Finals Week 1 – Richmond v North Melbourne: The Tigers of old – for the vanquished

Football fans love a loser as much as they hate a winner.  There has been a lot to love about Richmond for 35-years.  They haven’t won a final since 2001.  Their last premiership was decades ago.  They haven’t beaten North Melbourne in a final since 1974.

And they’ve now lost three consecutive elimination finals.  At least they’re consistent.

I don’t hate Richmond because there’s nothing to hate.  My sympathy for Richmond isn’t patronising.  I like them, not just for their propensity to lose finals but for sentimental reasons.

My grandparents loved Richmond.  Several cousins love the Tigers.  I’m happy if Richmond win when they don’t play North Melbourne.

Heading into the elimination final, I was without that gut-churning angst normally associated with finals.  During the build-up, the Tigers had it all.  They were rightly favoured, finishing fifth with 15 wins.

A lot was written about Richmond and their new-found determination.  Their win over a rested North side a week earlier by 41-points was written off as meaningless.  Days before the game, a mate of mine stopped reading the paper, because North was being written off as losers.

Both sides expected to progress beyond the elimination final.  It seemed Richmond’s best chance to win a final since 2001.  They finished the season third best in defence and eighth best in attack.  Their side was described as harder, stronger, more experienced and better coached.

I was worried, not so much about losing, but about another season of promise wrecked again by inconsistency.  North played untrustworthy football all year and finished eighth by design.

Brad Scott’s decision to rest nine players a week ago smacked of arrogance.  It didn’t erase fear of the expected lapse, a bevy of goals in a quarter to concede a match-winning lead.

And that’s what almost happened.  But this is Richmond.

After a gritty, stilted opening, the Tigers led at the first change by three-points.  Early in the second quarter they were dominating.  The lead blew out to 21-points.  North pegged them back.  Richmond couldn’t miss the goals.

Suddenly the lead was 21-points again.  North fought back.  At half-time, Richmond led by 13-points.  It was clear they had the upper hand.

For the fourth week in a row, North conceded seven goals in a quarter.  Importantly, we kicked five to stay in touch.

It was a gripping elimination final, played under immense pressure It was riddled with errors, missed shots at goal or missed targets in the midfield.

Turnovers were killing both sides.  Despite the folly, neither side stopped attacking.  The tackle count was low, so the ball tended to move quickly.  North never gave up.  Richmond never gave up.

North asserted themselves in the third quarter.  Possession was maintained, pressure applied.  The Tigers wilted, but North’s inaccuracy held them back.  Twenty times they went inside fifty for 5-5.  Richmond kicked three goals from six forward entries.

It was dominance, but North led by just four-points.  Richmond regained the lead in the last quarter.  North got it back.  It was a nagging margin.  Neither side could put each other away.

In the final moments of the last term, the game conspired against Richmond.  An obvious free kick against Ben Cunnington was missed, which could’ve led to a goal.

It was the umpires having an unfortunate impact.  But three of Richmond’s first four goals were from free kicks.  That’s not to say they weren’t there.  And they got another from a soft 50-metre penalty.

Blame not the umpires.  The umpires didn’t cause the turnovers or dropped marks or poor decisions.  The Cunnington non-decision may have been diabolical, but it didn’t cost Richmond the game.

Late in the last quarter, Ty Vickery ran into an open goal without physical pressure and missed from thirty metres out.  It was Richmond’s first point since the first quarter and their last chance to get back into the game.

But Vickery’s miss didn’t cost Richmond the game.

Richmond cost Richmond the game.  They panicked, took the wrong option and blew their chance.  As the clock wound down to the final siren, thousands of Tiger fans were leaving the MCG.

Suddenly, Richmond losing had seemed inevitable all along.

By weight of scoring shots, North eventually took their chances and finished with 15-15.  Richmond did well to kick 14-4.  The 17-point win should have been bigger.  North could have put the game away at three quarter time.

But this is North Melbourne, where nothing ever seems easy or inevitable.

 

Sparing a thought…

Football clubs really know how to hurt people.  For every Richmond fan that left the MCG, hundreds stayed stoic, watching and waiting for the final crushing moment of despair.

Not again, no way, not ever.

The game was almost the inverse of itself.  Richmond kicked 9-3 to 6-8 in the first half.  North kicked 9-7 to 5-1 in the second half.

North won by winning two quarters.  They’ve been doing it all year.  It’s a fraught existence in the finals.  Few teams win grand finals by winning two quarters.

I fired off a few texts and social media posts.  Mostly about Richmond choking.  But my heart wasn’t in it.  I felt for Richmond, a club that doesn’t know how to win.  I felt immense sympathy for my cousins.  The memory of my grandparents and their love of Richmond reduced my joy.

My cousin Pat flew down from Sydney for the game.  He grumbled about the umpires.  I responded gently.

On Tuesday, I went out to get lunch and browsed in a second-hand store, finding Matthew Richardson’s autobiography on a shelf for five bucks.

I texted a photo of the book to Pat, asking if he had it.  He didn’t, so I bought it and went across the road to the post office and put it in the mail.

He sent a text, thanks mate it will take my mind off that atrocious loss.

It probably won’t, I replied.  Richo didn’t play in many finals.  It gets mentioned in his book…

 

RICHMOND:   2.3  9.3  12.3  14.4 (88)

NORTH MELBOURNE:   1.6  6.8  11.13  15.15 (105)

 

GOALS:

Richmond: Riewoldt 4, Newman 2, Vickery 2, Miles, Deledio, Lambert, McIntosh, Conca, Edwards.

North Melbourne: Waite 4, Brown 2, Harvey 2, Petrie 2, MacMillan, Thomas, Nahas, Higgins, Garner.

 

Umpires: Jeffrey, Rosebury, McInerney.

 

Crowd: 90,186 at the MCG.

 

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…

Comments

  1. george smith says:

    Every result has consequences. With the loss of the stadium filling Tiger fans it forecasts the death knell of us Magpies’ favorite venue, ANZ Stadium, as a locale for AFL football. 3 stations from home if things went well.

    You won’t get two men and a cat to venture up here to watch North Melbourne. And those who barrack for the Swans prefer to watch at their impossible to get to home ground, the SCG.

    So ANZ will get 20 thousand if we are lucky.

    What a mighty record the Magpies had at the big Olympic Stadium over the years. Ten wins and only 3 losses. And for those who said the place had no atmosphere, there were those magical moments when the crowd changed from red and white to black and white halfway through the last quarter.

  2. Peter Warrington says:

    the seeds of defeat were growing in our unimpressive dispatch of The Giants, the Blues and the Bombers, and the thumping by the Crows.

    The stellar win against the Hawks either inflated egos or highlights the need for finals in July.

Leave a Comment

*