Picture, if you will, a procession of Tigers crossing Yarra Park for today’s clash with West Coast at the MCG. Not for this mob the normal accoutrements of yellow and black jackets, scarves and beanies. Old clothes have become new. One of the marchers is adorned with the mayoral regalia and chain worn by Freddy Swift when he was made honorary mayor of Richmond after the Tigers’ drought-breaking premiership in ’67. Someone else carries the fearsome Tiger skin from the board room table at Punt Road. Another punter has commandeered legendary super fan Geoff Nicholls’ famous tiger stripes suit. They’re convinced upon the evidence of wins over Carlton and Collingwood in the first two rounds that the Tigers are back in contention and that new outfits are in order. A fiercer, more muscular midfield courtesy of a beefed up weights program and the arrival of Prestia and Caddy. A willingness to run and take more chances. A rampaging Dustin Martin unleashed as a deep forward to sow seeds of blind panic amongst defenders unable to compete with him in man-on-man duels.
Or will it be a case of a little girl on the concourse outside the stadium exclaiming “Mummy! Those Tigers have got no clothes on!” bringing the whole edifice crashing down. More emperor moths than emperors? Will the Eagles pull our pants down today and end our little delusion? The football world awaits a real test of the Tigers’ credentials.
They’re doing alright so far, the West Coasters. A comfortable win over North at Etihad in the opening round followed by victory over a fatally wasteful St. Kilda in Perth.
Despite the balmy autumn sunshine storms are forecast for later in the afternoon. I fantasise about torrential rain sometime in the second half with the home team holding a handy lead with further scoring all but impossible. All eyes are on Richmond’s number four when the players enter the arena. No helmet for Dusty Martin despite the fact he suffered a fractured cheekbone in the win over Collingwood. They breed ‘em tough in Castlemaine.
Somehow the Tigers stay in touch with their more fancied visitors in the first half. The Eagles dominate stats such as possessions, inside 50’s and marks inside 50. Mitchell gathers 12 touches in the opening term and is backed up by Gaff, Shuey and Masten. Much to the consternation of the home fans, their smaller midfielders are masters of the art of milking frees with subtle shrugs of the shoulders, something Richmond hasn’t seen since the heydays of Jake King and Robin Nahas. But the Eagles squander their opportunities with inaccurate shooting at goal.
When Todd Elton infringes as third man up in a ruck contest, Jack Darling converts the easy chance and the Eagles lead by 13 points 21 minutes into the second term. Yet the Tigers keep themselves within reach with a number of miraculous majors. In the first quarter the fleet-footed Dan Butler, making only his third appearance in the colours, collects a loose ball near the centre. He burns off Jeremy McGovern, has three bounces, surges into the empty goal square and pops it through. In the second term Martin gets his hands on the pill after an errant pass from Riewoldt, glances over his left shoulder while being pursued by an opponent and drills it straight over the goal umpire’s cap from 40 metres out on a sharp angle. Daniel Rioli saves the best one of all for the third term. He overcomes a couple of rivals deep in the pocket before shrugging off a Brad Sheppard tackle and dishing it off to Prestia. Prestia immediately hands it back and Rioli scores with a banana kick at an extreme angle to the roar of the Tiger faithful.
Ominous clouds have been gathering since late in the first half. Fans track the coming storm on their iphones. Halfway through the third quarter lightning flashes, thunder rumbles, raindrops tumble and supporters scramble like refugees up the steps to shelter. The game is turning out like my fantasy. The Tigers cling to a narrow lead with goals now at a premium in an old-fashioned slogfest in driving rain.
There’s tension galore in the final term. Richmond leads by six points at the final break. A single goal could swing the balance either way. Martin, Cotchin, Conca, Houli and Rance fight, scrap and knock it forward. But the goal won’t come! Butler is awarded a lucky free but shanks it from point blank range. Then the release occurs at the 22-minute mark. Brandon Ellis gets a quick kick forward and the ball drops into Riewoldt’s hands. Jack calmly slots it from 20 metres out, putting the Tigers up by 11 points. Ecstasy in the stands! They won’t catch us now! Rioli adds the coup de grace four minutes later after Ellis causes a spillage, enabling the little goalsneak to pounce and run into the open goal.
Now we’re thinking spring fashions. Some smart apparel for campaigning in September? Seems like a good fit to me.