I went into the Hawthorn and Richmond game with trepidation. I was bullish about Richmond’s chances, despite everyone being keen throughout the week to tell me that we were a sneaky chance. I think that deep down – very, very deep down, in a tiny corner of my heart – I agreed with them. But I didn’t want to acknowledge that hope. That’s the one thing you don’t do as a Richmond supporter. As soon as you entertain the, however small, possibility that we could win the game, that’s it. We’re gone. In my mind anyway.
I even tipped Hawthorn to win by seven goals.
They were the untouchables. A betting agency even paid out something like 1.1 million dollars to people who had money on the Hawks winning the flag. It was really just a publicity stunt, but it encapsulated public sentiment on Hawthorn’s seemingly unbreakable two-handed grip on the premiership cup. But our boys took it up to them, and beat them at their own game.
There was a little bit of the unsociable Hawks about the Tigers on Friday night. Trent Cotchin, still a fresh-faced captain with a seemingly unmovable head of thick dark hair, marched straight up to Luke Hodge, the undisputed king of tough captains (although Joel Selwood might have something to say about that). Cotchin pushed Hodge around and got in his face before the ball had even touched the ground. Hodge seemed to be part amused and part incredulous at this upstart, lambasted by those “in the know” for his “weakness” and “lack of presence” as a captain over the past two years. Cotch was only 22 when he was elected captain. I’m 22 now, and I can’t imagine having the responsibility he had. He’s grown up in the role, and in consecutive weeks has taken it to Nat Fyfe and Hodge, two of the strongest-bodied midfielders in the competition. The AFL world seemingly has no time for patience, but Cotch’s emergence as captain is evidence that maybe it should.
Random thought – Is Deledio one of the more underrated number 1 draft picks in recent years?
It was an uncomfortable game to watch. The pressure was intense, and that was just what was being felt sitting on the couch. I imagine having Brian Lake continually breathing down your neck would be considerably worse. The Tigers hassled and harassed, giving the Hawks no time to set up. Loose men were picked up, and prior opportunity was a luxury. The only release for me came when Reece Conca had the ball. Conca’s been one of my favourites, almost purely for his “Conca Cuddles” after a goal. In his first AFL match after a season ruined by injury, he played one of his best games, and consistently used his speed to break down Hawthorn’s infamous rolling zone.
What was most impressive from Richmond was the four-quarter effort. Even though Hawthorn dominated the second quarter, kicking five goals to be two points in front at half time, the Tigers kept in touch with them – helped by a goal of both opportunity and skill from Kamdyn McIntosh, who almost lipped the ball up to his hands with the toe of his boot, evaded a diving defender and drove the ball deep into the cheer squad. But it was what came directly before that goal that was most exciting for Richmond fans. Ben Lennon continued to take his opportunities in the senior team, and managed a high but strong kick across his body, from the intersection of the boundary and 50m lines, to the top of the square, while being hounded out of play. It was an important goal against Hawthorn’s run of dominance, made more impressive by the youth and inexperience of the players involved.
Richmond were challenged, and responded. They came out after half time and kicked the only three goals of the quarter, all spectacular in their own way – Ty’s 50m banana after some fairly poor acting, Houli’s calm set shot and Lambert’s pounce after Hunt’s hard running and interception. Someone on Twitter (apologies to the author of that thought, I’ve forgotten who) has noted that Anthony Miles makes it almost a point of pride to be the last up from the pack, to be the one dragging himself off the ground and giving the ball to the umpire with obvious reluctance. During my ill-fated season of attempting to play basketball, when I was at an age where my lack of height wasn’t such a disadvantage, my coach told us to pretend that the ball was a lolly, and we wanted that lolly more than the other team. I don’t know what coaches have told Miles to picture the ball as, but whatever it is, it works. It seemed like the few times that Miles wasn’t the last one up; it was a young mini-Miles in Kane Lambert. Like Miles, Lambert has come off the rookie list to have a real impact mid-season on the team. While probably not adjusting to the speed of the game as quickly as Miles did (his brief GWS experience probably helping there), Lambert has bobbed up to kick goals at crucial times in the last few weeks, and his quick hands helped Richmond spread from the countless stoppages the Hawks’ pressure created.
The last quarter was a real test of nerves for Richmond supporters. It’s a strange feeling I’ve had to learn to cope with this year, being in front at the last change and a real chance to win the game. And it’s safe to say I’m not coping well. Feeling my stomach start to tighten with nerves, I made myself a big pot of peppermint tea. As Cyril Rioli took a shot for goal, the hand that poured the tea was shaking. I brought the cup to my lips, Gunston kicked a goal, and I gagged, nearly throwing up. My body acts oddly to nerves. Interviews, big matches playing, umpiring (netball) and watching (football) and uncertain social situations – my mind will be calm, but physically, I’m a wreck. I nearly vomited three times in the last 10 minutes of the match, literally sick with nerves about a match that, in the big scheme of life, was both irrelevant and incredibly important.
But when Ty was Ty, and marked and ran and evaded and unselfishly handballed to McIntosh who was in the worst position possible, and let three moments he could have kicked for goal sail past, I sagged back on the couch, knowing we were home. He had, funnily enough, wasted enough time in his moment of madness to make it nearly impossible for the Hawks to kick enough goals – especially with a forward-line seemingly shot after a whole game of Rance, Chaplin, Houli, Grimes, Batchelor, Hunt and Vlaustin, one of the most settled backlines we have had in my living memory at least, all playing out of their collective skin.
Richmond beat Hawthorn in three out of the four quarters. We’ve now beaten the Hawks in three out of the past four matches. In my book, three out of four ain’t bad at all.
P.S All week I had been dreading umpiring on Saturday (the day after the match). It was my turn to umpire the Open 1’s, and I had an awful feeling I would be given a team that is widely regarded as having the worst attitude towards the umpires in the competition. Every call you make is wrong, always, and they will let you know in no uncertain terms. Some of these grown women have reduced teenage girls to tears. When I knew for certain I had to umpire this team, I resolved to be Bachar Houli. To put my hand up to take the first kick in after a horror mistake the week before. To be on the front foot, and in control from the start.
It was one of my best matches I’ve ever umpired, and the team even thanked me after the game. So thanks, Bachar.