A new chant for new hope

At the ten-minute mark of the second quarter, a singular magnificently poignant act from the Richmond cheer squad makes my heart swell with pride and hope.
For the last ten years, one man in footy has deserved a chant of his own-Richo, requiring no other name, the chant befitting no other player.
The Tiger supporters would sing Riiichoooo, Riiiichoooo when the heartbeat of their struggling team would hold a terrific mark to kick a team lifting goal. It was reserved for him and him alone.
So when Rieeewoldt, Rieeewoldt began, I felt a real sense of hope for the first time since 2008. Hope that everything might work on this five year plan. Hope that we would finally clinch a finals appearance and then the flag.
The man deserving of this chant had indeed justified it. But I’ll tell the pre-anecdote to this changing of the guard first.
My Tiger supporting uncle, the one I credit with giving me this tumultuous theme park ride for the last eleven years of my life (cos I need the character building it gives, don’t I), rang me at about nine o’clock to invite me to the match. So while the rest of the family, including the ten year old daughter of Dad’s Queensland friends who had never seen snow, went to Lake Mountain, I faced a mountain of my own.
The Tigers had indeed showed a real sense of exuberance and belief in the last four weeks. We had a gelling midfield of experience and youth, a solid backline and one of the best, strongest forwards in the league, with 35 goals in eleven games: Jack Riewoldt.
And, nearly ten months earlier than I was expecting, we were slender favourites to win! To beat the Eagles.
To the Victorian fan, they were a list of anonymous faces that slipped in a puddle of good form when they played in Subiaco, but were mysterious until the first bounce away.
So they were reputation-less, which should have instilled me with confidence. But I had no idea what to expect from these masked men.
So what to think? All I could was that this was a test. A test to see how we handle being the favourites. And that scares me.
As the warm-up finishes, we hear a fleeting snatch of Matchbox 20’s How Far We’ve Come. And indeed, the Tigers today will see how far we’ve come: see progress made or watch as our world burns to the ground.
The first quarter is scrappy and congested for five minutes; two sides uncomfortable with each other, yet desperate for a win, fighting each other with their slim skills. Yet it is unlike any quarter I have ever seen from the Tigers.
A poor punch from Nicoski allows Jack Riewoldt to run over the back and around for the first goal. A minute later, he takes an astonishing three bite mark, two of them with one hand, and converts from forty-five. When he swallows a centimetre perfect pass from Tuck to kick his third, I really awaken to something unseen.
Riewoldt 3.0, West Coast 0.0.
And he’s not done, hanging onto a strong mark on the lead to kick his fourth in eight minutes.
We’re four goals up, yet neither Gerard nor I are reclining in our seats (metaphorically, seeing as it’s not possible at the G) with satisfied smirks-we’ve both seen this go pear shaped and end in crushing defeat.
And sure enough, Kennedy chips through a goal to bring the gap back to eighteen.
So we’ve enjoyed ten minutes of dominance, but it’s time to come back to the tight slog I anticipated.
But these Tigers have youthful fight in them. Riewoldt, having burned off Will Schofield, takes an astonishing one handed, one grab mark against Spangher. He kicks his fifth in a quarter and the delirious Tiger horde screams as one for the brilliant replacement of Richo.
Five minutes later, Martin, who has fourteen touches in the first term, angles through our sixth for the quarter. A late West Coast major draws the quarter time gap to twenty two points, a margin that both Gerard and I agree will dissolve in ten minutes in the second quarter.
But the Tigers continue to shame our pessimism, with Collins and Riewoldt, now manned by Andrew Embley, extending the lead to six goals.
Riewoldt’s sixth warrants the Richo chant: the whole cheer squad roaring his name as they bow down to him. It’s a changing of the guard, and the light has been flicked on inside me: a ray of hope that really makes me believe. That this five year plan will take us forward. Maybe, just maybe…to the finals? We might do it.
From there, a ten minute arm wrestle ensues, as the rattled Eagles chip the ball around to keep possession and regroup. This tough grind yields one goal two, Priddis, the only West Coast player serviceable for four quarters, slitting the centre with a brilliant snap. But when the Tigers penetrate the lockdown they do it brilliantly: flowing, overlapping runs with long bombs. While Riewoldt only adds a behind to his total for the remainder of the quarter, he is assisted by brilliant crumbers.
Vickery, Farmer and Nason kick goals as the Tigers lead by eight goals at half time.
Only a Tiger supporter could be uncomfortable at this stage. Whereas other clubs would be comfortably anticipating a walk in the park of a second half, we’ve seen these leads slip before; seemingly broken opposition rise from the dust as a revitalised unit to clinch a brilliant win and leave us crushed and hopeless.
And indeed. What do we see? The Eagles no longer chip the ball over-cautiously: they run dangerously, confidently and efficiently. Priddis is finally extracting reward for effort; Brad Ebert suddenly appears out of the turf whenever the ball is kicked forward for Richmond and Mark Le Cras is a danger man in the hot spot. He spins out of a tackle to kick two goals. When Josh Kennedy crumbs for West Coast’s sixth goal, the margin is thirty points and every Tiger fan at the MCG is desperately reaching for some confidence; drowning sailors to driftwood.
But here is the most positive fact to take out of the day-when these Tiger cubs are threatened, they don’t panic  or try to ice the game as the Wallace teams would’ve. They try to counter-attack, and when Nason receives a free from fifty that is brought to the square, they regain composure. Dustin Martin gets a high, flailing kick out of the pack and the ball is brilliantly shepherded through by Nason for a goal. Matt White brilliantly and intelligently sets up Nason’s third. When Jack Riewoldt kicks his seventh from a nothing free kick, the margin is fifty-six points and I know we’ve done it-not because of the margin, but the umpires are now gifting us goals. It is inevitable.
Normally, those three words precede a horrific come from behind loss. But not now. Matt White, with his second brilliant act of the quarter, roves a spilled mark from Riewoldt and the margin of ten goals is more grossly gorged than any the Tigers have held since 2008.
A goal after the siren from Waters is irrelevant. Richmond are home and hosed.
As I was about to have my second bite of meat pie, a bizarre realisation comes to me.
“Since we used up every way to lose last year, we’ve started trying to win,” I say to Gerard.
A strange thought indeed. But accurate.
And the Tigers stroll leisurely in the last. Even though Richmond’s real discipline and intent has gone, the Eagles can’t capitalise. Kennedy, Le Cras and co bomb away frantically as West Coast scrounges two goals four in the first ten minutes.
The ball is bombed in towards Riewoldt and he kicks a goal off the ground for his eighth. A strong mark on the lead is shanked out on the full and Gerard and I smile knowingly. Richo is there somewhere.
Riewoldt misses a relatively easy shot from thirty as we simply gaze onto the procession. But when he receives a free from twenty and slots it, his tally is 9.3 and there is a surge in interest. Will he get to ten goals? The Eagles kick two belated ones to drag their miserable tally to eleven ten.
With four minutes remaining, the Tigers can’t find Riewoldt, much as they try and their barrackers will them to. Tuck grabs the ball at sixty and sends a high one into the pocket at the Punt Rd end. Riewoldt, one out with Spangher, takes a classic Richo mark-wrestling with his opponent before finding a foot of space and holding a gutsy mark.
From a tight angle fifteen metres out, he kicks his tenth into the cheer squad, who have swollen as the tally rises in the last ten minutes, and he is swamped by his seventeen other team mates, even the backmen.
The siren goes soon after, the Tigers winning by forty nine points, Riewoldt’s 10.3 equalling Richo’s record. There are positives all over the ground. Although only Priddis really warranted any praise from this limp Eagles line up, there can be no doubt that we’ve played impressively. Tyrone Vickery and Angus Graham obliterated an uninterested looking Cox to provide service to brilliant midfielders such as Martin, Cotchin, Tuck, Deledio, Jackson and Cousins, all of whom played fiercely. Throw in Foley, set to return after the bye, and it’s a mix to seriously challenge. Utilities such as Farmer, Nason and White have provided leg speed and flair all over the field. The defence, mainly composed of lanky frames, is battling manfully; Moore, McGuane, captain Newman and Edwards were brilliant. King provided solid run off half back. Riewoldt has been simply unstoppable over the last five weeks, kicking 30.12 at six per game. Hardwick is nurturing Ben Griffiths, set to become the full forward to free up Riewoldt.
Gerard and I saunter back through Eaglemont, two eternal boys almost giggling with childish delight, the streetlamps illuminating a way our own hope could have enlightened.
Quite simply, we’re thrilled. Having gone to the footy together for eight years, our fortunes haven’t been good. This is the third five year plan we’ve seen, and although this one is very similar in ways, it’s good to enjoy it while it lasts.
3-J. Riewoldt 2-B. Deledio 1-K. Moore

About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.

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