AFL Finals Week 1: My BIG Weekend of Finals Football

As a footy-obsessed bloke from the Northern Territory I don’t venture to the big smoke of Melbourne as much as I would like. But I had bookmarked this weekend for a long time – the weekend that my beloved Richmond Tigers returned to finals football. Due to the success of the Victorian AFL sides this season it was also fortunate that we were able to cram four games into the schedule.

My mate and I arrived in Melbourne on Thursday morning after an arduous four hour flight. The smell of finals was in the air and I was keen to soak up every ounce of it. Newspapers and magazines full of football coverage, supporters wearing their team scarves; it was brilliant. We even got to see Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin in person on Thursday night as he was walking near Chapel Street.

After meeting up with our other mate on the Friday afternoon we left our hotel nice and early to get to the Friday night game. Somehow we landed MCC tickets so we sat in what I believe to be the best seats in the house. It was an uneventful game as the Hawks were superior to the Swans in most facets of the match. Unfortunately Northern Territorian Cyril Rioli was a late withdrawal but it was good to see another Territorian in “super-sub” Jed Anderson take a strong mark and kick truly for goal during the last quarter.

Saturday was always going to be busy. After a little sleep in at the hotel we made our way to Southern Cross Station to board the express train to Geelong. We probably looked out of place as we were just about the only three people on the train wearing just shorts. We had standing room tickets at Simonds Stadium and with no allegiances to either side I was hoping for a Fremantle upset. It was a high standard match and as it progressed it was hard not to notice the tension rising amongst the hostile crowd at the Cattery. Ross Lyon’s game plan worked beautifully and the Dockers pulled off the upset win. Michael Barlow and Lee Spurr were terrific while Ryan Crowley pestered and annoyed most of the Geelong side all day.

We rushed back and hopped on the first train back to Melbourne. I swear there must have been about a thousand people on board and finding a spare seat would have been harder than breaking a Crowley tag. Opposing supporters argued the whole way back about venue issues while the only thing on my mind was dinner arrangements as I had not eaten all day. We arrived at the Saturday night game thinking that it would be an easy win to Collingwood. Therefore, we were pleasantly surprised when Port Adelaide came out firing and maintained the intensity all game to record the unlikely victory. After a few drinks in the Blazer Bar it was time to leave the MCG and see a bit of the Melbourne nightlife.

After checking out of our hotel on Sunday morning I could not help but feel nervous about the day ahead. I kept saying to myself that regardless of the result, we have had a good season and simply making the finals was a good achievement. But my hatred of Carlton meant that I could not stomach anything other than a Tiger win.

It was perfect day in Melbourne and every second person in the city was walking around proudly with their team colours. Almost 95,000 people would pack the MCG to see the elimination final between Richmond and Carlton, I could not wait.

The roar of the crowd when the Tigers entered the arena was indescribable. The Tiger Army was in full force and there was no place I would rather be than at the G. Tens of thousands of Richmond fans singing “Oh we’re from Tigerland …” echoed through the stadium. I got goose bumps listening to what I believe is the greatest supporter base in the AFL singing in unison. I made sure to record it on my phone so I can listen to it over and over again.

The roar of the crowd was contrasted by a sudden, eerie silence about five seconds after the ball was bounced and no one was able to get a clearance. The Tigers dominated the play in the first quarter but could not capitalise on most of their opportunities near goal. Losing Reece Conca early in the first quarter hurt our midfield rotation but resulted in Shane Tuck being activated as the sub. It would turn out to be Tuck’s last game in the yellow and black. He epitomised what I believe the Richmond Football Club should be about. Tuck was never the most naturally gifted footballer but he worked hard, crashed packs and continually put his body on the line for his side.

Richmond had plenty of momentum in the second quarter with Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin kicking goals at important times. Jack Riewoldt was playing injured so was forced to be a decoy for Aaron Edwards and Tyrone Vickery. Bachar Houli provided run from the back line and it was great to see Chris Newman having an impact in his first final.

I sensed a Carlton revival in the second half and unfortunately my predictions proved correct. The Blues killed us with their work rate and spread as they transitioned the ball from one end of the ground to the other with pace and precision. At three quarter time it was either side’s game to win but all the momentum was with the Blues. I watched helplessly from the highest seats in the MCG as my Tigers fell in a heap and allowed the Blues to end their 2013 season. Heartbreak.

I sat there in stunned silence as the Carlton supporters sang their song in pure elation. It was my idea of hell on Earth. Disappointment is not unfamiliar for Tigers supporters. It was as if deep down we imagined, perhaps even expected, that we would yet again feel this dreaded feeling. We invest our time, money and emotion into the football club for little success. If it wasn’t for our obvious lack of football ability, most of us would kill to put our body on the line for the Tigers. So I hope the loss hurts Richmond. I hope it hurts the players, coaches, fitness and sports science gurus, media managers, recruiters, list managers, property stewards and anyone else in between. I hope they can use the pain and turn it into future success because we are long overdue and the fans are starving.

Despite an unfavourable result on the last day, it was a great weekend of football that had it all. Big hits, close games, upset wins, screamers … everything. The atmosphere was amazing and I loved the countdown clock before each bounce of the ball. You are not a true football fan if that doesn’t excite you.

Twitter – @JClark182

About Jackson Clark

Born and bred in Darwin, Northern Territory, I am a young, aspiring football writer that lives and breathes the game of Australian Football. I'm also a keen player and coach.

Comments

  1. Cheryl Critchley says:

    Great story Jackson. I really agree with you about the pain. Right now I feel like I want to give up on footy after waiting 12 years only to have my heart ripped out. Next year seems like an eternity away, but no doubt I’ll be there again.

  2. Dips O'Donnell says:

    Jackson – what a sensational week end. I was hoping the Tigers would get up. Unbelievable crowd. Nothing beats the battles of the traditional rivals.

  3. Neil Anderson says:

    Brave report from a dedicated fan, Jackson. To recreate the feeling of just being there after your long journey from the Territory even after seeing your team go down was commendable.
    I hope your night out on the town prior to the match was a bit more pleasant than the footy result.

  4. Aside from the Richmond loss, sounds like Footy Nirvana. Cracking games too.

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