As a Richmond fan, I’m always sceptical, never comfortable. The last time I watched them was an absolutely awful game against St Kilda in the twilight of last year. I left wondering why I bothered going. At home that evening, I added those 2 and a bit hours to a piggy bank already full of hours and hours of despair and torture. But a new season brings new hope and I’m quietly satisfied with our summer trade period, our new assistant coaches and our list, despite the fact a lot of people have already put a line through our chances this year.
Getting on the train in Brunswick, Dad sends me a message. ‘6/35 O’Keefe, I give up, I have NFI.’ I turn the radio on and can’t believe what I’m listening to. O’Keefe, this non-spinning spinner, has turned a test match on its head? It’s only the first Halley’s Comet of the evening.
In an eerily empty Etihad Stadium, much of my focus is on the new big man for Richmond. Ruckmen have long been the bane of the Banister family’s footballing existence, but at last, we have a new one in Toby Nankervis. After watching his evening, I can safely say he is going to add ten years to Dad’s lifespan. He takes marks, he kicks it well and while his running style isn’t exactly poetry in motion, I’m just glad he’s actually moving.
Even though Adelaide are undermanned, their forward line of Betts, Walker, Jenkins and Lynch is still more than a handful. The most pleasing and obvious thing, though, is our desire to move the ball on quickly and to use handball to spread from the contest. While the intent is there, the execution is lacking at times. A couple of utterly stupid decisions to play on with opponents not one metre away have me pulling my hair out.
We’re still horribly inefficient going inside forward 50, even with this quicker ball movement. It plagues us for much of the first half, but even when we’re behind at half-time, I know we’ve been far superior. As annoying as it is that it isn’t showing on the scoreboard, I feel it’s only a matter of time.
I watch the third quarter sat behind the Tigers interchange bench and what I notice the most is that at any given time, one or two of the big guns are off. Prestia, Caddy, Cotchin, Martin and Ellis all seem to be spending a decent amount of time on the bench. The first two have added some serious depth to our midfield, something which became even more apparent when I checked the stats after the game. 13 players with over 15 possessions, and no one with more than 24. Almost Bulldog-like. Maybe not quite, but a far cry from the blowout numbers, followed by nil, that our big names enjoyed last year.
From this vantage point, we get a perfect view of another Steve O’Keefe sort of a miracle, the evening’s second comet. Ivan Maric picks up a handball from Grimes in heavy traffic in the back pocket. It’s enough to make your heart skip a beat. No. No, please, Ivan, move it on. Instead, he sells a bit of candy – this isn’t going to end well. Except, Crow Troy Menzel has been completely done in. Bamboozled. He’s just jumped out the way and Ivan is tearing into the clear. It gets better. He whacks a bullet pass over 40 metres to an unmarked Caddy in the centre-square. Two handballs and two more kicks, and we’ve gone Ivan Maric in the back pocket to a goal in fifteen seconds.
Surely this isn’t the real world. Ruckmen can’t dazzle us like that forever – there’s no way. Of course, the illusion is shattered pretty quickly, but thankfully not by a Richmond big man. The Crows second ruck, Reilly O’Brien, lines up for a dolly thirty out, directly in front, and duly manages to kick the thing out on the full. It’s probably gone at a forty-five-degree angle off his foot in order to actually miss. Degree of difficulty – ten out of ten.
We’re in control now, and duly go on to kick away to what should’ve been a much easier win. I don’t want to get ahead myself – it’s the first hit out – but I think things are tracking well. Rioli, Castagna and the recruits all stepped up. The game plan seems to have changed significantly over the summer. A fit again, freshly shaved Kamdyn McIntosh is good off half-back. Jack, fresh from ankle surgery, has gone back to his old, jumping ways. And we seem to have found a ruckman, a decent bloody ruckman, ironically the man to finally replace the candy man Maric when he hangs up the boots. Overall, it’s a far cry from the torture of that game against St Kilda. A new season, a new hope. Let’s pray it isn’t proven to be false by the end of April, this time.
RICHMOND 0.1.2 0.4.6 0.9.7 0.14.8 (92)
ADELAIDE 0.3.3 0.5.5 0.8.8 0.10.13 (73)
Richmond: Castagna 3, Riewoldt 3, Lloyd, Griffiths, Vlastuin, Butler, Nankervis, McIntosh, Martin, Caddy
Adelaide: Jenkins 4, Hampton 2, Beech, Kelly, Betts, Douglas
Richmond: Nankervis, Maric, Caddy, Grimes, Prestia, Butler, Castagna, Rioli
Adelaide: Laird, Betts, Lynch, Cameron, Jenkins
Umpires: Hosking, Rosebury, Hay, Harris
Official crowd: 7262 at Etihad Stadium