by John Green
Richmond versus Melbourne
1:10pm, Sunday, 18th April
Melbourne Cricket Ground
This is the match pencilled in by Richmond and Melbourne supporters when the 2010 fixtures were released in the previous year. With the clubs freely tipped to fill the bottom two places on the ladder, this encounter represented the best chance for one of them to register a victory.
Scribble it in the diary. We have to be there. No weddings, no visits from the folks, no trips to the holiday shack on Phillip Island. As for me, my son fully supports my decision to be at the MCG instead of watching him play at full-forward for the Ivanhoe under-13’s in the big clash with St. Mary’s at Ivanhoe Park.
But something unexpected has happened. The Demons are blazing a trail to the top eight. For the first time in living memory, they are hot favourites to win one, having already opened their account for the season on the previous Sunday when they downed the Adelaide Crows. In the game before that they fell short by a single point against Collingwood.
Richmond, on the other hand, is anchored at the foot of the table, as expected, with three losses by an average margin of ten goals. After some shenanigans at the Intercontinental Hotel in Sydney, following their heavy defeat to the Swans, Daniel Connors has been suspended by the club for eight weeks and Ben Cousins, Luke McGuane and Dean Polo for a week each. Skipper Chris Newman is missing due to injury. The Tigers are fielding three debutants, in Troy Taylor, Matthew Dea and David Astbury. Jordan McMahon, the man who slotted the winner after the siren in their previous meeting, is out of favour and running around for the Coburg seconds. It is Richmond’s most inexperienced line-up since the dark days of 1989, a year in which they had no money, no players and no chance of climbing from last place on the ladder.
Everything points to a relaxing afternoon in the autumn sun for Melbourne loyalists.
Tigers coach Damian Hardwick shuffles his deck. Deledio, Tuck, Cotchin and Post line up in defence. Mitch Morton is on the wing and Alex Rance in attack.
The first term is a hard-running firefight. It is as if two battling outfits, normally accustomed to being on the end of relentless pressure from better-credentialed opponents, have rediscovered the flair of their days in underage footy when they had space to move. Astbury boots a couple in his first quarter in the big time and must be thinking “how easy is this?” Melbourne sweeps to a 17-point lead at the first break with an eight-goal-to-five opening stanza.
The Tigers attempt to turn the screws with additional tackling pressure in the second term. Scoring opportunities evaporate and the game becomes the close-checking, scrappy affair most pundits expected. The deficit is reduced to a single goal at half time.
But the Demons are still basking in the glow of their second-half surge against Adelaide. They have the advantage in experience and muscle power and can sense that the boot is now on the other foot. The Tiger cubs begin to flounder, making poor decisions and relinquishing possession. Melbourne slams on 7-4 to Richmond’s 0-2 and the lead is out to 50 points by the orange break. Maloney and James McDonald exert their authority in the middle. Trengove and Scully play the best football of their brief careers. Davey looses his shackles and coolly directs Melbourne’s forward moves.
At three-quarter time the Demon fans stand to their feet and warmly applaud their heroes. Dean Bailey is cheered all the way back to the coaches box. Every Melbourne player jogging to the interchange bench for a breather in the final term is met by a similar wave of adulation. They feel they are emerging from a long nuclear winter and can now glimpse a new dawn. They revel in the 12-goal to four second half. Tiger supporters bow to the inevitable and accept their fate with quiet resignation. Colin Sylvia, resuming after suffering a broken jaw in the opening round against Hawthorn, boots four second-half goals to make it a tidy return of five for the afternoon. Brad Green adds another four.
Melbourne people place a neat tick next to their diary entries. Richmond barrackers vainly search through the fixtures in the AFL Record for another opportunity to gain four points and consider the possibility of a winless season.
Sometimes it’s good to remind oneself that the football universe extends beyond the AFL.
While I suffered another Tiger debacle, Ivanhoe enjoyed a 75-point win over St. Mary’s.
My son kicked a couple of goals and proudly relates the details of a pack mark that led to one of them.
I tell him that I’ve marked his next match in the diary.
Richmond 5-2 7-7 7-9 11-12 (78)
Melbourne 8-1 8-7 15-11 20-13 (133)
Goals Melbourne: Sylvia 5; Green 4; Bate 3; Petterd 2; Bail 2; McDonald, Jamar, Dunn, Bartram.
Richmond: Reiwoldt 3; Astbury 3; Tambling, Morton, Tuck, Nason, Taylor.
Best Melbourne: Maloney, McDonald, Sylvia, Green, Scully, Jones, Davey, Bruce.
Richmond: Moore, Tuck, Reiwoldt, Deledio, Cotchin.
Umpires Kennedy, McLaren, Grun.
Betfair Odds Richmond $3.60, Melbourne $1.28.
Our votes Maloney (Melb) 3, James McDonald (Melb) 2, Sylvia (Melb) 1.