SOMETIMES WE WIN

I make my way up the escalator at Southern Cross Station in a sanguine mood. The Tigers are no longer winless. All parallels with Fitzroy in ’64, the last league team to endure an entire season without a victory, are banished. Richmond may be on the bottom of the ladder, but hey, we win sometimes.

Last weekend the Tigers vanquished Port Adelaide in conditions resembling a game of water polo, played with as much ferocity as the famous bout between Hungary and the USSR in the Melbourne Olympics.

Can the Tigers pull off another upset and prevail over the Saints?

Early proceedings suggest it’s not going to happen tonight.  St. Kilda applies its close-checking, tight-zoning, fierce-tackling game in an attempt to slowly strangle its opponent. The Tigers hardly enter their forward 50 in the first ten minutes. From laying a record total of 142 tackles against Port, they find themselves on the receiving end as they are relentlessly locked down and smothered in the clinches. Even when they find themselves in the clear, they strongly suspect they are about to be crunched, kick hurriedly and meekly relinquish possession to Saints lurking further up the field.

The only thing stopping St. Kilda is its wastefulness in front of goal. That, and the fact they appear completely disinterested in proceedings after establishing their initial supremacy. It’s as if they are doing no more than necessary as they await the return of their stricken captain, Nick Reiwoldt. It’s 2-3 to 0-3 at quarter-time and about as interesting as watching mildew form on bathroom tiles.

Then Reiwoldt’s cousin from Tasmania takes a hanger at the end of a long lead out on the wing. With Jack in career-best form and being nominated as a possible Coleman Medallist, most of the press build-up to this clash has majored on his rise to prominence. The grab appears to ignite the Saints’ collective memory of their champion spearhead. They boot five in an electric ten-minute burst, surging to a 44-point break by the 18-minute mark of the quarter.  It looks as though they have regained their ruthless streak. Brendan Goddard is pure silk in a sea of flannelette shirts. Montagna runs hard and provides silver service delivery to his leading forwards. Stephen Milne, the irritating little man that opposition supporters love to hate, bounces around the forward zone and boots two in as many minutes. He salutes the crowd after skidding one through from a seemingly impossible angle. Clarke and Ray keep the party happening in the middle.

The Tigers had been winless up until Round 10. Now they threaten to go goalless in Round 12. The spell is broken when Reiwoldt steals a pass meant for Ben McAvoy and pops it through at the

21-minute mark of the term. All the publicity appears to have done him no harm.

Richmond is five goals down at half-time and seemingly down for the count.

But the Tigers don’t believe it. Tuck and Martin continue to win contested possessions. Martin provides some imperious don’t argues in fending off the attention of opponents he has no right to after just 10 games in the big time. Tambling, Newman, Cousins and Deledio lift their work rate. Del Santo and Hayes are down on their normal efficiency. Things start to go the way of the underdogs. The Tigers boot the next four, making it seven of the last eight and draw to within 12 points in the third quarter. Andrew Collins lays a diving tackle on Sam Gilbert in the goal square, wrests the ball from his  grasp and soccers it through the legs of another defender for a six-pointer. Punters begin to contemplate the possibility of a boilover.

Reiwoldt is too strong for Blake in body-on-body contests. He boots three for the term. Ross Lyon is forced to move Sam Fisher onto him. This denies the Saints the rebound that Fisher provides as an attacking defender, something vital to their game plan. He sends Goddard to patrol the half-back line.  The big number 18 continues where he left off in the midfield, gathering the ball at will and flawlessly laying it off to teammates.

True to form, the Tigers turn the ball over. The Saints respond with two majors and resume control. The Richmond supporters around me blame the umpires and Stephen Milne. One Saints fan simply laughs to himself. He can afford to. Winners are grinners, as the saying goes and his Saints are on the way to another finals campaign, something the unfortunates in yellow and black can only dream about.

After their brave counter-attack in the third term, the Tigers have only one more goal left in them. Reiwoldt marks and converts for his sixth in the closing minutes of the game. With Collins adding two, the team is restricted to just a pair of goal kickers for the entire match.

Milne finishes with 5-5 and drives the Richmond cheer squad to distraction. Their attempts to put him off his game with some well-aimed barbs prove fruitless. There are still enough Sainters in the audience to applaud his goal celebrations.

St. Kilda marches in by 38 points.

Yeah, we win sometimes, but it was most unlikely that we were ever going to do it against the Saints. But as for our next opponents, West Coast fresh off the plane from Perth, we’ve got to be a chance.

As for St. Kilda, I must admit to a grudging respect for that dinky drum roll in their theme song.

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