AFL Round 1 – Carlton vs Richmond: The Real Thing

It’s half time at the ‘G and I’m munching on a little Moro chocolate bar from the Cadbury Favourites box while getting into Russell Morris. He’s performing his iconic 1969 hit The Real Thing, the innovative, psychedelic monster as produced by one Ian Molly Meldrum. There’s a beautiful ambience. Morris is a Richmond supporter, the Tigers rolled Carlton to win the premiership in ’69 and tonight the boys are up by 38 points against the old enemy.

I sing along with Morris and adapt his lyrics to the occasion.

“Come and see the Real Thing, we are the Real Thing, we are the Real Thing come and see, we are the Real… Thing. Oom mau mau mau mau oom mau mau mau mau oom mau mau mau mau oom mau mau mau” etc. My 15-year-old son listens in, bemused but satisfied enough with his team’s progress up to this point and therefore willing to indulge me.

And who among the yellow and black persuasion would not be singing at this moment? Richmond is emerging from a horror run of nine consecutive losses to Carlton and hasn’t won a first round clash since Richo booted five in the corresponding match of 2008.

Damian Hardwick has embraced the heightened expectations of the new season in his press conferences over the past few weeks. He readily acknowledges that it’s time for the Tigers to figure in finals action after a 12-year absence. Sure, there have been plenty of false dawns. We were meant to be contenders in ’96 after the heroics of reaching the Preliminary Final in the previous year, but had the misfortune to meet the rampaging Kangaroos on their way to their third premiership in the final round of the season. There was the loss to lowly St. Kilda in arctic conditions at Princes Park in 2002, the first of nine defeats in a row after having reaching another  prelim in 2001. And who can forget the catastrophic 83-point loss to Carlton in the season opener of 2009? Ben Cousins marked his debut in a Tiger sash with a badly torn hamstring and the optimism engendered by the arrival of  Terry Wallace as coach evaporated from the earth for all time.

Success for us has been as elusive as the fabled Lasseter’s Reef, a fabulous seam of gold rumoured to exist somewhere in central Australia but remaining undiscovered to this very day. The Tigers have demonstrated steady improvement in their win/loss ratio since Hardwick took the reins at the end of ’09 and they have strengthened the list with a mixture of high draft picks and mature-aged recruits.  Six losses in 2012 by 12 points or less seem like a distant memory after a hat trick of tight pre-season victories. They beat Essendon by eight points at Wangaratta, Hawthorn by a point after Riewoldt’s after-the-siren major in Launceston and the Bulldogs by nine points at Visy Park. The tactics developed over the summer to prevail in close finishes appear to be bearing fruit.

It certainly looks like these drills won’t be needed tonight. The Tigers blitzed their opponents in the second term with seven goals to one. Cotchin, Deledio, Tuck and Martin blazed their way through the midfield, Maric bullied Hampson at the centre bounces and Vickery reproduced his promising form from a couple of seasons ago with three first-half goals.

How far the marauding Tigers?

Deledio’s third goal earns a tick as well as a stroke in my AFL Record. For the Tigers now lead by 42 points and we’ve passed the 11-minute mark of the third quarter. I’m able to confidently inform my son that the game is now in the bag. The inimitable Chris Judd tries to flick the ignition switch with a couple of quick replies, but the Blues concede two 50-metre penalties resulting in goals to King and McGuane. Blues supporters howl in protest. I am filled with malicious glee, because it will make Richmond’s inevitable victory over our serial tormenters even sweeter.

The rebellion has been quashed, or so I think.

Maybe I underestimate the physical cost of having a dominant quarter in the modern game. There is so much relentless running, tackling and getting numbers to the ball to outnumber the enemy. Deledio struggles to the sideline for a breather. Jamison has quietened Vickery. Riewoldt remains goalless and can’t take a trick. The Bluebaggers are at their best when they are able to gain possession and surge out of defence. Judd, Gibbs and Murphy direct the one-way traffic and their speedsters in Betts, Garlett and Yarran start to spread panic in the ranks of Richmond’s tired defenders. When Garlett sharks a Maric hit-out and goals at the 19-minute mark to reduce the deficit to only 12 points the accompanying roar has that ominous guttural, blood thirsty quality. They think they’ve got us.  Unpleasant memories of seizing defeat from the jaws of victory during last year’s campaign are beginning to surface from the depths of my subconscious.

“It’s ok,” I tell my son. “We’ve got enough in the bank and we’re still playing well enough.”

I can tell he doesn’t believe me.

Garlett slots his second to reduce the margin to seven points as we creep into time on. Kruezer marks by the behind post, opens up the angle and just misses. Yarran snaps with his left  from just outside the square and sprays it wide. A minute later he sets his sights on the run and shoots for the major which will surely bring it home for the Blues. He misses! It is only when I watch the replay on the scoreboard I notice that McLean had been calling for the ball on his own just 20 metres out from goal and directly in front. McLean, whose flukey, floating kick that was never intended to score crossed the line and consigned Richmond to an inglorious defeat the last time these sides met.

Robbie Nahas runs the ball into the Tigers’ attacking zone with the assistance of Dustin Martin. Bootsma attempts to whisk the ball away from the contest and clear to the opposite flank when he is collared by McGuane.

“Baaaaaaaaall!’ shriek 40,000 hoarse Richmond supporters, just about every one of us on our feet. The umpire spreads his arms out in acknowledgement and we have never been so happy to win a  free kick. It’s Richmond’s tackle of the century so far and we know we have been saved from perdition.

McGuane misses , but the final siren sounds. Blessed relief as we fall across the line by five points.

On the walk to the station after the game my son says he can’t get Sweet Sweet Love, another song that Russell Morris performed, out of his head.

“That’s it,” I reply. “A great melody that stays with you for years. We are The Real… Thing, oom mau mau mau mau, oom mau mau mau mau…”



  1. Martin Reeves says

    John, good read. ‘Sweet, Sweet Love’ is a great song. Nice to finally win a first round match. Still plenty of improvement required, but some good signs. I read that some of the younger players had impressive games for Coburg this weekend. Should be some competition for spots this year.

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