AFL Round 19 – Hawthorn v Richmond: The day the storm arrived…

Midway through the third quarter, Luke Hodge held the heavy, wet ball at full back, rolling it between his hands and looking further afield. The ground was wide ahead of him with no short, patient option available: the Tigers had applied the zoning tactic that the Hawks had perfected for years, one that they had looked to perfect since the very dawn of the Hardwick era. They waited between the Hawthorn players like seeping acid, not allowing room to lead into or a precise pass that would safely work. Hodge opted with a wide and angular kick to the half back flank that just held over the fingers of Xavier Ellis and Trent Cotchin intercepted. Staying low to the wet ground and twisting and turning and not losing his balance, Cotchin flicked a handpass to Luke McGuane who dropped a long handpass to Dustin Martin on the paint of the forward fifty.
The MCG dimmed to black and two spotlights emerged. One on Martin. One on the goals. No one else. He struck it hard and it arced and looped long, long and impossibly straight for a goal.
The Tigers were three goals up with a heavy storm coming. Their supporters, with raindrops sliding cold off their noses and their hair slicked heavy and wet to their beanies and foreheads, roared and bellowed and smelt the droplets of blood oozing out of the infallible Hawthorn machine. The impossible…may…just…happen.
But let me take it back to the start. This was not meant to be anything more than a brave defeat for the Tigers. This was, after all, Hawthorn. Invincible, except for that one chink that only Geelong never fails to pierce. With a midfield that doesn’t quite smash you so much as endlessly wear you down. With a defence that uses clearing kicks to create attacks. With a forward line that actually does smash you and there is not very much you can do about it. Yet from the start the Tigers looked like they had come to play and take the Hawks on at their own game. They treated it not so much as a challenge to their 2013 season but to their development since 2010 when Damien Hardwick took the reins. To that end, they were prepared to show that they were good enough to take on the best of the best at their own game and win.
And they did from the first bounce. Riewoldt plucked strong marks to kick two and a sterling defence held steady in the face of a fiery siege. Cotchin looked like he had more time than everyone else, that hallmark of champions. The Tigers drove the ball forward when the Hawks turned it over. This was more often than expected, thanks to the stoppers in Rance, Chaplin and Astbury and the rebounders in Newman, Grigg and White. The Tigers made the most of their entries forward and kicked six goals for the quarter. Most mistakes came from trying to take the Hawks on, and were therefore forgivable. Maric was the Iron Man around the ground: heavy, lumbering, powerful. He rose to take marks in such a slow, strong manner: Up. Up. Arms swinging together. Hands crushing the ball like a punch from either side. Down. Down. The landing stomping tremors into the ground with a thud.
Holding a surprise eighteen point lead at quarter time and having surely been aided by the wind, the Tigers were expected to be caught between defence and attack kicking into the wind in the second quarter; to play as if their lead was a cruel trick of Hawthorn’s that would be reversed at any minute. They did nothing of the sort. Instead, they slung the ball forward again and again in the first ten minutes, admittedly without success. But the reality of the situation had hit the Hawks. It was not going to happen for them. The Tigers were not going to get wobbly legs at the prospect of being The Hunted. Furthermore, Richmond had stolen nearly half of Hawthorn’s time with the wind. It took a brilliant snap and a quick, smart pass that caught the Richmond defenders unawares from Shaun Burgoyne to wrest back the lead on the stroke of half time. Yet both goals had fortuitous touches to them. Additionally, many of the Hawks’ main play makers were being nullified. Rioli had had just five touches, the nuggetty Morris matching him for pace and awareness. Franklin had been shackled by Rance, who was unafraid to challenge him both in the air and in foot races to the loose ball. Most crucially, Roughead had been rendered irrelevant by Chaplin and Astbury, leaving the Hawks without their biggest strength up forward: the sense that goals could and would come from anywhere. Meanwhile, Mitchell and Hodge were both winning the ball but being limited by the tight pressure around contests. The Tigers had soaked up the toughest blows from the toughest of opponents and were just two points behind with the wind at their backs in the third.
The rain had really set in by the third quarter. Before the game, it had been expected that the rain would reduce the Richmond losing margin, but now the Tiger fans were resentful of it: they were beating the Hawks with speed and skill and the rain would not help that.
But the Tigers kept pushing with their fast, risky game plan and it kept working. Matt White kept making space wide and started to really give the Hawks headaches. He kicked a goal. Foley kicked a goal. Edwards kicked a goal after a clever set up from Riewoldt and the really unthinkable was unfolding before 64, 324 increasingly soaked, increasingly anxious fans. Yet breaking the Hawks, a team accustomed to winning and expected to still do so, would not come as a simple progression. The defence locked down and Hodge seemed to be everywhere. The Hawks kept breaking forward but still-still-the Richmond backline performed heroically against their much vaunted opponents. By three quarter time, Franklin, Rioli and Roughead had kicked 1.3 and taken six marks between them. It was up to Gunston and Smith to become the key targets and neither of them could break Newman, the man who had seen too many failed seasons to let such a convincing win become a brave defeat. The ultimatum started to Chinese whisper its way around the crowd: a three goal lead in the heavy conditions would be the equivalent of a four goal lead on a normal day. Anymore and the Tigers should….should…hold on.
And then Martin. Martin. Richmond’s most dangerous player, for whom the Richmond coaching staff always need a Plan B ‘Just-In-Case-He’s-Bloody-Off-Again.’ Hitherto he had gotten the Tigers forward, albeit ineffectively. He had been caught holding the ball. He had looked like too many things: Uninterested? Panicky? Trying to do too much? The truth is, when Martin gets hold of the ball, everyone ceases to exist. Opponents, teammates, coaches, fans, the media, everyone. That spotlight sits on him, extinguishing everything else. He runs. He gets tackled. He reluctantly handpasses. He tries and fails to kick impossible goals with teammates open everywhere. And, frequently, he kicks impossible goals. And now he does. In those thirty seconds between Hodge miskicking the ball and that same ball landing in a frenzied, screaming Richmond cheer squad, the game, in hindsight, ended. Not because the lead was too great or the conditions too greasy or whatever, but because the Tigers had done exactly what the Hawks do to win games…..against the Hawks. As the rain got heavier and the literal and metaphorical storm raged over the MCG, the Tigers began a last quarter that was expected to be the longest, most nerve stabbing thirty minutes of their season…and was instead nothing of the sort. Everything went right. Riewoldt slid the ball off the ground for an improbable goal. Tuck and Shane Edwards kicked goals from deep in the pocket. When White, then Jackson, then Jackson again, all kicked goals, it was simply too much. Tens of thousands of sopping wet Richmond supporters with blood and hope pumping ecstatically in their veins celebrated what was quite simply Richmond’s most consequential win of the Hardwick era. They had beaten the Hawks by more than Geelong ever had. They stood on such dizzy heights, being only one of just two teams to stand on. They had beaten the best at their own game. They had booked a finals berth, for the first time in twelve years, in a way they could only have dreamed about. As they poured out of the MCG, twirling, chanting, dancing, soaking, that was the only thing that mattered. The final shot of Chris Newman, who has seen the worst of times at Punt Road, standing with his arms spread Shawshank wide after the final siren encompasses everything that such a victory means.
Richmond 6.4 6.6 10.10 16.11.107
Hawthorn 3.4 6.8 7.10 9.12.66
Best – (R) Rance, Cotchin, Newman, White, Maric, Foley.
– (H) Smith, Mitchell, Gunston, Burgoyne, Hill, Sewell.
Goals – (R) Riewoldt 3, McGuane 2, Edwards 2, White 2, Jackson 2, Maric, Newman, Foley, Martin,
Tuck.
– (H) Puopolo 2, Franklin, Lewis, Smith, Burgoyne, Guerra, Ceglar, Hodge.

VOTES 3- Alex Rance (R) 2- Trent Cotchin (R) 1- Chris Newman (R)

About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.

Comments

  1. Great summary Callum – esp if you are a Tigers supporter.

    However, I dont believe Xavier Ellis played. He has been on the long term injury list, due to return round 21.
    Hawthorn’s best on the day has to include Lake – who played an outstanding game at fullback.

  2. Peter Fuller says:

    That is a superb match report, Callum. You identify the key reasons for the outcome – decisive match-ups and specific plays which were turning-points. Yet you also engage readers with the emotion-charged nature of the afternoon, and the context provided by the weather and the history of success/failure that has marked the clubs’ past.

  3. The Wrap says:

    I still haven’t come down to ground level Callum. And that match report has sent the adrenaline pumping again.

  4. Great report Cal! I was in a training course all day and texting my buddy at the g- my heart was at the G for sure- and I was kicking myself for being in a boring lecture when the tigers where running and sliding in the wet- thanks for bringing the game to life again for me

  5. Richard Naco says:

    Great win heralding a great future for a truly great group of core fans, and great work, Cal.

    The yellow and black seem genuinely back.

  6. Dan Crane says:

    I can see your pride in this read Cal – great stuff. Chris Newman deserves a final so much eh?

  7. Was at this game, what a great win by an emerging up and coming young side lead by a terrific captain Trent Cotchin. This was the best win I’ve been to in years. Go tigers.

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