AFL Round 4 – Richmond v Collingwood: Normal Service Resumes

The 6:59 from Ivanhoe is crowded with fans heading to the MCG for the clash between the Tigers and the Magpies. It’s standing room only. I am one of a line of Richmond barrackers with arms extended, holding onto the overhead straps for support. The straps produce a distinct sound as they move with the motion of the train. Creaking like a weighted hangman’s rope. Gallows humour on my part? Or an indication that I lack confidence tonight?  I feel like the team stands on a scaffold ready to take the drop.

For the first time this year I have tipped against the Tigers in the footy sweep at work. My projected margin is a substantial 44 points. My teenage son has similar forebodings and uses the excuse of the incessant rain to opt for a night in front of the television. The rain, which Tim Flannery said would never visit us again in this part of the country. I’m beginning to think that predictions of Richmond’s imminent rise were as ill-advised as the former Climate Commissioner’s announcements concerning the weather patterns of south-eastern Australia. My wife sympathises with me and provides a peppermint Aero chocolate bar for my exclusive enjoyment at half time.

Club greats from Francis Bourke to Tony Jewel are weighing in with opinions as to why the Tigers appear to be going backwards. Lack of on-field leadership, a dearth of tackling pressure and an unwillingness to play Riewoldt as a traditional full forward are among the reasons cited. Dermott Brereton suggests that it might be helpful for Dustin Martin to break a few opponents’ bones.

But who knows? Maybe the Tigers might cause an upset as they did back in 2007 when Deledio ran rings around them and slotted five goals. But Deledio is missing tonight with an achilles injury.

My worst fears are quickly confirmed. The sad fact of the matter is that Richmond is never in the game, even though Jack plays a major proportion of it in the teeth of goal. The match itself is an ugly spectacle of rolling scrimmages played in slippery conditions, making ball handling difficult.

The scene is set when Beams, Pendlebury and Swan score the first three goals of the game, heralding Collingwood’s midfield dominance. They use the ball to their team’s advantage, make better decisions and kick more goals than their Richmond counterparts. After ten minutes I am forced to admit to myself that this mob is simply better than us. While I can’t see them challenging for the flag, most weeks they simply get the job done and will most likely appear in the finals again. Richmond is theoretically competing with them for a place in the eight but instead they’re wiping the floor with us. The Tigers are out-muscled and out-bustled in the clinches. When they get their hands on the ball they fumble, make woeful decisions and waste it. They miss shots at goal and the pressure mounts.

It’s a return to the latter stages of Danny Frawley’s reign. The team is bereft of confidence. Instead of attempting to break the lines the Tigers chip pass to each other and beat frequent, hasty retreats. It’s only a matter of time before possession is relinquished or the ball is punched out of bounds when the first actual contest takes place.

Without Deledio on the park it’s a case of if you stop Cotchin, you pretty much bring the Punt Road outfit to a grinding halt. The Richmond skipper can’t be expected to carry the team week in week out and is unable to counter the aggressive attention of tagger Brett McAffer. With all of his teammates under the pump Cotchin is mostly left to fend for himself.

Tyrone Vickery is subbed out early in the second half. He suffers the indignity of Bronx cheers greeting the announcement over the stadium PA. Supporters have completely lost patience with him.

The Richmond members endure the ordeal in the time honoured fashion of the past few decades. “This is rubbish Richmond!” “You’re a bloody disgrace Richmond!” Damien Hardwick’s face appears on the big screen as part of the Are You Giving 110%? membership campaign. “No!” retorts one punter. “We’re a crap club!” Some onlookers have religious experiences and constantly call out to Jesus.

At first the umpires are blamed for our predicament. Then as the game slides out of reach, attention is diverted to the woes currently being experienced by the out-of-form Travis Cloke. It matters not that he is the son of a club legend. Cloke destroyed Richmond and booted seven goals in the corresponding clash last year. Richmond fans take every opportunity to taunt him for each dropped mark and sprayed shot at goal, loudly praising the work of his opponent in David Astbury. But Collingwood gets on with the job. They still manage to score goals through Pendlebury, Beams and Swan with the aid of a mobile Jesse White and a high-marking midget by the name of Jamie Elliott. Their lead is extended to eight goals by the final break.

The Tigers provide some belated entertainment with a seven goal to six final term. But it’s a case of too little too late. The final margin of 38 points is close to what I predicted in my tipping.

Collingwood squares the ledger at two wins and two losses and remains in contention. Richmond meets Brisbane at the Gabba next Thursday night before meeting Hawthorn and Geelong in the following two rounds. On current form the Tigers might stumble past the injury-depleted Lions but will most likely be crushed by the league heavyweights, leaving them with a precarious 2-5 win loss ratio before the bye. I can’t honestly see them recovering from that position.

Normal service is resumed. Sadly, the Elimination Final against Carlton in 2013 may prove to be the pinnacle of Hardwick’s tenure at Punt Road. Despite all of the efforts of Dimma and his assistants in recruitment, player development and tactics, perhaps this list lacks the ability, skills and mental toughness necessary to take the club to the next level.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow. When does the next five-year plan commence? In the meantime we help make up the numbers while other clubs contemplate greatness. It’s nearly 40 years since Richmond played in consecutive finals series.

Full marks to mature-age recruit Sam Lloyd for his three goals on debut.  And full marks to my wife  for that peppermint Aero at half time, a definite highlight for me.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    John to me there are still huge questions re Richmond in recruiting and skill development there foot skills are poor with a huge lack of elite kicks on there list
    Richmond if they were actually aiming at becoming a Premiership threat had to draft
    Brodie Grundy he is ( and was before the draft ) the ruck man a club can base that elusive dream around . Vickery in lack of football nous and ability to read the game makes his actual lack of pace multiply . Cothchin has supposedly questioned the tigers toughness re hard ball that’s not there problem lack of actual skill and decision making is the biggest problem . The 2 weeks since the comedy show of the tigers v blues game has shown were both sides are at thanks John

  2. Look on the bright side JG.
    Preston North End 6 – Carlisle United 1.
    Oh to be in Deepdale now that spring is in the air, and promotion to the Championship beckons.

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