And so I attended the Tigers coronation as a proxy.
For behold the miracle- Richmond shall contest finals football once again.
The unfamiliar sight of Trent Cotchin stared up from the Gold Membership card that had been bestowed upon me. As I scanned entry into the ‘G, I half expected klaxons to scream out in a QI cacophony-
‘He is unclean, a heathen in the house of Dyer!’
Alas nothing so dramatic, I was in. A lifetime St.Kilda man in Tigerskin for the afternoon. My duty to attend the game as cover for one of my mates suddenly took on serious implications. With my outstretched hand I had pledged an allegiance with the enemy and in return the turnstile had flashed green and announced that I should- ‘ GO. ‘
My level of disquiet was temporary, for sitting amongst the Richmond faithful, top deck of the Punt Road end, was enough to restore your belief in the community of footy. The Tigers I was tagging along with, two good mates who had practically insisted I make the regular trio complete, took their seats amidst waves and greetings from all. Everyone knew one another, fellow travellers on the faithful pilgrimage, one and all. Directly behind us were a father and his sons who had made the trip from Richmond’s Sunraysia heartland. Behind them sat a newly hirsute man, who naturally got rubbished for his beard efforts. In between were familiar faces, all on for a chat. There was even a ripple of excitement within the gang when news arrived that Woody was in attendance. Woody, it transpired was a classic of the passionate fan genre. His passing resemblance to Woody Harrelson gave him his unknown handle, his intense barracking entertained everyone, to his complete obliviousness of course. He raised his voice regularly and spat out commentary for everyone, and yet, no one to hear
‘Stay on your man Tigers.’
‘How about kicking it?’
‘ What are you doing Tigers?’
His obvious, simplistic, observations resonated with a ring of authentic passion. We have all found ourselves barking at players, indeed, even in the loungeroom you find yourself informing a footballer of their failings. The difference between us and the Woodys of the world is self-awareness. I know that Farren Ray can’t possibly hear me. Woody couldn’t care less, he must vent his frustrations. Footy gives so much. Not all the emotions it delivers are positive but they are all important to express.
Having claimed that that Tiges were already over the line last week, I had inadvertently created an existential crisis for a mate. He didn’t really want to agree with my assertion, yet he couldn’t really disagree with the premise. The pain of believing that the finals journey was upon the Tiger-army, only to see it vanish into the ether is all too real. The spectre of ‘Ninth’ hangs heavy, a ghost of failed season’s past for Richmond.
Thankfully, the Tigers put us all out of our misery by winning. You hear a great deal about mathematical possibilities in August, its a constant cliche that rules this time of the season. Teams outside the eight tend to hold on to the the debris of their season and hope the current rises them into contention. Carlton went under this round, North Melbourne joined them. Adelaide and West Coast can keep paddling towards that distant horizon, still hoping to catch an unlikely king tide. All are unlikely to see September but the difference between a win and a loss is never more pronounced. Win and you can still sniff a chance, lose and the end is nigh.
As the final siren echoed around a perfect winter’s arvo at the ‘G, one of my mates informed me that it was now mathematically impossible for the Tigers to MISS the eight. It was a brand new way of thinking for me. The glass was half-full with finals action. The idea of it being half empty, simply a box to tick to confirm your RSVP to the finals, took the gloss off the moment. Still, given that the Tiges won big last round and for their trouble managed to slip down the ladder one place, perhaps the cautious approach was understandable. The gallows humour that has followed the yellow-and-black for several decades was amused by this wrinkle in logic. It also fuelled a chicken-licken style shudder across the faithful. Hence the parade of Admiral Ackbar’s running hither-and-tither screaming down every suggestion that the Tigers were in the box seat for September-
‘Its a trap!’
Clearly my mate could only see negativity where light was surely poking through. So prepared for the downfall against the Lions after the ecstasy of the Hawk slaughter, he saw the Tiges skip away early and could only suggest that they were bound to stop running and let them back in. It didn’t help his mood when the second half opened to that very proposition. Having attempted to convince him that he was imagining the phantoms of season’s past come to call on this team, even I had to fall silent as the third quarter ground the momentum of the first two quarters to a halt.
In the gap that the Lions created in the Tigers scoring there should have been an opportunity for them to hit back. But there is a resilience to this Richmond backline and a determination in the midfield that simply refused to yield. Brisbane simply had to be content with becalming the game. The third quarter barely saw a zephyr…. until at last, a gust picked up right at its end and filled the Lions sails. The final stanza began to an unfurling of the Brisbane spinnaker. The mood dropped. The Lions were going to pull this off….
Jack Riewoldt has had the yips for some time. His goal kicking faltering as his confidence waxes and wanes. He is still making contests and bustling around the forward fifty, contributing manfully but the set shot is eluding him at present. The trend continued. He had enough chances to kick a bag but he shanked and poked at all his kicks. The frustration showed on his face. Then, as the last quarter tightened and the Lions pressed for the win, my mate, who had been negative all afternoon suddenly announced-
‘Jack will step up and kick the sealer here.’
The statement was less positivity, more certainty. Jack had begun to resort to giving the ball off instead of taking the kick himself, an anathema to goalkickers and an obvious sign that he was in a yip-induced slump. Then the moment came for Jack to step up and he duly did. Taking the grab deep on the goal line he saw options inside but simply raised his arm, the universal sign that represents the surety of talent-
‘ I got this.’
He then played on and slotted the sealer across the body.
‘Told you so!’
Finally my mate was convinced the the Tiges would win.
Finally the Tigers are roaring into September.