It was a game of halves, interrupted by six weeks and 10 other matches between the two sides. The first half was a throwback to the Geelong teams of the late 2000s, mixed with the Hawthorn of today. The second was played in the style that has the media up in arms – “The game is ruined! How can we fix it? Zones? No subs? More subs? 16 on the ground? Better umpires? More umpires? Less rules? More rules!”
I had attempted to write an article about the first half, but gave up when I realised I’d written 687 words about the first quarter. It was that sort of game. I had written:
“All throughout the week people brought it up with me – confident Sydney fans, miserable Essendon supporters keen to talk about anything but their forward line, suddenly-cocky North Melbourne people keen swing the talk back to their winning-Tasmanian form, and long-suffering Melbourne fans, their hearts broken by Adam Oxley and his intercept marking. Everyone always has an opinion on the Tiges, and for once, it was all positive.”
Again, people were keen to bring it up with me. Messages and tweets went flying in the minutes following the game. Again, North Melbourne supporters were cocky – “Did you just see Richmond cook it?” Adelaide fans were keen to reassert their dominance after their mid-season lapse (the Phil Walsh tragedy aside, of course) – “Typical Tiges?” But Collingwood people were strangely supportive – “bad luck with the game” – an odd kindred spirit in close losses. And Tiger fans were simply shattered. “Robbed.”
The first game was quick and direct, facilitated by the long and narrow Domain Stadium. Players ran down the ground with obvious enthusiasm, buoyed by the upset they felt brewing. Fremantle players responded to the Richmond pressure and broke lines themselves, albeit belatedly. The first quarter of the first game saw 11 goals kicked, in stark contrast to the two goals scrounged between the two teams in the first quarter of the second. The second game was a classic MCG slog – a cold and damp ground, the ball moving in inches towards the goals.
The games had different heroes. In the first, I wrote, “Ty became the forward every armchair expert knew he could be, and outmuscled two Fremantle defenders, first in the air, then, even more extraordinarily, on the ground.” In the second, Ty was in the stands, punished for Michael Jamison’s clumsiness and his own bad record. Shane Edwards has a broken leg, but in his absence, a young kid named Ben Lennon stood up. (The difference between commentators and ordinary people, one suspects, is the level of enjoyment they get out of “imagine” puns). Anthony Miles was a gun in both games, the Richmond version of Joel Selwood, always at the bottom of packs.
For Fremantle, I’d be lying if I said I could I remember exactly who played well the first time around. The exception is always Nat Fyfe, the man every single commentator in Australia has a not-so-secret crush on. He was dominant in the first, but was almost more noticeable this time around because of the physicality of Trent Cotchin, desperate to assert some authority and prevent him from running rampant. Sandilands, the man-mountain, is always a threat. But it was the curly-locked twins of the Dockers that got them over the line this time, Mayne and Mundy.
Going into the fourth quarter, I quietly couldn’t believe that we were still in front. I had absolutely no expectation that we were even a chance to win leading into the game. I was oddly fatalistic. I knew that somehow the Dockers would will themselves over the line. That didn’t mean it was any easier when it happened. To lead for so long, and then have it cruelly snatched away in the last minute, is more heart-breaking (short-term at least) than suffering a 10 goal loss.
I spent the last five minutes of the match taking out my nerves on my salad, stabbing spinach probably more viciously than it deserved with a fork. The plate was scratched quite severely by the time Houli kicked out. People who are a lot more footy tactically-educated than I can analyse the merits of his decision. But all I know is when I realised that he was kicking towards Kane Lambert, possibly the smallest player on the Richmond list, I accidently bit my tongue. As the acidic juice from the tomato I was eating seeped into the new cut, Mundy calmly slotted the goal, and that was that. All I was left with was a fiercely stinging tongue and bitter disappointment.
Richmond and Fremantle are rarely known for their epic matches or intense rivalry. But it’s growing. A few years ago, Fremantle pipped Richmond in Perth with a snapped goal from Hayden Ballantyne, after a goal umpire accidently blocked a certain Richmond goal from Matty White. That was a devastating loss. I may have even jumped in the shower to have a good cry afterwards (there were several such losses that year, the aftermaths merged into one big sobfest). This was another. But the most telling piece of unofficial, possibly inaccurate data, that I’ve only created through watching Richmond games, is that between then and now, we’ve barely lost a close game in that manner (maybe one against the Doggies last year?). We’ve always had someone on the goal line. There’s been obvious improvement. And if Richmond and Fremantle meet in the finals, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for the Tigers, with fire in their belly, to sneak over the line.