AFL Round 2 – Richmond v Footscray: Beware of angry Dogs

by John Green

I can imagine a “Beware of the Dogs” sign displayed over Gate 3 of the MCG as I wend my way from Jolimont Station for the Richmond-Western Bulldogs clash.

The Bulldogs had won the NAB Cup just three weeks before and were being lauded as premiership favourites. They seemed set to rule the footy neighbourhood in 2010. Then the Magpies swooped in the first round of the season proper and sent those Bullies scampering back to their kennels with their tails between their legs. The hounds weren’t happy and were looking to take it out on the next intruders stumbling onto their patch.

How are the Bulldogs going to treat the little kids from Richmond strolling innocently down the street? By snapping and snarling and chasing them back across the park to Punt Road?

Instead, they don’t so much as savage them but deliver an occasional nip and a warning growl to stay out of their territory. The pattern is set in the first five minutes. They open proceedings with goals to Picken and Higgins and begin to claw back the percentage they lost to Collingwood.

The Bulldogs are not quite on their game. They miss some targets and squander opportunities in front of goal. Richmond and the Western Bulldogs were on a par as recently as 2004. Both clubs set out to rebuild their stocks. Six years later it is the Bulldogs who have an overwhelming advantage in skill, experience and strength. Richmond was left behind. Small errors aside, the Bulldogs predictably increase their lead as night falls in this Easter Sunday twilight match. The smallish crowd of 27,000 is subdued for most of the time and it is one of those games where spectators can clearly hear players calling out to each other.

Cooney, Akermanis, Gilbee, Giansiracusa, Cross and Boyd control the midfield and indulge in a spot of target practice with leading forwards. Andrejs Everitt is a lively prospect as a rebounding defender and pops up with a goal of his own from outside 50. Brian Lake patrols their defensive zone and looks incredulous whenever a free is paid against him or he suffers a rare defeat in a marking contest. Mitch Hahn kicks three and could have had six or seven if he had kicked straight. It doesn’t matter. The Bulldogs share it around and 12 of them boot majors. They increase their lead at each change without needing to shift into a higher gear. You can sense they are thinking ahead to more challenging opponents, such as Hawthorn on the following weekend.  If the Tigers gain the ball, no sweat. The Bulldogs apply a moderate dose of pressure, the inevitable turnovers occur and they seize possession once again.

Richmond fans bow to reality from very early in the piece. Victories will be rare in 2010 and this was never going to be one of them.

Thank heavens for small mercies. They can only content themselves with a number of attractive cameos. A spectacular attempt at a mark from Kelvin Moore, which softens the impact of the goal from a Bulldog crumber after the ball spills onto the deck. Dustin Martin’s first six-pointer in the big time, following a nice move through heavy traffic. Trent Cotchin’s growing poise and some brave rebounding from Luke McGuane. When your team is steadily falling further behind every tackle, every effective spoil and mark is met with appreciative, if restrained, applause.  Additionally, there is always much to celebrate when Barry Hall has an off-day against you. He is restricted to only one goal by Will Thursfield, which to Richmond supporters is just as enjoyable as unexpectedly finding an extra chocolate egg packed with the thermos.

The Tigers finish the match on a high when Mitch Morton scrambles his third goal just seconds before the final siren. This spares them the indignity of going scoreless in the final term and reduces the final margin from 78 points to 72.

It is one of those matches that no-one will remember at the end of the season, except for Footy Almanac readers. For the Bulldogs, it is the first of the minimum of fifteen or sixteen wins they anticipate will land them in the top four for a tilt at the title in September. For Richmond, just one of the many they lost in season 2010 that they weren’t expected to win anyway.

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