AFL Finals Week 1 – Richmond v Carlton: The port stays sealed


A few years ago I inherited a bottle of Richmond’s 1980 premiership port.  I don’t follow the Tigers, but my grandparents did.  I have fond memories of listening to the footy at their house.  It’s no surprise I have a soft spot for Richmond.

The bottle of port is tucked away in a case.  It won’t be opened until Richmond wins another grand final, which won’t be anytime soon.

The port, bottled in 1978 by Baileys of Glenrowan, is now 35-years-old.  It might stay unopened for 35 more…

The Tigers are proof that mediocrity has appeal, otherwise they’d have no members.  They have failed every major challenge since 1980, but have maintained and grown their membership.

They are considered a powerhouse, but that mantle isn’t based on success.  For some reason, the fans keep coming back.

History is beginning to hate Richmond.  It began in 1982, when they finished minor premiers and lost the grand final to Carlton.

Richmond has never recovered.  They have consistently underperformed ever since, making the finals just three times, in 1995, 2001 and 2013.

In that time, the Tigers have won just two finals.

At the weekend Richmond made a mockery of all their hype, losing the elimination final to Carlton by 20 points.

It was hardly an upset.  The fear going in was that Richmond would crumble under pressure.  All Carlton had to do was apply it.

They waited until they were 33-points down early in the third quarter.  Two goals in two minutes cut the margin to 20-points and all those questions about Richmond’s frailty were answered.

When the pressure was on, marks were dropped, handpasses went to men under pressure and they missed simple targets.

Tyrone Vickery and Shane Tuck simultaneously tapped the ball to Carlton captain Mark Murphy, who took a few bounces and set up a goal.  Vickery and Tuck were left looking at each other, wondering how the hell it happened.

Carlton kicked three consecutive goals from free kicks, all for front on contact in the marking contest.  First, Cotchin cannoned into Waite, then Martin ran into Gibbs, then Morris infringed on Betts.

Richmond was in a mad panic.  They had forgotten the rules, couldn’t get the ball or any free space.

Chris Judd, who hasn’t played a good game all year, carried a medial ligament strain and still turned the match with nine possessions in the third term.

Impossible not to laugh, that Judd saved up his best for Richmond.  Impossible not to laugh that Richmond let it happen.

When Nick Duigan kicked his third goal late in the third quarter, it was clear goals were going cheap.

In the last quarter, when Vickery was paid a free kick for incorrect disposal, Aaron Edwards played on under pressure.  The umpire called advantage.  Edwards was tackled.  When the ball spilled free, the Blues cleared defence.

The umpire’s call was tough but fair.  Edwards, for some reason, decided to take advantage instead of letting Vickery have a set shot from 25 metres out.

But this is Richmond, where nothing seems at advantage.  This is Richmond where everything is done under pressure.  This is Richmond, where players make a lot of mistakes when they’re at their best.

This is Richmond, who finished fifth with 15 wins, which, in a lot of seasons, is enough to finish in the top four.  This was Richmond against Carlton, who were gifted a finals spot after winning just eleven games.

This is Richmond, faltering again.  They are brilliantly predictable, but not predictably brilliant.

Feel no sympathy.  The emotion should be anger, because it keeps happening.

When Damien Hardwick fronted the media after the game, he opened up with two words; fire away.  Hardwick was ready for the critique.  Pity his men weren’t.

‘You can always take lessons out of defeat,’ Hardwick said.  He was shattered, pure disappointment, bemoaning goals from stoppages, eleven for the day, and shrugging off questions about going in as favourites.

‘It was always a 50-50 game,’ he said.  ‘You take the ladder out of finals.  We’ve got two Melbourne sides competing for the chance to go further.  It always is a tough game.’

It shouldn’t have been a 50-50 game.  The Tigers deserved to be favourites.  They deserved to be in front, but when the game turned and they couldn’t win contested ball, Hardwick said it wasn’t just poor play.

‘Ball bounces one way,’ Hardwick said.  ‘We don’t get it, they get it.’

Hardwick knows better than that.  Richmond went inside fifty 19 times to four in the first quarter and emerged with an eight point lead.  They kicked three goals from free kicks in the second term and led by 26-points at half time.

Their 33-point lead should’ve been enough.

‘Footy is a brutal, brutally hard game and a brutally honest game,’ Hardwick said.  The loss, he insisted, had nothing to do with finals inexperience.

‘I’ve been around footy a long enough time to know that big games are big games.  There’s a lot obviously that hangs on this one.’

As he gazed at the journalists, Hardwick sighed and shook his head.  ‘You put in an enormous amount of work and it all seems to come to nothing.’

But this is Richmond.  It always seems to come to nothing.

And the port stays sealed…

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Good Article Matt also as a Non Richmond supporter I totally agree it was predictable
    Credit to Richmond that they have so many supporters as they personify mediocrity .
    I feel Players wise Richmond drop right away there last few drop right away and are not up to it also Chaplin to be pathetic in the crunch was as much a certainty as
    Life Taxes and Death
    The Bottle of Port is safe for a long time

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