Going troppo

By John Green

It doesn’t seem right.

Australian football was originally meant for “gentlemen interested in keeping the muscles in full vigour during the winter months”, as stated in an article in Bell’s Life on July 31,1858. Thomas Wills, one of the founding fathers of the game, wrote in a letter to the same publication earlier in that month, “Now that cricket has been put aside for some months to come and cricketers have assumed somewhat of the chrysalis nature (for a time only it is true) but at length will again burst forth in all their varied hues, rather than allow this state of torpor to creep over them, and stifle their now supple limbs, why can they not , I say, form a football club, and form a committee of three or more to draw up a code of laws.”

Wills rests in the Heidelberg cemetery just a few long drop kicks from where I live. What would he make of the spectacle I’m observing on my television screen from far north Queensland? It’s mid winter in Melbourne. The forecast today is for showers, storms and possible hail. If the Tigers were playing their home fixture against the Gold Coast Suns at the MCG I would be shivering in my normal seat in the members and relishing every minute of it, making the visitors from the tropics as unwelcome as possible. And fully expecting the four points. Yet the Queenslanders and visitors from the south are dressed in t-shirts and shorts. Mist shrouds the summits of rainforest-clad mountains.

With respect to the Cairns Australian Football League and clubs from the pointy end of Queensland like the Port Douglas Crocs, what are the Tigers doing there? I know, I know, CEO Benny Gale sold our home game because we need the dough. We need to clear our debt so we can match the football department spending of the wealthy clubs like Collingwood, Essendon and West Coast,  coincidentally filling the top positions on the ladder.

Like nineteenth century missionaries being lured to darkest Africa or the Pacific islands on the promise of winning souls from amongst the heathen, we were lured north to meet the Suns in 2011. We would pocket the cash and boost the percentage, right? But just like those missionaries who succumbed to malaria or ended up in cooking pots, we came to a sticky end. The Suns wiped the floor with us. It’s the last time they won a match, and today we return to the place where we were unceremoniously ambushed a year ago.  Add the defeat at the hands of Port Adelaide in Darwin in the same season and we’re talking about the sale of eight points and a place in last year’s finals.

Clearly, the Tigers of Richmond are more Siberian than Bengal.

A shock before the bounce. Ivan Maric, so vital to Richmond’s resurgence this year, is out of the selected side with a groin strain, along with Griffiths. Graham and Webberley make their first appearances for the year as their replacements. Unfortunate, but not fatal. The Suns have forgotten how to win. Last year the Tigers were unable to cope with a cyclonic wind roaring straight down the ground. Today there is no breeze to speak of.

I settle back with the family to experience Richmond’s eighth victory of the season. Who knows, beat the Suns by enough and we might even find ourselves in the eight tonight. I’m already thinking ahead to the next two weeks when we meet North Melbourne and Carlton. The Kangaroos’ seven-goal hero Drew Petrie was subbed off with a leg injury in the third quarter last night and Ziebell will probably be cited by the match review panel. As for the Blues, surely Judd is going to be rubbed out for at least two weeks for his spiteful chicken wing assault on Leigh Adams. Walker tore a thigh muscle and Jamison was reported. Opportunity knocks for the Tigers.

But by the time on period of the second quarter all my cheerful optimism has evaporated. The Suns have soared to a completely unexpected 36-point lead. It seems that Richmond’s scratchy wins over the other cellar dwellers in Melbourne and GWS were not the efforts of a contender merely going through the motions, but a genuine representation of where Richmond sits in the pecking order. Late goals to Graham and Riewoldt reduce the margin to 24 points at the long break. It is the sixth time this year that the winless Suns have led at half time.

Things go according to script in the third term. Richmond lifts its intensity and forces the young Suns into errors. This is more like it. There is only so much that Gary Ablett can do. Riewoldt puts us up by two points halfway through the term. If he doesn’t mark it, Nahas snaps at the heels of the pack and kicks goals himself; three for the quarter. That makes seven unanswered majors for the visitors and normal transmission has been restored. We’re four points up at three quarter time and the mood in the household has lifted considerably.

Cotchin is heroic. He singlehandedly kept the Tigers within reach in the first half. At the 20-minute mark of the final term he squirts out a handball to Addam Maric, who curls it home. That’s it, mission accomplished. We’re 18 points up. Riewoldt has five and Nahas four. Thank you Lids, Tucky, Griggy and young Brandon Ellis. See you next weekend at the G, boys.

Then Caddy boots a long bomb for the Suns. No problem, we’re into time on. The Tigers chip it around. Derickx fumbles, allowing the ball to be swept forward by the Suns to Harbrow for another goal. Four points in it with 25 seconds to go. I feign indifference for the benefit of my clearly agitated family.

“Don’t worry. We just have to win the centre clearance and hang on to it.”

But our vulnerability at the centre bounces without big Ivan Maric is exposed once again. Grigg gets boot to ball but his kick is smothered by Prestia. It’s still in the circle. McKenzie sends the Suns forward, but it’s forced out wide. Matera gathers the ball by the boundary and centres it, landing it in the arms of the unattended Karmichael Hunt, only 25 metres out from goal and directly in front. The siren sounds. We can’t believe what we’re witnessing.

“Come on rugby boy, let’s see what you can do.”

We see it, alright. Hunt calmly slots it and the Suns converge into a joyful huddle. I hurl my notepad to the floor and my teenage son kicks the coffee table and storms off to his bedroom. My wife and daughter don’t say a word. This scene, with varying degrees of destruction, must be being repeated in thousands of Richmond-supporting households across the country. My wife offers me a consoling hug but I decline, stoically informing her that “I don’t want to talk about it.”

How we celebrated when Jordan McMahon booted the winner after the bell against Melbourne in 2009. This is the first time I can remember this happening to Richmond. I had no idea it would feel so devastating. We lost the game and then won the game before it was cruelly taken away from us. I had planned to kick back and watch the Collingwood-Geelong match after spending a satisfying late afternoon watching the Tigers prevail. Now I can’t bear to watch another game of footy.

We’ve done it again. We not only sold the game, but the four points as well. There is no way this would have happened in Melbourne. I can’t bring myself to give any credit to Gold Coast for storming back from a seemingly impossible situation. Instead, I look for scapegoats. Benny Gale. The entire Richmond playing list. The recruiters. The AFL for creating an expansion team with a former rugby player standing by himself in the hot spot at Cazaly’s Stadium at 6:50pm on Bastille Day in 2012.

And let’s not forget Queensland Tourism.  There is no way I will ever set foot in that state again.

Ah, my beloved Tigers. We might be a laughing stock, but if we keep selling games at least we’ll be a debt-free laughing stock.

Comments

  1. John (and Mr Wrap and the VVVVVLSPRF) your boys record north of the Tropic of Capricornia, reminded me of this cautionary warning that begins Xavier Herbert’s first novel “Capricornia”:
    “Although that northern part of the Continent of Australia which is called Capricornia was pioneered long after the southern parts, its unofficial early history was even more bloody than that of the others. One probable reason for this is that the pioneers had already had experience of subduing Coasters in the South and hence were impatient of wasting time with people who they knew were determined to take no immigrants. Another reason is that the Coasters were there more numerous than in the South and more hostile because used to resisting casual invaders from the near East Indies. A third reason is that the pioneers had difficulty in establishing permanent settlements, having several times to abandon ground they had won with slaughter and go slaughtering again to secure more. This abandoning of ground was due not to the hostility of the natives, hostile enough though they were, but to the violence of the climate, which was not to be withstood even by men so well equipped with lethal weapons and belief in the decency of their purpose as Punt Road builders of Empire.”
    Benny should have been better read than to send them to such hostile climes.

  2. pamela sherpa says:

    Poor old Richmond. How will they ever cope if they actually make the eight and have to travel interstate to play a final? I suppose they will just whinge a bit more.

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