BORDER WARS

By John Green

We would all have to agree that the sport-as-war metaphor has been taken a little too far at times, especially by military history buffs like Mick Malthouse. But allow me to indulge myself for a moment. If I was comparing today’s Richmond-Melbourne clash to a famous battle, which conflict would I refer to? Napoleon versus The Rest of Europe at Waterloo? The Union versus the Confederacy at  Gettysburg?   The Australians against the Germans at Tobruk? Nothing of the sort. Think instead, of an obscure  border war between Argentina and Chile in the early 1900’s. It’s hardly remembered today, even by the neighbours who were at each other’s throats a century ago. If you should backpack around South America, be sure to thumb a lift over the remote Uspallata Pass in the Andes where you can see a monument dedicated to the skirmish.

There are many sporting rivalries which have captured the imagination of footy fans. Richmond and Carlton in the seventies. Essendon and Hawthorn in the eighties. Geelong and Hawthorn in the present era. Unfortunately, the meeting between Richmond and Melbourne, co-tenants at the MCG for almost 50 years, doesn’t rate highly on the scale. What we have is a clash between two Victorian clubs keeping company with easy beats Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney in the bottom four. The loser may as well become accustomed to it. The status of being Victoria’s weakest team is up for grabs.

When this year’s fixtures were released Richmond fans knew without a doubt that this was the Tigers’ first genuine chance of winning a game in a very challenging first five rounds. This is even more apparent because the Melbourne Football Club, the oldest one of its type in the world, is in such disarray. The death of Jim Stynes, the unfounded allegations of racism levelled at coach Mark Neeld’s treatment of his indigenous players and the controversy surrounding inappropriate Facebook entries by the former CEO of Energy Watch, resulting in the Demons turning their backs on a few million dollars in sponsorship. Melbourne has a new sponsor, Webjet, which means that players and officials can have access to some cheap holiday flights in September.

If the Tigers lose today, then reporters are going to be camped outside Punt Road for their obligatory “Tigers in crisis again” headlines. The supporters will be a trifle upset as well, because it is one of those rare occasions when they actually expect to win.

Early in the second quarter an inglorious defeat looks like a real possibility. The Tigers gain a 20-point lead in the first term before a run of four unanswered Melbourne goals on either side of the first break puts them up by five points. Up until this stage, Melbourne has made more errors than the Tigers. But now the balance has shifted  and the Tigers make a series of howlers . Goals result when Martin sprawls into Jones’ back, Newman kicks directly to Watts and Rance clips him across the ear, giving  away a 50-metre penalty. It is a contest of mutual ineptitude. Richmond steadies, but the lead is only eight points at half time.

Halfway through the third term the Tigers break the game open with goals to Grigg, Martin, Nahas and Cotchin in a decisive five-minute burst. Martin’s goal, in which he seizes the ball at the centre bounce and scorches away from his flailing pursuers, electrifies  teammates and supporters. The Demons slide into disarray. Big Ivan Maric slots his first major in Richmond colours from a free kick following a Melbourne interchange infringement. That ‘s  five goals in ten minutes.  Richmond dominates the quarter to the tune of 9-3 to 1-0. Demon supporters become despondent while Tiger fans are able to roar their approval, relax in the autumn sunshine and speculate on the final margin. Grigg, Tuck, Foley, Deledio and Conca monopolise possession and control the midfield. Grigg, in particular, displays an uncanny ability to isolate himself in hectares of space. After being initially nullified by McKenzie, Cotchin emerges and boots some opportunist goals. Houli sets up play from the back, Rance gets on top of Clark after some early scares in the air and Morris is like a wild dog going after a leg of lamb left outside a butcher shop.  There’s not much happening for the Dees.  Jeremy Howe displays a clean pair of hands in marking contests and Frawley maintains his reputation of having the wood on Jack Riewoldt. Infant captain Jack Grimes tries to make a statement by slinging Daniel Jackson to the ground in a tackle after both players cross the boundary line. Jackson falls on top of him and Grimes is knocked out.

When you’re a struggling team you enjoy the victories whenever they come your way. Today the Tigers have successfully defended their territory. But let’s put it in context. They have seen off a rival in their bid not to make the top four, but to get out of the bottom four.

Both clubs would prefer to fight their border war at the top end of the table.

Comments

  1. Very thoughtful summary, John. I wrote the Eagles/Melbourne game for the book last week, and I can’t remember seeing a more inept senior club than Melbourne. The rebuilding excuse doesn’t wash for me as they have had top draft picks for a while now.
    The case for a 14 team serious sporting competition is compelling as Mr Wrap observed on Friday. It won’t happen for TV/legal/parochial reasons – but the consequence is the uncompetitive swill that is dished up too regularly these days.
    I am tossing up between Eagles/GWS and catching up on some work. Think music…………………..
    OK – footy wins.

  2. Martin Reeves says:

    Thanks John, good summary again. It was a horrible game up until half time, but thankfully our second half was much improved. Still a lot of unanswered questions for me, but some good signs to take into next week against Geelong.

  3. “Mutual ineptitude”. Brilliant! The implication is so much clearer than “you can only play as well as the opposition lets you”.

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