The Unfriendly Skies



Tiger Airways has been grounded indefinitely.

Seven weeks ago the tiny budget airline intruded into the airspace of the marauding Bombers and caused them to crash-land. That 16-point Richmond victory in the Dreamtime at the G clash of the sash was the first of five losses in a row for Essendon.

But a couple of things have happened since then. Last weekend the Tigers were annihilated by Carlton to the tune of 103 points. Essendon somehow engineered a stunning four-point win over the previously undefeated Geelong.

Now the Tigers are marooned on the tarmac and stuck in the path of the Bombers, who are poised to take to the skies again. Will the Tigers manage to take flight, or will the Bombers clean them up and leave shards of wreckage in their wake?

The Tigers are a young team. Things are finely balanced for this Saturday night clash. Youngsters need to feel that they are on the rise. Richmond has achieved five and a half wins so far, but needs at least eight to feel that it is truly are on the way up. If they fall away from this point, the kids will grow accustomed to losing. They will feel, deep down, that while they are good enough as individuals to play a few games at AFL level, as a unit they lack the ability to be serious contenders.

I am concerned that the Bombers will sweep the floor with them tonight. Young ruckman Andrew Browne is absent with a rib injury and the Tigers have decided against replacing him with his predecessor, Angus Graham. Instead, they expect Ty Vickery to do the job with assistance from Jayden Post and Ben Griffiths. Vickery is playing well in attack and provides an alternative target to Jack Riewoldt.  Surely the  Bomber ruck duo of David Hille and Paddy Ryder will end up mauling Vickery, giving their midfielders first use of the ball at the stoppages. Our inexperienced defence could be overwhelmed, just as it was against Carlton. A second successive hiding could well and truly demolish the whole campaign.

But Richmond actually wins the first quarter, something they have done only once during the current season. And that was against Essendon. Vickery is at least getting in the way of Hille and Ryder. Cotchin, Foley, Deledio and Martin are sharking the ball and setting up scoring opportunities.

I am sitting in the Essendon AFL members reserve as the guest of a Bomber-supporting mate. He has just arrived back from two weeks in Bali and is shivering uncontrollably on this midwinter Melbourne night. The red and blacks have come to the MCG under the full conviction that their heroes are going to replicate the sparkling form they displayed against Geelong, exacting revenge upon the Tigers for embarrassing them in the Dreamtime match. Instead, the Bombers continually let themselves down with their erratic disposal.

Hurley is keeping Riewoldt in check, but Richmond manages to generate enough goals through the midfielders to keep their noses in front. Tiger Airways is suddenly back in business, careening along the runway and preventing the Bombers from accelerating for take off. The Tigers lead narrowly at both quarter time and half time. Just before the siren sounds for the long break Jake King sends Monfries sprawling into the fence. This is followed by a bout of huffing, puffing and chest thumping in a little melee. Vickery lands a few jumper punches on Ryder and attracts the ire of the Essendon property steward when he rips the Essendon player’s guernsey.

The Tigers control the play for the first portion of the third quarter. Martin snaps truly at the halfway mark of the term and the Tigers are up by 23 points. One more goal ought to be enough to do it!

The Bomber fans blame the umpires for their plight. Just like last time. Ah, schadenfreude. I love it. I feel like a Salvation Army officer in a tavern full of drunken cutthroats and thieves. Not for me the swearing, the bitterness and the constant tirades against the match officials. I am able to quietly appreciate the finer points and subtleties of the game with the full assurance of victory in about an hour from now.

Then a few unfortunate events occur. Ryder suddenly realises he is being opposed by a tiring part-timer in the ruck and begins to assert his authority by jumping all over Vickery. Richmond’s playmakers go missing. Monfries pounces on a woeful clearance from the normally unflappable Chris Newman and goals.  Houli takes possession deep in defence, looks up, sees everyone marked, backtracks, attempts to slip a Crameri tackle, stumbles and is nailed. Crameri plays on and pops it through. His goal puts the Bombers to within three points at the final break and we are witnessing a momentum shift.

I realise to my chagrin that the Tigers didn’t do enough on the scoreboard when they dominated play in the first half of the quarter.

The Essendon supporters shift focus and roar for their team. They sense blood.

Any hope I have of the Tigers navigating their way back into the contest is quashed when the Bombers boot three goals in the first four minutes of the final term. They lift the intensity of their tackling. Richmond players are mugged in the packs and are unable to find any space. Hocking takes a screamer and kicks another one. Stanton goes from being whipping boy to poster boy for increasingly vocal Essendon fans. Jetta and Davey join in the feast. It’s only taken six minutes and the Bombers are ahead by 21 points.

My sense of moral superiority is swiftly evaporating. I don’t feel smug any more. Stuck in their members reserve, I am now bearing the brunt of the Bombers’ growing euphoria. Winners are grinners are sinners when they know they have it in the bag. Former Windy Hill resident Bachar Houli cops an earful. They mercilessly taunt Jack Riewoldt, who is having a night to forget. I long for Jack to roost a couple in junk time so I can stand up and loudly applaud for the benefit of the partisans around me, but there are no more goals for the Tigers. Essendon boots ten unanswered majors. From the high point of that 23-point lead in the third quarter, Richmond fans are tortured with a 62-point turnaround. The game turns into a rout and the Bombers win it by 39.

The remnants of Tiger Airways are strewn across the tarmac while their rivals are disappearing into the distance, en route for September action.

As for the Tigers, they have to commute to Cairns next weekend for a date with the Gold Coast Suns. We sold our home game because we need the money, but have we sold the four points as well?

The news has come through this morning that Gary Ablett has hurt his knee. Please, Gary, do the right thing. Stay at home on the weekend and keep that leg up. You can always watch the game on Foxtel.



  1. johnharms says:

    The Carringbush? The Bendigo?

  2. Phantom says:

    There was another Garry Abblett who used to cause a little bit of strife to the Tiges a few years ago as well.

  3. enjoyed your story- tiges are a frustrating but totally lovable lot- keep the faith- I am trying!

  4. Stainless says:

    OK, let’s get the sour grapes out of the way.

    Essendon can take absolutely nothing from this win. It was simply a case of two struggling sides approaching a game with a distinct lack of self-belief. In the end it simply came down to which one had the bigger chip on the shoulder. Once this was revealed to be Richmond, the result was inevitable.

    That the Bombers could be outplayed for nearly three quarters by a team so palpably lacking in confidence is a damning indictment for any side with finals aspirations. Geelong supporters would have been aghast to see Essendon’s performance last week at Etihad, confirmed so completely as a one-off fluke The solid, workmanlike efforts of St Kilda and the Bulldogs should, between now and September, ensure that one of these two teams displaces this ephemeral non-entity in the eight. The finals will be much the better for it.

    Having got that bile out of my system, now to my real point – what on earth can be done about Richmond?

    The previous two paragraphs may read like a self-indulgent rant, but they highlight what was so horribly disturbing about Richmond’s capitulation. If we can concede 10 unanswered goals in one and a bit quarters to a team as average as Essendon, how far are we off the real pacesetters in the competition? (You start to get a better idea of this when you consider the previous week’s 100 point loss to Carlton, who themselves have now been exposed as the “flat track bullies” of the competition).

    Granted, every team has their flat patches and we can keep trotting out the well-worn lines about young teams and their propensity to exhibit peaks and troughs as they develop in the rugged world of the AFL. Rohan Connolly did a great recitation in today’s Age, adding a “Richmond’s fundamentals are sound” cliche that was lifted straight from the business pages circa 2008.

    Frankly, to this disgruntled correspondent, Saturday night resembled yet another hideously predictable re-run of Roadrunner v Wile E. Coyote that has been the standard script at Richmond games over the last 30 years. Yet another promising generation of youngsters looks like succumbing to the same combination of losing culture and lack of depth that enables fundamental skill errors to go unpunished.

    I thought Hardwick and his uncompromising approach to rebuilding from the bottom up might be the circuit breaker this club so desperately needs. On Saturday’s effort, I have serious doubts.

    Gold Coast in Cairns looks a tall order for the Tigs this week.

  5. John Mosig says:

    I haven’t been following Richmond as long as Digger has been following Collingwood, but I was there for the Glory Years and the doldrums. I watched them build for those good times & I really thought we were on the way under Coach Hardnose. It’s heartbreaking to see them slip so badly. I’ve still got the Sydney game at the MCG from last season on the hard drive. It’s my antidote to a bad loss. And we’re losing badly. I can’t believe we’ve slipped so much this season. even over the last few weeks since the Darwin game. Let’s see how we go in Cairns. We’ve got to cream them and Jack has to bag lazy 8.

    My father in law – dedicated Roy Boy that he was – used to rib me with the line – there’s trouble at Punt Road. I’m starting to wonder how long before I hear the mantra of the envious again.


    ’67 73 &’742, been a while. There’s been some lows and

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