RICHMOND versus CARLTON
1.45pm, Saturday 17 August
If it doesn’t matter it doesn’t matter. Or does it?
Wow. How often does Richmond go into a game raging favourites against mortal enemy Carlton, safe in the knowledge we’ve made the finals three weeks out? What was this? 1973?
Not only that, Hawthorn had just beaten Collingwood to give us a chance of finishing top four and Essendon was almost certainly set to lose all its points following the biggest drug disaster since Lance Armstrong chided disbelievers after winning his seventh Tour de France – on the juice.
AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou, who was so confident about the state of the league that he took off on an overseas fact finding mission during the season, was also in more trouble than the early settlers.
Pinch me please!
It may be 40 years since we last beat Carlton in a Grand Final and 12 years since the Tigers made the finals of any sort, but Richmond’s worm had certainly turned. As the train rattled towards Richmond for our second 2013 clash with Carlton, we couldn’t believe our changing fortunes.
At this time of the year we were usually clinging to a slight mathematical possibility of making the eight. If we beat Carlton by more than 10 goals and Geelong beat Hawthorn by 175 then lost to the Bulldogs by 74, and then Port Adelaide rolled Freo in Perth by at least 40 points and St Kilda and Melbourne had a draw on 67 points each then we might just scrape in.
Or we’d already be resigned to another bottom four finish, plotting draft picks and using the AFL Record to list the players we thought should be traded (which had started in round four when it became mathematically impossible to make the eight).
This year was different. With three games left after we beat the Lions and the Bulldogs – God Bless ’em – beat Carlton it had become, barring our own drug scandal, mathematically impossible to miss the finals for the first time since 2001 when my kids, now 14, 12 and 10, were 2, six months and not even born.
So how did if feel walking into a game that we were expected to win but that didn’t really matter even if we did lose because we’d already made the finals? Like nothing we’d felt for 30 years.
The dream continued in the first quarter, with Jack Riewoldt kicking a goal, taking two marks inside 50 and giving off two goal assists in the first five minutes. Richmond controlled most of the play to be five goals up at quarter time.
Was it all too good to be true?
Of course it was. It couldn’t be Richmond without some form of disappointment.
The second quarter saw the Blues hit back, largely through Brock McLean, who kicked three, and Bryce Gibbs, who slotted two. The Blues dobbed six to Richmond’s two and were just five points down at the main break.
Our fortunes fell further when I went to Richmond station to meet Jess, who had played netball. Thinking the outside food vans were cheaper we ordered a Nando’s burger, fries and drink – only to be slugged $18.50. I’m never complaining about the cost of pies again!!
We got back inside just on half time with the game back in the balance. Perhaps predictably, it was all downhill from there. Carlton fans, still clinging to faint finals hopes, were happy as their team took control and wouldn’t let Richmond back into it.
The second half was an almighty arm wrestle and the Blues maintained their slender lead to hang on and win by 10 points. Brock McLean, Mitch Robinson, Zach Tuohy and Lachie Henderson all played important roles, while Ed Curnow did a great job tagging Trent Cotchin.
As for the loss, some tried rationalising it by saying it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t matter. But it does. Any loss to Carlton hurts and this would dent the players’ confidence in the lead-up to those elusive finals.
The other cloud on our otherwise positive horizon was created by Richmond’s new found success – and AFL rules allowing clubs to give game-day memberships with as few as one game priority access to finals tickets.
Clubs were also heavily promoting those ‘Claytons’ memberships, which they could sell until the end of August. During the match, Richmond advertised a deal where fans who may not have seen a game all year could buy a 2014 membership and secure member priority access to 2013 finals tickets.
This meant those of us who had literally not missed a match in Melbourne all year had to compete for finals tickets with an even bigger pool of people, some of whom signed up in August.
But that’s footy these days. All that matters is bums on seats. Too bad if those bums belong to band-wagoners at the expense of those who were there when their team was down. As we pulled into our station, already dreaming of bouncing back next week against GWS, we could only hope that all the true believers would have their faith repaid and score a ticket.
RICHMOND 8.2 10.3 12.7 14.12 (96)
CARLTON 3.2 9.4 13.4 16.10 (106)
Richmond: Vickery 3, Riewoldt 2, Ellis 2, Petterd, Vlastuin, Grigg, Jackson, McGuane, Maric, Rance
Carlton: McLean 3, Henderson 3, Casboult 3, Gibbs 2, Menzel 2, Robinson, Simpson, Tuohy
Richmond: Deledio, Jackson, Astbury, Conca, Foley
Carlton: McLean, Simpson, Jamison, Murphy, Robinson, Gibbs, Casboult, Armfield
Umpires: McBurney, Wenn, McInerney CROWD: 63,825 at the MCG