AFL Finals Week 1 – Richmond v Carlton: A Family Tree Of Tigers

Grandpa died a few days ago. A life-long Tiger supporter, he died not long before Richmond played Essendon in the final round of the season. He missed the Tigers putting the finishing touches on their best home and away series for a dozen years. Mum called me moments before the game was to begin, casting a sombre pall over the evening’s proceedings. By that stage my brother, Daniel, and I had been texting to plan how we were going to buy tickets for only the third Tiger final I had attended in my life. Not even a trip back up to Burramine South for a funeral was going to stop us from going to the MCG the following Sunday.

The farms around Burramine South were at their best when we went up for the funeral on Friday. Bright yellow canola paddocks added colour to the sea of thick, green wheat fields. The blue sky peeked through the grey and white cloud helping to remind me why I still think of the country as home, despite over a decade in the city. Grandpa farmed up there for over 30 years, following his father onto the land. He passed on the farm to his oldest son, also Peter, and moved into Yarrawonga in 1982. Coincidentally, that was the last time that Richmond made a Grand Final.

Following the funeral we retired to Grandpa’s other great sporting love, the Yarrawonga-Mulwala Golf Club, to celebrate his life. Grandpa’s two sons both barrack for Richmond, and five of his grandsons. The football club at Burramine had folded back in Grandpa’s day, so all of us ended up playing for the next closest club in Tungamah. The day following the funeral saw all of Tungamah’s teams competing in the Grand Final and all were successful except for the Under 14s. A cousin, James, played in the Under 17s while his brother, Nick, played for Yarrawonga in the Ovens and Murray Semi Final. The Pigeons won as well, gaining safe passage to the Grand Final. As is always the case when we see each other, there was plenty of football to talk about.

Part of my indoctrination into the Richmond faithful occurred because of Grandpa’s sister-in-law. Both Grandma and her sister married devout Tigers and I used to be a member of the cheer squad thanks to Mum’s Aunty Snow. At the wake Snow reminded me of the days I caught a train down to Melbourne to stay with her and go to the footy. Her three sons, needless to say, are also in the Tiger army and also had tickets to the ‘G.

Daniel and I were comfortably back in Melbourne by Sunday afternoon. The sun shone and there was no breeze to speak of. We rode to the MCG excited to be able to barrack for our team in a final. I sat in the September sun in the Southern Stand and texted my extended family to see where they were. They were all over. An uncle and cousin in the Members. A few of Mum’s cousins in the Olympic. Another cousin trying to get a last-minute ticket. And a myriad of other relatives parked in front of the television. We were all bound together by our mutual ties to Richmond and a recently-deceased patriarch.

The Tigers began almost perfectly. Aaron Edwards missed a long shot on goal very early, but the signs were good. Each time Carlton went forward, Troy Chaplin or Alex Rance was there to spoil or mark, then clear from defence. Nick Vlastuin added his toughness and courage, outstanding for a first season player. Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin were dominating the middle. With Rance blanketing Waite and Eddie Betts missing thanks to Steve Morris, Daniel commented that it was hard to see where the Blues were going to kick goals. How could we know that Waite would kick 3 of his 4 from dubious free kicks? How were we to know that Nick Duigan would somehow kick 4 when he was supposed to be tagging Brett Deledio?

Carlton fans were irate in the second term when free kicks and 50m penalties went the Tigers’ way. I don’t think of myself as one-eyed, but I felt that Richmond were still a bit unlucky with the umpires. The free kick count was merely another statistic that we were dominating because we were the team with the ball and the team making the play. There was little to complain about when this domination translated into a 26-point half-time lead.

The break was spent planning how we were going to watch the Semi Final against Sydney. In retrospect we were far too presumptuous but when Edwards kicked the first goal of the 2nd half it didn’t feel that way. A dubious free-kick against Cotchin to Waite slowed the Tiger momentum. I had commented that perhaps Chris Judd might not be far from the end of his career after a lacklustre 1st half. His 3rd quarter proved me wrong. In a virtuoso display, he dragged his Blues back from the brink of elimination. He won a series of contested possessions and clearances that turned the game on its head. I had a sense of dread when Jeff Garlett kicked a goal. I have never seen Garlett play well in a losing team, but when there is downhill skiing to be done he is first in line.

Our Tigers faded badly and couldn’t respond to the Judd-led Blues’ onslaught. In Richmond’s death throes, Ivan Maric found some life briefly and lived up to his role as a cult figure. He gathered the ball in the shadows of the new Olympic Stand and took on his opponent. Big Ivan galloped away like an ungainly giraffe and snapped an unlikely goal to bring the margin back to within a goal. But then Waite and Duigan each kicked their fourth goal to seal the game. We stayed to the end, watching Garlett kick another cheap one after taunting the Tigers from the goal square. I imagine that the painful feeling of losses such as these will make the eventual premiership feel greater somehow. I also imagined my relatives sprinkled throughout the MCG sitting likewise in disappointment.

Grandpa used to say to his children “remember you’re a Lawless” when they were leaving the house to remind them of familial responsibilities. Perhaps it is inherent in the surname, but I don’t recall taking too many of these responsibilities seriously except for supporting Richmond. Daniel and I both have sons and neither of us will pass on the Lawless surname. But both will barrack for the Tigers. The familial Tiger trait will continue with them. And in 30-odd years hopefully they too will have a story of an ancestor and a Richmond final, and both will mean something to them.


  1. Great story Liam, really good stuff. Lovely descriptions of family and the country.


  2. Thanks Sean. I was just hoping to show how footy and the Tigers are threaded through my extended family. I’m sure lots of other families are similar!

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