AFL Round 4 – Richmond v Collingwood: Mordor on the march

Whenever I think of Richmond I am reminded of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tiger supporters are like a giant orc army heading out from Mordor across the Dead Marshes. Without featuring in a final series since 2001 the army has been subdued but you know that Sauron’s eye is ever watchful, waiting for the first signs of hope to emerge from Punt Road.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not meant as criticism. As a lifelong, feral Magpie, passion is my football currency. I have been known to yell at umpires, runners, opposition players, opposition supporters, people selling Footy Records. I both love and fear the strong emotions of the Tiger army; that club song is really a yellow and black call to arms.

In recent days Mordor has been on the march. Richmond are currently enjoying their best start to a season since 1995.

My phone buzzes with ferocious Tiger texts all week. They start as soon as the Pies trudge off the ground after a nine-goal loss to Hawthorn on Sunday night. Stewart the Caring of Rosanna is the first with a message. Stewart works with the homeless in Fitzroy. He reminds me of Jesus. Stewart has possibly the biggest heart in Melbourne; he would give anything to anyone. Last year we travelled to Africa together and witnessed both the sadness of poverty and the magnificence of the natural world. We survived the trip to Africa but I’m not sure if we will survive this week. Stewart is a keen Tiger. His first text is straight to the point: “We are ready- bring it on.”

Next is Helen the Red of Viewbank. Helen has been a good friend for a few years. Helen the Red is literate and loves to banter, she is the sister I never had. Yet even pretty Helen invokes the guttural catch cry of the orc army as she writes, “Shhh . . . can you hear that? A softly building roar.” In the end we decide to settle our dispute by having a wager that will involve the loser paying for a meal at the Lobster Cave.

We are at the game with a group of fourteen people. Helen the Red is amongst their number, Stewart the Caring is not- he is helping a team to complete the one hundred kilometer Oxfam Walk. I am strategically seated next to Helen the Red’s sister Lou. Lou shares my Magpie passion and is a good conversationalist.

We arrive at the game just before starting time. As I begin thinking about orcs a series of large African drums are brought out onto the ground. About twenty people start playing them. It is a call to arms. I begin to wonder if the Tiger players might race out onto the field with swords of steel and helmets of iron glistening in the mid-afternoon sun.

Sadly the first half of the game does not quite live up to all the pre-match hype. I wonder if time and space might be the two most important words in modern football. In the first quarter Richmond repel any Collingwood attacks by creating a loose man across half back. They play a high handball and possession game really well. At half-time the Richmond lead is three points.

In the third quarter it is the Magpies who win the war. It is a magnificent quarter of football, reminiscent of the third quarter in the 2010 Grand Final Replay against the Saints. Collingwood at their best are a tough, blue collar, tackling machine. In the third quarter the ball becomes trapped in our forward line. The Tigers have lost their time and space, almost every kick is rushed.

Travis Cloke acts as factory foreman; he just keeps demanding the ball and taking towering marks. He finishes the game with seven goals. The Collingwood game plan seems incredibly simple- find some space and then kick it long to Trav in the goal square. Quentin Lynch is Trav’s loyal offsider who takes fourteen marks. I love the underrated workers in this team: Steele Sidebottom, Jarryd Blair, Jamie Elliott, Alan Toovey, Josh Thomas, Jordan Russell. Every single one of these players does their job with distinction. Dale Thomas comes on the ground as an elite sub late in the third quarter but the game is already won.

Among these working-class heroes from the flats of Collingwood one player stands out above all others- the man whose body is a moving piece of art. It is Dane Swan’s two hundredth game. He dominates the second half with relentless running.

When the match finishes we take Helen the Red and the kids out for a meal at Federation Square. The rest of the week is very quiet. Too quiet. These Tigers are not defeated yet- something dark is stirring deep within the world of football. Mordor is on the march.

RICHMOND                    3.3     6.5     8.6     11.13  (79)

COLLINGWOOD           1.4       5.8     13.12 16.17 (113)


Richmond: Riewoldt 3; Vickery, McGuane 2; King, Edwards, Houli, Maric.

Collingwood: Cloke 7; Sidebottom 4; Clarke, O’Brien, Elliott, Swan, Dwyer.


Richmond: Cotchin, Deledio, Jackson, Martin, Houli.

Collingwood: Cloke, Shaw, Fasolo, O’Brien, Reid, Sidebottom, Swan.

UMPIRES: Rosebury, Meredith, Mollison                CROWD: 81,950

OUR VOTES: Cloke (C) 3, Swan (C) 2, Sidebottom (C) 1.

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