AFL Round 7: Brave, brave Alex

By Chris Riches

Every football supporter knows the moment.

It’s a moment when a particular player you’re watching does something that makes you sit up a little straighter in your seat, open your eyes a little wider, pay attention a little more closely.

It’s a moment that can move you to turn to a fellow supporter sitting next to you – whether you know them or not – and say: “Did you see that? I reckon we’ve found a good one here”.

It’s the moment when you realise that a youngster might be everything you hope he will be, or, better yet, even better.

Last year there were a few moments like this on a wet and gloomy day at the MCG as Tiger fans watched in increasing awe as a young Trent Cotchin made his debut against the might of Geelong.

Cotchin took the game by the scruff of the neck early, kicking a goal and weaving around more experienced and better credentialed opponents in a way that left Richmond fans at the game thinking: “Hey, we’ve found a good one here”.

And on Saturday – another gloomy day at the MCG – many Richmond fans might’ve had a similar such moment during the Tigers’ lamentable loss to Brisbane.

The moment? Watching Richmond youngster Alex Rance rush headlong after a contested ball and into an horrific collision with Lion Troy Selwood on the Members’ Wing.

Most of the football-watching public will have heard the story by now – Rance and Selwood, both with eyes only for the ball – collided virtually head-on during the third quarter of Saturday’s game.

Many of us will have seen the footage of the incident – sickeningly replayed ad-nauseum by the football media through the weekend.

And most of us will have flinched or turned away at that moment of impact, knowing, but not wanting to see, what happened next.

The result was that Rance, son of former Bulldog and Eagle Murray and only a half-dozen games into his career, was “out” before he hit the ground, and is now recovering in hospital with metal plates and screws holding his broken cheekbone in place.

The publicity surrounding the incident and the comments in its aftermath have meant most of the wider football public has, for the first time, become aware of Rance and his efforts in the yellow and black.

But for dedicated Richmond supporters, it came as no surprise that is was young Alex being taken from the ground after such an impact. This is because, in just six games, Alex Rance has displayed a level of on-field courage, passion and fearlessness that is in equal parts inspiring and frightening.

Rewind just a few weeks to Richmond’s Round 4 match against Melbourne.

The Tigers, struggling in the early going against an enthusiastic Demons outfit, watch as Alex Rance attacks a contest at half-back with alarming ferocity.

A simple short pass to Demon star Brad Green suddenly becomes a hotly contested ball as Rance’s closing speed forces a bone-jarring collision and emphatic spoil.

Rance gets up a little gingerly and plays on. Green is not so lucky – a broken jaw sees him miss the rest of the game, and a few weeks after that.

Seemingly oblivious to how close he came to injury, Rance continues to throw himself into contests throughout the match, diving for the loose ball, cannoning into packs with abandon and standing his ground unflinchingly under high kicks as packs, in turn, descend on him.

Fast forward to the last quarter and a poor Tiger effort has them well behind and almost out of the game. Yet a couple of quick goals gives the players and fans a hope of a miraculous – albeit entirely undeserved – win.

Melbourne gain possession and look to relieve the pressure through a rebound from the backline.

Every player and supporter knows the importance of the move – if Melbourne can clear the ball and lock it in their forward line the game is as good as theirs. If Richmond can somehow gain possession and continue their pressure, another goal might result.

The ball is kicked along the Members’ Wing to an unattended Demons player on Melbourne’s half-back line. An easy mark and clearance looks a certainty to virtually everyone at the ground.

Everyone, that is, except for Alex Rance.

With a turn of speed belying fourth-quarter weariness, Rance charges to the contest, closing a 15 metre gap in the blink of an eye. Crashing into his opponent, Rance spikes the ball, like a champion volleyballer, into the third row of the crowd.

And then it happens – THAT moment that makes supporters sit up, take notice and say: “Hey, did you see that? I reckon we’ve found a good one here.”

Rance, as he runs from the contest, pumps his fists and screams at his teammates: “Come on!” you can hear him yell. “Come on!” – we ARE still in this, we CAN still win this.

This is the moment. Not only the contest, the spoil, the effort; but the very public spurring on of more experienced teammates, the passionate belief, the exhortation and encouragement.

Every Tiger supporter who sees it sits a little straighter in their seats, opens their eyes a little wider, realises that: “We might have found one here”.

Despite Rance’s best efforts, Richmond still loses. Yet watching this youngster gives me a bit of hope for the future.

A memory comes to mind – that of the Kellaway brothers and their brave, courageous and entirely selfless way of putting their bodies on the line and giving their all to every contest.

Never would I have dreamt of comparing these two brave Tiger warriors to anyone, let alone doing it so soon after their retirements. Yet unconsciously – and proudly – I find myself thinking of Duncan and Andrew whenever I watch Alex Rance.

We read now that despite Saturday’s sickening collision, Alex wants to return in two or three weeks, and has vowed not to change the way he plays.

And for anyone who has watched Alex’s first half-dozen games of AFL football, the statement, and sentiment, will come as no surprise.

About Chris Riches

Chris Riches is a journalist and writer who has worked in various forms of the media for more than 15 years. He also drinks too much coffee and often has a hoarse voice on Monday mornings, two things he attributes to his lifelong support of the Richmond Football Club.

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