’re actually hitting them.  With straight shooting, we’d have this wrapped up.  As it is, we’re a profligate 5.6 to 2.0 at quarter-time and the familiar sense of “opportunity knocks but once” has returned.

Feeling rather more my 45 years than the 16 or 17 that I was when I was a “regular” behind the goals at the Punt Road End, I decide that I’ve had enough of standing and retreat to the GA seats upstairs.  What the “Black and Yellow Brigade” down below would think of the signs outlining the “Etihad Stadium Code of Conduct” I’m sure I don’t know.  It doesn’t specifically ban songs about “Super Dickie Tambling” to the music of Skip to My Lou, but maybe it should!

Anyway, the new surrounds are familiar sterile Docklands and the footy is returning to familiar cellar-dweller fare.  Mistakes and missed opportunities are shared equally, but the Eagles have regained some poise after the early onslaught and the appearance of boom recruit, Nick Naitanui, looking a veritable Bird of Paradise among the humdrum collection of footballing pigeons and sparrows battling it out around the ground, seems to excite the crowd, even more than the Tigers own dreadlocked newcomer, Ty Vickery.  When NN’s deft look-away handball sets up a goal to Priddis, it’s clear that the Eagles are back in the contest.

Third quarter and I’m back standing again, but this time on the wing.  The two debutants are going head-to-head (hair-to-hair) in the ruck now, and while Naitanui is winning the hitouts, Foley, Tuck and Cousins are holding their own against Priddis and Kerr.  It’s a war of attrition all over the ground and the goals are rare and, therefore, assuming great psychological significance to two teams who have lost belief in their ability to win.  When Vickery wins a lucky free and kicks his first AFL goal, he’s almost crushed in the stampede of well-wishing teammates.

Late in the quarter, Richmond are still hanging on and make a sudden and decisive surge, with a well-weighted Cousins pass landing with Riewoldt close to goal.  “You beauty,” I mutter quietly to myself, thinking that this will give us a clear four-goal break going into the final term.  Alas, Jack fluffs the chance and the Eagles rush downfield to snare an “11 point” goal right on the siren.  It’s going to be a slog from here to deliver Jade the customary new coach’s win.

But again, he works some sort of mysterious magic during the break, which somehow plays out as “win the ball out of the middle, move it forward quickly and in the direction of our main goalkicker”, remarkably, the exact strategy employed at the start of the game!  Who would have expected that we’d try that again? Well, we did and even more amazingly, it worked again. Within five minutes we’ve got two more goals from Morton and the game’s almost safe.

But the Weevils are still not done with.  Shannon Hurn is a bit of an unknown in the eastern states but he’s providing great drive from the back with his long and accurate kicking. Priddis is running on in the middle and with a forest of talls up forward – Kennedy, Lynch, Cox and Naitanui – they threaten constantly for the next quarter of an hour.

LeCras jags a long goal and then the Bird of Paradise soars spectacularly for the mark of the night right on the goal line.  This could be the game-turning moment, but Nick’s snap from a tight angle is too sharp and cannons into the post.  The point is a deflator after such an exciting leap and the Eagles seem to sense it.  The Tiger defence, so fragile this season, assumes poise and control, with McGuane leading the way and the indefatigable Cousins running back to provide the way out of danger.

Moments later, one of Rawlings’ surprise inclusions, “Titch” Edwards, snaps his second of the night and we’re home.  When Kerr, exhausted and clearly playing hurt, crashes clumsily into Cousins and gives away 50 metres, the former Premiership teammates exchange wry grins of the sort that only occur in “junk time” and in a game, the significance of which is paltry compared with the great battles they once fought side by side.

In a season as demoralising as this one, any win needs to be savoured and there were at least some fleeting moments of freshness about the Tigers tonight.  But this was in truth a mediocre contest against a side that has forgotten how to win on the road.   Fittingly, the Richmond faithful sang the song with only moderate gusto before disappearing into the night.

I strained to hear if the boys behind the goal were doing a last rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone.  I heard nothing.  On many levels, it seems Richmond has a long way to go.

My votes:  Cousins (R) 3, Morton (R) 2, Tambling (R) 1.

About Sam Steele

Stainless (aka Sam Steele) started following Richmond in 1970 when he was 6. This occurred when his mother, under instructions to buy him a Melbourne jumper, found they were out of stock and purchased a Richmond one instead. Despite the decades of heartache and turmoil this fateful decision has brought on Stainless, he is grateful to his mum as he has at least seen his side win a couple of Premierships. After 30 September 2017, his mum is now officially his favourite person.

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