Finals Week 1 – Richmond v Hawthorn: It’s only the Beginning

 

It’s only the beginning of the Finals. I bounce off the train at West Richmond Station. The sun has just set on a changeable early Spring day and darkness envelopes me.

 

I walk towards Lennox St, where I will meet mates at the London Tavern for a pre-match ale. It is bursting with footy fans, both Tigers and Hawks. Most are wearing yellow, requiring a double-take before their tribal allegiance becomes apparent. I find my friends and quickly have a pint in my hand.

 

On the wall in the Public Bar is a large framed photo of Captain Blood. Kitted out in his famous Richmond gear, he was an elderly man when the photo was taken. He is stooped, his hair is sparse, his face is lined with the cruel ravages of the passing of time. It is an incongruous image which speaks to the lost years, the many wasted Richmond years, doing penance whilst other clubs bolted past them, leaving them behind with only memories and aging heroes for comfort. Tonight’s opponent is the most successful of those bolters. We owe this mob so much more than just one belting!

 

A large group of us leave together and we walk  towards Punt Road, where the bustling peak hour traffic takes precedence over our impatience to be at the ground. Light rain begins to drizzle.  Eventually, we cross and walk past the iconic Jack Dyer Stand before climbing the hill towards the bright lights of the MCG, the greatest stadium in this country. Some would argue it is the greatest stadium on Earth. We skirt past the ground and thin out, dispersing at each gate. By the time I reach Gate 2, my only companion is my phone.  An exchange of texts locates the friends I will be sitting with in the members.  As I wait in the queue, the rain has become heavy and uncomfortable. I am not quite prepared for the elements. How long have I lived in this city?  What is wrong with me?

 

We are seated on Level 1, under cover, almost in that difficult zone that I don’t like, where the goal and point posts align as one at one end, making it impossible to see if a goal has been scored.  Luckily, we can see a modicum of daylight between the sticks.

 

Both teams crack in immediately. Finals football is upon us, and right on cue, the two teams clamber in desperation for the ball. They fight with every weapon at their disposal, tooth and nail amongst them. The conditions are greasy and slippery, reducing the reward for clean skills. The Tigers revel in this. The first quarter is typical Richmond football. Their Clydesdales work hard, harnessed to the wheel, grinding into their opponents, overcoming lack of science with undoubted effort. At the first break, both teams have scored two majors and change. The Hawks lead by the barest of margins.  Shaun Burgoyne, their most skilful player, has missed the easiest of goals, inexplicably.

 

Can the pressure rise from here?  Can these teams maintain this taxing pace?  The early part of second quarter again belongs to the Clydesdales, as both teams stand fast, refusing to concede. This is epitomised by the efforts of Richmond hard man, Kamdyn McIntosh. Not known for his exquisite skills, he scores his second goal with a difficult dribble kick. It does not roll end over end, it skids along the wet grass, like a putt that is destined to miss the hole by a long way.  Luckily the goals are seven metres wide!

 

Suddenly, the thoroughbreds join in. When speedster Daniel Rioli picks the ball up near goals, I am sitting almost directly behind him. His glorious dribble kick turns end over end and spins towards the centre of the target, just like in the instructional YouTube videos. Moments later, the game is taken to another level by the Phar Lap of the competition. He is on the boundary, right in front of that difficult zone where the posts align. How can he see any daylight from there? We stand as one as we know the ball will sail through from the moment it leaves his boot.  Alone, this is worth the considerable price of admission!

 

The Tigers lead by fourteen points at half-time. The game is still in dispute but we no longer need to study the colours on the scarf to ascertain each fan’s allegiance. The looks on the faces reveal all.  Myself? I spend the break looking like the cat that stole the cream!

 

Luke Breust, another of the more skilful players on the field, misses an even easier shot at goal than one Burgoyne missed. The Tigers shut the gate, no more wild horses will run free tonight.  The dynamic Dion Prestia controls the middle of the ground and the belligerent Josh Caddy patrols Richmond’s forward line. Youngster Jack Higgins is relaxed. Only nineteen games into his career, he is playing in front of his millionth spectator tonight. No wonder Tom Lynch wants to be a Tiger!

 

Hawthorn’s defenders begin to wilt under the constant jarring pressure. They become fumbly and hesitant. Win the ball and they have to break a tackle. Break that tackle and they have to break a gang-tackle. Should they find an inch of space, the menacing figures of Rance, Vlastuin, Grimes and Astbury loom ahead, like ominous, dark shadows. The Hawks are trapped in the seven levels of hell!  A five goal to two quarter puts the game beyond their reach.

 

To their credit, they do not give up. Their inspirational leader, Jarryd Roughead leads them admirably in the last quarter. They begin to score more freely. Not to be outdone, the professional Tigers answer each goal immediately, maintaining a comfortable five to six goal lead for the rest of the game.

 

The Hawks are relegated to the cut-throat elimination circus of the next few weeks. The Tigers are rewarded with their second consecutive home Preliminary Final, where they will await another worthy adversary.

 

It is only the beginning!

 

RICHMOND     2.2       5.7     10.13   13.17 (95)

HAWTHORN   2.3       3.5      5.8       9.10 (64)

GOALS

Richmond: McIntosh 3, Rioli 3, Caddy 2, Martin, Prestia, Higgins, Edwards, Graham

Hawthorn: Roughead 3, Shiels, Nash, Impey, Mitchell, Breust, Smith

BEST

Richmond: Martin, Prestia, Cotchin, Rioli, Lambert, Grimes, Grigg

Hawthorn: O’Meara, Mitchell, Shiels, Smith, Henderson, Sicily

INJURIES

Richmond: Rance (left foot)

Hawthorn: Ryan Schoenmakers (Achilles soreness) replaced in selected side by Daniel Howe, Hardwick (hip), Stratton (hamstring)

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Rosebury, Deboy, Ryan

Official crowd: 91,446 at the MCG

 

First published on Balcony Banter

About Joe De Petro

My favourite period in history began with the Summer of Love and came to a sad end with the birth of Disco. It was from 1967 to 1975. What was not to like in those days? The Grateful Dead, Creedence, The Beach Boys, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond and the mighty Tigers won Premierships every other year. It was a magical time!

Comments

  1. Deep breath, boys!

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