Big Ifs and Other Dreams

Richmond lost to Sydney by 47 points.

There should be no need to discuss the result beyond that convincing margin of victory. The Bloods did what they do- Played relentless football, won the contests and broke the game open when it was there to be taken. It’s difficult to judge contenders against the Swans for the simplest reason, they are ‘next level.’ They sit up in the rarified air of a side that has the experience of winning when it counts and they play a system that is now ingrained in their footballing DNA.

It is difficult to find fault in anything they do. They are precise with the football in hand and fanatical with intent when you have it. Their pressure is so intense that even bearing witness to the contest exhausts. I have no love for either Sydney or West Coast but the epic 05, 06 Grand Final pairing gave me heart palpitations. The sheer weight upon every action felt suffocating. Up on the high-wire it only takes one mistake, one half-fumble, to turn the contest. Sydney prey on their opponents will, push them and prod them until they crack.

With that in mind, allow me to put forward the suggestion that Richmond were actually pretty good against the Swanies. Sure they got done convincingly on the scoreboard. Sure they couldn’t grind it out with the Bloods….but they did give a reasonable account of themselves. There is no shame in coming up short against a seasoned side, the reigning premiers no less. The Tigers are on the rise, finding the framework of their style of game through trial and error and learning on the fly. They have taken some fearful hammerings this season. Side’s having got a hold of them punish their lack of composure. The Tiges have yet to find the vital ability to regroup in-game. That is the skill that comes with hard earned experience- Lock the game down, regroup and counter-attack.

The fear was that another good run of results could be haunted by a North belting; that the Tigers would wilt under the pressure of a big-time opponent and show a soft underbelly. This loss felt different though. They didn’t get blown out, they were outplayed sure, but they weren’t sitting ducks.

There is no such thing as moral victories. There are no losses that you ‘have-to-have,’ or defeats that ‘feel’ like victory. That is all semantic rhetoric devised by losers. Losses are always just what they appear to be. Everything else is splitting hairs to make you feel better.

But…

Just sometimes you can lose to a great side and sense something positive arriving along with the hurt of defeat. Richmond got a taste of a big time premiership threat and were shown what needs to be perfected to make that grade. They were lead to the higher ground by Sherpas. Sydney rest upon the mountain peak, they are elite. It won’t hurt the Tiges to view at close quarters what makes the Bloods great.

In stark contrast was the massacre of Geelong. The Cats have been to the summit and were assumed to be making their way down into the valley beyond. Perish the thought. Geelong are merciless. St.Kilda were disposed of with a contempt bred, in part, of Matthew Scarlett’s intensity. It is confronting to hear a man who declares himself a paid up member of the-‘What-happens-on-the-field-stays-on-the-field,’ collective, break that code so brutally. Especially with no shortage of venom and no sense of hypocrisy. The righteous verve of his assertions in print made stark reading. It was an insight into the Geelong machine. The ruthlessness of Scarlett’s vendetta against Nick Maxwell, waiting an entire year to serve his dish of cold revenge in the midst of the agony of Grand Final defeat, reveals their character. The vindictiveness of Scarlett’s actions are less important than the intensity of his pride. Once pricked, it could only be sated by total domination.

In a distant time, before the hoops of Geelong became the exemplar of sustained brilliance, Bomber Thompson declared that the list the Cats were building would surpass the Saints. I remember snorting with derision. Saturday night was a visit from that ghost. Bomber’s words now haunt me. Where once I thought he was talking out of turn, I can now see how horribly, completely,right he was. St.Kilda were KO’d. The defensive stance of a playing style that they have always relied upon took blow after blow earlier in the season and still had enough resolve to come out of the battering with a series of combinations of their own. That resolve has now left this team. The Saints spent an entire match hard up against the ropes being battered with merciless combinations. Geelong have no sympathy for the fallen and why should they?

When Ali knocked Liston down in their infamous second fight, he stood over him screaming. He wasn’t celebrating his victory, rather he was demanding that he got up. He was fearful that the ease with which he had taken out the champ would arouse suspicion that Liston had taken a dive. It spoke more of Ali’s professional pride than his obvious talent to win the fight. He demanded so much of himself that he was genuinely shocked when his opposition didn’t appear to reciprocate that determination to succeed. It is hard to believe that Geelong and St.Kilda were once heavyweight contenders. The Cats simply obliterated a team that was once their equal. That brief moment of parity seems so long ago now. This was a horrible mismatch even Don King would be embarrassed to promote.

Sydney, Geelong and Hawthorn are the triumvirate that the premiership seems destined to come from. Ordinarily there is folly in accepting that hypothesis this far out from finals action…but this season feels bereft of challengers to the trinity. The bunfight is over finals places and it is hard to see any of those looking to gain entry to the eight demanding attention from the top. Essendon, Fremantle, Richmond and Collingwood all have more questions to ask of themselves than answers to the top three’s hegemony.

That’s not to say that a challenger won’t rise from these mean streets. Hell, I’m still attempting to process the shock of Sydney winning the big one last year. I was so confident that Hawthorn were going to win that it barely entered my line of vision that Sydney were….well Sydney. Their victory wasn’t as against the odds as I had supposed, it just took a huge dose of conviction on their behalf. With Richmond that conviction will arrive with a big September scalp. ‘If’ they win their final then the belief will gush forth…….

Ahhhhhh, nothing like a big ‘IF’ to excite the footballing senses.

Comments

  1. The Wrap says:

    In the meantime AD and his 2IC are over in NY to see how the game can be equalised. Does the AFL know anything about football and football clubs either than how to fit them into their own agenda?

    I’ve watched the Tigers shake off the disaster that were the Wallace Years, and build a team under Coach Hardwick. I’ve seen a basket case at Alberton re-invent itself under Coach Hinckley, CEO Thomas & Prez Koch.

    And I’ve watched Melbourne make wrong decision after wrong decision until they’re the gibbering mess we see running around before us now. What can Demetriou and McLachlan possibly bring back from the US that they couldn’t have picked up by reading American sports magazines? Except a large travel bill, some duty free perfume and a box of Cuban cigars. Oh, and a convoluted re-structuring of the draw to fit some image they’ve conjured up over the drambue & caviar on the way home, up there in the pointy end.

Leave a Comment

*