By John Green
The winter sun is shining on the platform of Ivanhoe Station as my son and I discuss the glorious possibilities.
Win today against Carlton and we go a game and percentage ahead of Collingwood. We should be able to snare fifth spot after towelling up GWS next week, which means we would meet eighth-placed Port Adelaide in a home final. “Simples” says the meerkat. Or, best of all, the Swans lose to both Geelong and Hawthorn and we win all three remaining games to seize fourth spot. The Hawks are petrified of us, having lost each of their last three encounters with the rampant Tigers if you include the NAB Cup match in Launceston when Jack steered it through after the siren. This means we have a home Preliminary Final and we’re only one step away from the big one.
Yep, it’s a wonderful thing to be following a team at the top of its game. It sure beats speculating as to how we can finish ahead of the bottom four, something distressingly common throughout the last few years. And don’t we deserve it after years of being stranded in the wilderness with few prospects of finding our way out! Everyone is saying nice things to me at work and wishing me luck for September.
And now for the day’s proceedings. A meeting with the Blues minus Judd, Kreuzer, Garlett and Carazzo, hot on the heels of their demoralising loss to the Bulldogs. This is going to make Malthouse even grumpier. We have to go back to 1977 for the last time that the Tigers appeared in the finals while the Blues missed out, as will surely happen this year. Here’s the chance to punish our crosstown rivals for the years of indignities they have subjected us to. They are ripe for the picking.
There is a carnival atmosphere in the members’ section today, and Carlton’s Brad Bootsma is the clown. He was the recipient of the match-saving tackle laid by Luke McGuane in the first-round clash between the sides. Today he is pitted against our Jack at full back. In the first minute of the match he loses his footing and allows Riewoldt to accept the accolades of the Punt Road end before strolling into an open goal. By the three-minute mark Jack has marked twice on the lead and set up majors for Ellis and Vickery. We beg Malthouse to back his judgement and leave Bootsma where he is, but the Blues bite the bullet and move Jamison onto our rampaging spearhead. The Tigers ram on eight goals to the Blues’ three in a sparkling display of precision footy and lead by thirty points at the first change. Don’t we love it! Richmond is like the dashing matador playing up to an adoring crowd and brandishing his rapier over the neck of the helpless and exhausted bull. Ole!
But inexplicably a couple of Malthouse moves seem to work. Waite is shifted to defence. Mclean goes forward and boots three goals. A number of Tigers who were so effective in the first quarter take siestas. This is not how it was meant to pan out. Fans grow agitated. By half time Richmond’s lead is reduced to five points, but I reassure my increasingly exasperated son that it takes a lot of effort to claw your way back from a five-goal deficit and the Blues won’t be able to sustain it.
But the trouble is that that they do sustain it. Simpson goals in the first minute of the third term and Carlton takes the lead for the first time. The Blues become expert at finding teammates in the clear who are able to move the ball into attack with growing ease.
Tiger stalwarts resort to time honoured admonitions.
“Lift ya bloody game Richmond! You’re a disgrace!”
“Who’s on McLean!”
How quickly it all unravels. Dusty hits the post, Vickery misses an easy one and Maric sprays his shot wide after accepting a pass and galloping in from only 20 metres out. We regain the lead but are unable to string a few together. Cotchin looks proppy and is unable to break free of the Ed Curnow tag. Jack takes a mark and is forced to leave the field after landing awkwardly and hurting his leg . Casboult hauls in a towering mark in the square and regains the lead for Carlton after the three-quarter-time siren.
The Tigers’ misfortunes continue in the final term and the Blues have all the momentum. Maric and Foley hit the post. A long shot from Tuck drifts away at the last moment. When Henderson goals at the 14-minute mark to hand the Blues a 15-point lead I realise to my consternation that the carnival is over. We are going to lose this one. Maric gets one back but when Casboult boots his third with a speculative toe poke out of the pack I know the afternoon has taken a seriously wrong turn.
How do we take it? A mere blip on the way to September glory? The kick in the pants we needed to avoid complacency before the finals? Or a taste of things to come. I’m almost nostalgic for the recent past when I would turn up to the MCG most weeks knowing that we had almost no chance of winning. At least there was no pressure and no possibility of suffering the ignominy of losing a game that we fully expected to win, especially after enjoying a lead at quarter time that was mere minutes away from growing into a match-winning one.
There’s no sunshine now as we trudge to Jolimont Station in a throng of despondent Tiger supporters. I’m going to take a while to get over this one. A top four finish is now out of the question. But ever the conscientious father, I conceal my own despair and look for a life lesson for my miserable sixteen-year-old boy.
“Did you know that Richmond lost the last game of the 1980 season to South Melbourne at the old Lake Oval by nine goals? You didn’t? Well they did, and that was just what they needed at the time. And look what happened after that!”
No reaction. He’s heard too many homilies from me. What can we do apart from following the fortunes of the travelling circus as it travels to the harbour city next weekend for a bout with GWS? It’s a little trip to the provinces before returning to the main show in a couple of week’s time.
We’d better bring back the four points.