Grand Final – Adelaide v Richmond: Jubilant Relief

In 2016, Richmond were so unwatchable, so pathetic, so outright frustrating and so upsetting that it was probably best to switch off the telly and go for a walk.

I think it was Round 22, we as a family went to the MCG with our gear on, our scarves as ever wrapped hopefully around necks and shoulders, tattered Tiger caps held together with nervous sweat and long, long years full of hurt and hope. We went in the car, listened to the ABC, parked at Dad’s work, walked through Fitzroy Gardens, bought our tickets and sat.

We sung the song as our boys ran out. We cheered when we goaled, and sighed when they did.

The Tiges played the worst game I’ve seen, stunk it up to the extent of leaving at half time. I think we kicked seven goals and still managed only to lose by a few kicks. Daniel Rioli was our best player.

We went to a restaurant in Footscray, ate Ethiopian food, looked at all the Doggies paraphernalia and cursed our footy club.

We cursed the Richmond Football Club, because we weren’t just sad and upset anymore, we were angry. This was supposed to be our time, where our guns would be at their best, where all those supposedly talented first round picks would play their 50th games and elevate to actual good players, where our older guys could retire happily in the knowledge that their club was better. Where memories of a seething Richo spitting and screaming and punching the ground would be replaced, where draft failures of years gone by are forgotten and disregarded, where Matty Knights and Wayne Campbell, Bowdo, Browny, Daff, Gas-man, “Sugar” Johnson and of course the big bloke himself could sit in a stand and watch their footy club burn the past from memory and create their own history.

It was anger, and the weight of disappointment and humiliation, year upon year. Even when we made the finals, we inevitably crashed and burnt.

We got pumped by Sydney in a game where I was with family friends and did not care. Then Deledio finally packed up and left, and who could blame him? Vickery, after years of being rewarded for having cool hair and being tall, was finally cut loose. All the mature-aged battlers who spent the year in the twos and were out of contract, gone. Lambert, Townsend, Butler, Grigg, Castagna, Hunt, Elton, Morris, Lennon and Conca, guys who were there and did nothing, you’re next.

Furious, furious with the club, the coach, the players, the management, the board, everything.

Dan Richardson speaks to cameras and tells them that the club didn’t undergo a full rebuild because the fans would not have accepted it. An attempted board coup takes place. Chris Yarran looks increasingly unlikely to ever play a game in the yellow and black. Damian Hardwick’s job is in danger. Richmond clear out every assistant coach without a 2017 contract. People notice that Dustin Martin, fresh off a podium Brownlow finish, is uncontracted beyond next year. Noise is made.

Richmond, again, stand on the edge of a cliff. All we need is a push.

And they don’t fall.

In the most un-Richmondy thing to happen in this situation, they settle.

Josh Caddy somehow ends up at Punt Road. Dion Prestia eventually arrives and an unwanted, undersized but a young ruckman by the name of Toby Nankervis is traded in. We get picks for Deledio and Vickery and bring experienced assistants, Blake Caracella and Justin Leppitsch.

And Neil Balme drops by as well.

Richmond find two small forwards, a contested beast and a key defender in the draft.

They adjust. They adapt.

Most importantly, they survive.

And they thrive.

Somehow the Tiger Train gets rolling again. Typified by their small forward line, their stingy backline and classy midfield, the Tigers become the pressure kings of the competition, after years spent playing soft, outside football. When they drop games in the middle of the season, they respond. When they lose heavily, they bounce back instantaneously. Only two sides are not bested by the Tigers in the entire year of football – fittingly, 2016’s Premiers, Footscray, and their opponent in the big one, Sydney.

Their youngsters show signs, with 37 Tigers playing games in the year. Only one player listed is yet to debut – defender Ryan Garthwaite. With a record of 15-7, the exact record of the Dogs of yesteryear, the Tigers finish 3rd, impossibly, after such a disaster last year. Dustin Martin signs a seven year, multi-million-dollar deal and is an unbackable favourite for the Brownlow Medal.

The Tigers win their first final since 2001 against the once-tyrants, Geelong. They back it up against the Acronyms from Sydney two weeks later and before Tiger fans can settle over the moment, before they can remember the year that was and acknowledge how far they’ve come, they’re in it.

They’re in it.

The Dogs of last year proved unable to replicate their heroics, the Swans too slow out of the blocks. The Cats again fall at the penultimate stage and it is the Crows, with their own stories and baggage, who close the gate and stand, face-to-face, with the Tigers on the summit.

I remember Prelim night as an out-of-body experience. I remember walking through Richmond with my beanie on and being numb, numb to everything, numb to the reality that had played itself out in front of my eyes, numb to the realistation that this isn’t someone else’s story, this is mine and it’s real and we’re there.

I remember high-fives and hugs because of the jumper you wore. I remember the drive home, the wrap-up on the airwaves, and watching the replay, twice. I remember the inevitable sickness that followed, mulching the garden for hours and hours with SEN in my ears and possibility hanging over everything and everyone.

I remember it all, and I’ll record every moment because my Dad was ten years old last time this happened. Because when I sleep all I think of is a booming voice, “number one … Nick Vlastuin”. Because I watched red, white and blue confetti last year and I saw they joy, the elation, the relief. I saw the release of years of hurt and the realization that this was real. Nothing could be taken away.

And then, there was one more game to play.

Dad got the ticket on Monday. Mum, Ollie and I got ours to Punt Road the day after. We bought both the papers every day. When Ollie went camping with his grandad on Sunday afternoon, he took his iPad to watch Dusty win the Brownlow. Every day where Mum went to work, she donned her Tigers cap and smiled.

Real.

We rung our mates and family, discussing everything. We dissected the opposition, we made match-ups and picked out weaknesses and strengths.

We forgot where we were, where we’d come from. This Richmond resurgence has been so sudden, so complete, so encompassing, that the darkness, the anger that had enveloped us was disregarded as a bump. The recession we had to have.

We spent Friday at the Grand Final Parade. We saw the men upon which our happiness depends on wave to tens of thousands of adoring Tigers and we felt the weight of the week sink, finally, in. Kicking the footy in the park with our scarves on and our heads in the clouds, we dreamed, just a little, just enough.

Packing our bags for the Grand Final was a moment. Setting the TV to record the game another. Preparing a wardrobe full of yellow and black caused tremors.

Moments, moments that could never be taken away.

Dad would tell me of the times we undertook the long, sad drive home, when all we had was a future to attempt to believe in and a hero in the #12. Now our team is in a Grand Final.

And it’s tomorrow.

Breakfast after a sleepless night. Donning the lucky hoodie for the last time. Ollie and Dad wear their old jumpers – both numbered #27, one for Sam Lloyd, the other for Stuey Maxfield. The Coodabeens on the wireless:

“Kicks it back, from whence it came.”

Goosebumps. Stories everywhere.

And then, parking the car. And then, the walk.

And because I’m sentimental, and because I’m nervous and terrified and possibly delirious, I find Paul Kelly on my phone. This one is a moment I’ve wanted to create ever since the opening riff of PK’s guitar in this musical masterpiece presented itself to me. A song that means Grand Final Day, hope, expectation and life all at once.

We’re walking through Fitzroy Gardens and I press play on a song called “Leaps and Bounds”.

We find Yarra Park as we always do, snaking through the crowds that have built shockingly quick. Tigers are given an affirmative nod; Crows fans are avoided. Punt Road is already heaving, already full of noise. We find our spot in the line, get chatting with a Tiger and her young cub. They’ve come from Mildura, because it’s Grand Final Day and because it’s Richmond.

Dad leaves for the ‘G’, hating himself for doing so, even as we attempt to appease guilt. Instead, we say “go us”, wave goodbye, look to Punt Road Oval.

On the asphalt path, there is a four-piece band, complete with bass guitar and trumpet. There are duffel coats, bomber jackets, hoodies and jumpers. There are old tattered beanies, brand new scarves, babies in strollers and old men with canes and beaming smiles.

Most amusingly, Mum points out, there are two old men offering face-painting services, rather wistfully. We question the toxicity of their paint, which looks suspiciously like Taubman’s. We laugh it off because it’s Grand Final Day, because we’re all here for one reason, because we’re all mates if you’re in yellow and black.

It hits about there.

It’s the last Saturday of September and somehow these magnificent men are here, with their logo on the forward 50, with a Grand Final patch on their jumper. They’ve hit the mountain with speed and climbed ever higher. We’ve waited for so inconceivably long for a year like this.

Now that it’s here, we have no idea what to do with ourselves. We make our noise and sing our song, but this is new and weird and will take some getting used to.

We’re in and we’ve got a rug on the grass. We acquaint ourselves with our yellow and black brothers and sisters, settle down.

This is going too fast. Getting a handle on the movement is about as easy as getting one on Dusty.

And then they’re running out to their song and taking photos and standing alongside each other and backslapping and come-on-boys and the siren’s gone.

A team we were so disappointed with have served the most delectable slice of humble pie in history.

The first moments worry the Punt Road faithful. Sloane, the ever-faithful Staffy, is wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, finding the pill at every stoppage. Greenwood is busy, the Crouch boys accumulating, ever accumulating. It is Sloane, then Betts, after a most uncharacteristic fumble from Tormund Giantsbane in #1.

We look round and find our own anxiousness reflected in our fellow Tigers’ faces.

But these Tigers have been questioned all year, and each time have responded with aplomb. And they, as ever, settle. But Riewoldt takes a hanger, kicks three points.

Groan.

Then Knight marks in the pocket.

Gulp.

He misses.

Faith restored, the Tigers get their first from Josh Caddy, add another through Mum’s second favourite beard, Bach Houli.

His left foot snap sees a calm settle over Punt Road Oval. They’ll be OK. We’re in this. Jack’s tackling, marking, everywhere, dragging Talia all over the shop. Dusty is quiet, but Prestia and Lambert have the football on a string.

But then the irrepressible blonde Staffy. And then Greenwood, back-to-back snaps. Jacobs is immense. Towna irks an incensed Lever; the battering ram is loose. Momentum restored, the South Australians return to the sheds ready to charge.

And they are held.

The Tiger defence is incredible. Grimes is all over Betts, at times illegally. Rance can’t stop marking the thing, Houli’s pace is showing. But the Crows midfield has shown some mettle in the first half, while Hartigan has stood strong at the back.

But Jack marks again. He’s having a circa 2011 T.Hawkins half. His snap is ugly and low, yet no Crow stands the goal.

Yes.

The game has turned. Grigg is in the ruck, forgoing the contest and throwing himself doggedly after the Sherrin. The ball is inside 50; Lever has Townsend’s jumper.

Well, barely.

The junkyard dog snags another and roars.

And, there is Cotchin, turning at the fifty. Quick hands. A teenage blur.

Graham, right peg, 35 metres. Grayyy-imm. That’ll do

And there is Prestia, hunting, bursting, kicking. Dusty, one out. Luke Brown is no match.

Another.

Brown limps off, at the half time siren. Punt Road visibly shimmers. Dad is on the phone and is very sure he’s in some hallucination. We say, “go us.” He says, to Mum: “I’m leaving you for Dustin.”

“Too late, he’s mine,” is her reply.

But we know football. We know Adelaide score quickly, that they can run. That they surely would be stung by their non-event of a second quarter, that they will respond. We know manic, insane pressure is as unsustainable as it is Richmond. We know, we are certain, that Tex Walker will have his say.

But were winning this game. And at the start of the third quarter, the most important five minutes of the game, we continue to win it.

While Crouch squared are always there, the blond mop of the Better Rory is accompanied by a nineteen-year-old with a decent kick on him. The youngest Tiger, the five-gamer, is taken high by his famed opponent. His kick is skewed right, curving left. Bingo.

They’re dominating the Crows, winning every clearance, breaking down the middle. Grigg marks, goals, then feeds Lambert. They’re screaming, jumping.

But the Texan. Mark at 40. Goal. He attempts to enflame his chargers. Apart from two brothers, a maligned Hartigan and the dangerous Laird, they’re subdued. Blanketed. Any forward foray is pushed back by Rance, ran down the ground by Houli, marked by Martin and swept inside the Tigers’ 50. They are heroic. Riewoldt is having some game, snagging a one-bite screamer, his second for the day.

And just quietly, forget Tom Boyd and Tom Hawkins, Jack Graham has stamped his name all over this thing. His kick from 45 is true and his name is thrust into Tiger folklore. Martin feeds Castagna for the Tiges’ 11th major and there’s a six goal lead. Josh Jenkins, who’s been genuinely absent up to this point, misses a chance at possibility and for neutrals, this thing is done.

But I can’t relax until we’re partying on Swan Street and tattooed as well as our newest Brownlow Medalist is.

Jack’s third big mark and second goal nearly has me, while others around are weeping.

But then Broad, a plumber from WA, boots the ball down the boundary line. On the ground, Townsend dumps another hapless Crow; Jack gathers the errant handball. Lambert, two bounces and inside 50, hands the ball to Dion Prestia. Snaps it.

We’re riding it home, home, and through.

Delirium. Steve Waugh’s made his last-ball hundred, we’ve voted out Howard, man has landed on the moon. Two consolation goals to the Crows have us a little nervous, but Towna and Butters put it away. Benny Gale is crying on screen, we cheer that. Richo bursts into tears on the boundary and we just about do as well. When Dusty boots his second and pulls at his jumper, we completely lose it.

Siren.

Scenes, in blurs of black and yellow. At one point, Ollie is on someone’s shoulders, then on the ground, then back on the same guy’s shoulders. We sing the song, with raw, grated voices. We hug everyone, everyone. I realise that I can’t lift Mum onto my own shoulders.

We experience our moment when each of our magnificent Tigers is welcomed upon stage. Dustin is our Norm Smith Medalist, and his complete jubilation is just magic. I think Houli’s four-quarter effort and Rance’s heroics were deserving of more accolades, but the brilliant young man in #4 was as incredible as he’s always been.

And we’re there. Yellow and black confetti in the sky, Richo presenting the cup, Tigers everywhere, Shawshank Redemption-esque in their ecstasy.

We make our way to Dad, back to the ‘G’ to see our heroes presented. We instead get a rendition of “Mr Brightside” from Jack Riewoldt, a moment that is as pure as it is unexpected. We cheer the yellow and black once more, meeting friends of the Saints’ cause yet wearing their yellow and black scarves – sure, they’re from Hufflepuff but who gives a damn. We spot the happiest Tiger of all in Mick Molloy – he is swamped as he makes his way, or tries to, down the heaving yellow-and-black horde on Swan Street.

We wear our scarves so we are embraced. We sing our song, again and again and again.

It’s surreal. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, and I doubt it ever will.

Yellow and black, now and forever.

 

ADELAIDE       4.2     4.7      5.10     8.12       (60)
RICHMOND     
2.3     6.4     11.8     16.12     (108)

GOALS
Adelaide:
Sloane 2, Walker 2, Betts, Greenwood, B. Crouch, Cameron 
Richmond:
Graham 3, Townsend 2, Martin 2, Riewoldt 2, Caddy, Houli, Grigg, Lambert, Castagna, Prestia, Butler

BEST
Adelaide: 
Jacobs, M. Crouch, Laird, Hartigan, B.Crouch, Sloane.
Richmond: 
Houli, Rance, Martin, Edwards, Graham, Prestia, Grimes, Astbury, Riewoldt, Lambert, Nankervis, Grigg, Townsend, Cotchin, Vlastuin, Broad, Caddy, Castagna, Ellis, Butler, McIntosh, Rioli.

VOTES

Martin (Rich) 1, Rance (Rich) 2, Houli (Rich) 3.

 

More 2017 Grand Final coverage here.

Comments

  1. Hey Paddy I’ve been waiting for your story!
    Remember when I said Lets replace fear and disappointment with hope and trust …… well I really didn’t expect it to work!!
    But it did! We did it …..but it still hasn’t sunk in has it?
    Wonder when it will …..?

  2. Brilliant. Great work Paddy. Have summed up what was the lot of a Tigers supporter but now is transformed.

  3. Jamie Mason says:

    Thanks Paddy. Left my family at Punt Road too. The whole day is a blur. What a time to be alive.

  4. steve todorovic says:

    Wonderful writing Paddy! The Tiger’s historian needs to be sent a copy of it so that it sits somewhere in the club museum, to let future generations have a true appreciation of just how much it meant to everybody. Please make sure you do send it in. Simon Matthews is the head of communications and marketing. You really deserve a wider audience.

  5. E.regnans says:

    Beautiful, Paddy.
    Yellow and black.
    Very well played.

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Love the Shawshank reference, Paddy. Congratulations mate. The sleeping giant has woken.

  7. Actually crying a little as I read this. Good work.

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