AFL Round 3 – Sydney v Richmond: Radical Surgery

by John Green

How safe is it to go on a long trip after undergoing radical surgery?

Richmond took to the surgeon’s knife with wild abandon at the end of 2009 and excised an astonishing total of 13 players from its senior list. For some, like the redoubtable Matthew Richardson, their bodies could no longer stand up to the buffeting of league football. Others had their papers marked as surplus to requirements. The club is staking everything on an all-or-nothing youth policy. The fans are struggling to identify the youngsters on the field and can barely keep up with the need to formulate new nicknames for them. To complicate matters further, a series of number changes has rendered the task of identification even more challenging.

As for the Sydney Swans, they have been through a few changes of their own. Gone are stalwarts such as Hall, Barry and O’Loughlin. But Tadhg Kennelly is back after helping his native Kerry win the All-Ireland Gaelic Football title. They have imported seasoned campaigners, such as Mumford, McGlynn, Bradshaw and Seaby. Coach Paul Roos seems to have the knack of getting the most out of experienced newcomers.  They still boast a core of tough nuts such as Goodes, Kirk and O’Keefe. There was no change at the selection table after their comprehensive victory over Adelaide at AAMI Stadium in their previous outing. Richmond, in contrast, made six changes to the line-up brushed aside by the Western Bulldogs for their journey to the Harbour City.

The game opens for Richmond in promising fashion with Nason and Reiwoldt taking set shots at goal. Both miss. The Tigers apply themselves to the task with touching enthusiasm. They lead the contested possessions and inside-50 count at quarter time. But something is wrong on the scoreboard. They fail to register a single goal and the Swans boot six of their own, effectively bringing the contest to an early conclusion. The Swans have nine on the board before Edwards accepts a handball from Reiwoldt and grubbers Richmond’s first at the 21-minute mark of the second term.

Sydney toys with the visitors and swaggers into the sheds at half-time with an insurmountable 52-point lead. Bradshaw provides an effective target at full-forward and finishes with four for the evening. Ben McGlynn follows up his five-goal haul against Adelaide and dominates in attack, adding another three. Adam Goodes flashes into play from time to time with strong marks and displays of cat-like agility. Grundy, Mattner and Malceski repel tentative moves forward by the Tigers and set up their runners with sterling silver service. Bolton and McVeigh control proceedings in the middle and maul the Tigers at the stoppages.

The Tigers look clueless. If they flood back to stymie a Swans attacking move, the  Sydneysiders simply pass to one and other with bullet-like precision and keep advancing.  Should the flood actually work, and Richmond gains the ball, they are slow to reconfigure and unable to move the ball quickly  into a scoring position.  They lose their way at ball-ups. They have no idea whether to chase the pill or guard their opponents. The experienced Swans know where to go and what to do. While the young Tigers congregate in groups and helplessly watch proceedings, the Swans spread to where they know the next action is to occur.

Whenever they get their hands on the ball, the Tigers are like first-day waiters trying to run with a tray of drinks in a crowded restaurant. It’s only a matter of time before they lose the lot. They relinquish the ball with monotonous regularity. Handballs go to empty spaces, passes drop at the feet of leading forwards or sail over their heads. The Swans gratefully accept the Tigers’ largesse and put the ball to better use. Richmond wastes shots at goal with chronic inaccuracy.

Does anyone shine for Richmond? Eighteen-year-old Dustin Martin already has a man’s physique. He regularly bursts through the lines and kicks long. He will have to bear the mantle of being the future of a club that has very little to look forward to for the next few years. Newman, Jackson, Connors and McGuane try valiantly to refloat their ship, which is breaking up on the rocks.

The Swans appear to have taken on something of the laconic nature of their coach. It’s cue-in-the-rack time in the second half. They reduce their intensity and allow the Tigers to at least break even in the second half, before eventually running out 55-point winners. Once again, they appear to have re-invented themselves with minor changes to their lifestyle and with the aid of their mature-age recruits. They fit seamlessly into Paul Roos’ machine. Third-gamer Lewis Jetta knows how to turn on the afterburners whenever he gets his hands on the ball in space. Sydney remains in contention despite the opinions of experts willing to write them off at the start of every new season.

Richmond, having opted for more invasive surgery, is left with a list devoid of experience and skill.

Are we in danger of losing the patient?

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