Finals Week 1 – Richmond v North Melbourne: Worth the Waite

The two best moments of my year in 2014 were easy to pinpoint. One happened on a cold Saturday night at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, in a football match between two traditional rivals from Melbourne’s northern suburbs. The moment involved a big forward wearing number 20. The other moment happened less than a week later at the same venue, when a promising-but-frustrating ruckman made a statement to everybody watching. Those moments were unbelievable, and will live with me for as long as I do. The only thing I regret from those nights was the fact I had no one to share the pure, unbridled happiness with.

 

I desperately wanted that to change in 2015. It looked a little on the grim side after North Melbourne’s capitulation to the Gold Coast Suns in Round 14. However, a seven-game winning streak delivered the Roos September action for the second year in a row, even with two losses to finish the season. I was headed back to the MCG to see an Elimination Final against Richmond, but who would come with me this time?

 

My Dad, a lifelong North Melbourne supporter, has been the reason for my fanatical support of the blue and white, not to mention football in general. My best friend of 13 years Jeff, a dyed-in-the-wool Richmond supporter, and my girlfriend of four-and-a-bit years Liz, who’s black and white stripes have slowly been etched away, replaced by a love for the Kangas and Ben Brown. All four of us had tickets secured by 9:30 on Monday morning. None of them had been to a final before.

 

The wait was long, but luckily my studies kept me occupied enough throughout the week. However, by Friday night, I had already laid out my North guernsey in anticipation. I was scared. Saturday night’s thriller between the Bulldogs and the Crows did nothing to allay my fears. I tried to cast my mind back to the two finals last year, but all I remember is feeling quietly confident. There’s a lot on the line this year. There’s Brad Scott’s coaching credentials after he rested nine senior players in Round 23. There’s the banter that I will cop from Jeff until the end of time, not to mention the Richmond supporters in my class and at work. It was all or nothing. I guess Elimination Finals are like that.

 

Waking early on Sunday, the butterflies didn’t take long to hit. Dad and Liz were due to arrive not long after noon, and needing something to do, I went for a drive along Warrigal Rd, enjoying the warm, almost hot weather the day had produced. Back at home, I kicked my miniature footy from McDonald’s to myself in the backyard, wondering if the players were as nervous as I was. At last, Dad and Liz rocked up, and we headed off for lunch. I couldn’t even finish my chocolate sundae, stuff this finals business!

 

The train was expectedly packed on the Glen Waverley line heading to the ground. I could feel the tension, the nervousness, and the uneasiness from all around me. The walk to the MCG from Richmond station has to be one of the best experiences you can get living in Melbourne, riding the wave of excitement as the stadium looms large in the distance.

 

We meet Jeff outside of gate 5, and in we go. Our seats are perfect. M14, Row C. The sun is perched above us, shining on white skin that hasn’t been exposed all winter. The North banner goes up. “Tigers don’t win finals. We do.” The Richmond faithful start booing and jeering. They’re primed for their first win in September since 2001. They have to break their drought sooner or later. It isn’t long until the teams are out, the national anthem is sung, and the players are in position.

 

The first bounce is a shocker, and is quickly recalled. An anti-climax. It isn’t long until Chris Newman, perhaps playing his final game, slots the first goal of the match from outside 50. The Richmond crowd go berserk. Todd Goldstein, far and away North Melbourne’s best player, is caught holding the ball directly in front of goal, and alarm bells go off in my head. Brett Deledio adds another goal for the Tigers. The Tiger army are on their feet. A stark contrast to last year’s final to Port Adelaide.

 

Thankfully, Jarrad Waite imposes himself on the contest, snapping a left-foot goal from a stoppage, and we start to get on top. We can’t capitalise on it though, with Drew Petrie and Shaun Higgins kicking a couple of behinds each. We trail at the first break by a few points.

 

I ask Jeff if Trent Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt are at the game, noting their non-existent output from the first quarter. Riewoldt quickly puts egg on my face with a goal to start the second term, before Tyrone Vickery turns Lachie Hansen inside out on the boundary line, bounding away to kick another. Anthony Miles slots one from long range, and they have a 21 point break. Memories of last year’s first half against Essendon come flooding back.

 

Youngster Taylor Garner, in just his 11th game, hauls in a gutsy pack mark in the goalsquare to boot his first. Riewoldt slots another goal, but North fight their way back. Waite kicks his second goal, before Brown pounces on a ground ball to snap a crucial major. The crowd is now well and truly behind us. The kid Garner impresses with a lace-out pass to Waite on the non-preferred, leading to his third goal and getting us within a couple of points. Richmond respond again, with Shane Edwards the beneficiary of a dodgy 50m penalty, and Newman booting a cracker. But it’s Garner again who gets us rolling, winning a crucial ball coming out of the middle, spinning out of a tackle and hitting Brent Harvey with a clever handball, who runs in to kick a goal. Riewoldt finishes with his third of the quarter, and the Tigers go into the main break with a 13 point advantage.

 

The fans sitting on our side of the wing watch as the sun finally disappears behind the grandstand, rendering most of the ground in shade. Arms shielding the glare collectively drop as the Auskickers get their 10 minutes of fame. Time disappears quickly, and the teams are both back out on the ground. With the sun now gone and the warm conditions slightly more bearable, I waited intently, wondering if our fresh legs would be a factor.

 

Robbie Nahas, a Richmond reject, endears himself to the North Melbourne fans by catching Troy Chaplin holding the ball in an inexplicable brain-fade from the former Power defender. Nahas kicks the goal, but is quickly followed by Kamdyn McIntosh from the Tigers. Brown misses a set-shot, but makes amends by snapping a crumbing goal, cutting the margin back to under a goal. Oddly enough, I start to feel calm. I feel confident. We are well on top. Richmond are getting their goals through lucky breaks in play. We hit the front for the first time when Jamie Macmillan, growing in stature every week, goals from directly in front. Reece Conca is subbed into the game and quickly makes an impact with an open goal, but it’s that big forward wearing number 20 who steps up. Petrie takes two marks and kicks two goals late in the quarter, giving us a nine point lead. Vickery fires back just in the nick of time with a booming goal from outside 50, and it’s the Roos with a slender lead at the last break.

 

My nerves return. I think of the circumstances for Jeff and I. Utter glee for the winner, and despair for the loser. One quarter to go, 30 minutes of football to decide who would go home happy. The Tigers get the fast start, with Riewoldt booting his fourth to give his side back the lead, but the reply comes quick from North, with Boomer slotting his second. The minutes pass, and North continue to look like the team most likely to prevail. That’s affirmed when Sam Wright intercepts (again) an opposition ball and hits Shaun Higgins inside 50. Higgins goes back and does the business, as he has done so many times this season. Kane Lambert, whose afternoon hasn’t been a good one, boots a long goal, and I curse Richmond’s ability to kick a goal every time they have a ping. Lindsay Thomas makes himself a hero with a mercurial snap goal, but Richmond find themselves in an attacking position yet again. Vickery marks at the 50m line, plays on, ignores his teammate in the goalsquare and misses an open goal, their first behind since the first quarter. It’s a game changer. You can feel the Richmond crowd deflate.

 

North, looking for the knock-out blow, find it through the little legs of Nahas, who pumps the ball to the tip of the goalsquare, where Waite is standing opposed by Jake Batchelor. The decision to recruit Waite at the end of last season has been criticised by many, but in a cutthroat, do-or-die final, it has paid off in absolute spades.

 

With just minutes left, the yellow and black army start to leave in droves. Dad, his voice hoarse and cracking, gives the Richmond faithful an earful. This is exactly what I wanted to have by my side last September. Jeff leaves early, and it’s just the three of us left to rejoice, erupting into jubilant cheers on the final siren. This North Melbourne team continues to provide memorable moments at the business-end of the season, and after a somewhat disappointing year prior to our late surge, they proved it was well and truly worth the Waite.

 

 

Richmond 2.3 – 9.3 – 12.3 – 14.4.88
North Melbourne 1.6 – 6.8 – 11.13 – 15.15.105

Goalkickers

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

North Melbourne – Waite 4, Harvey 2, Petrie 2, Brown 2, Higgins, Garner, Nahas, Thomas, Macmillan

Best

Richmond – Rance, Riewoldt, Newman, Miles, Houli

North Melbourne – Waite, Harvey, Jacobs, Goldstein, Cunnington, Macmillan, Swallow, Firrito, Garner

Crowd

90,186 at the MCG

Votes

3: Jarrad Waite (North Melbourne)
2: Brent Harvey (North Melbourne)
1: Ben Jacobs (North Melbourne)

 

 

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About Josh Barnstable

21 year old North Melbourne supporter from country Victoria. Currently living in Melbourne studying a Bachelor of Sports Media. Dreams of becoming a sports journalist and broadcaster.

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    You are spot on about the walk from Richmond Station Josh. It is just long enough for the tension and excitement to rise, as the sights, sounds and even smells intensify with every step.

  2. Andrew Starkie says:

    Great piece, Josh. The Roos have provided us with another beautiful September memory. ( I think I saw you walking around the ground pre-match.)

    As the teams lined up, I thought our three talls would stretch their defence. When Batchelor went to Waite, I couldn’t help but smile. He and Browny kept us in the hunt in the first half with important goals. Agreed, Garner was brilliant in the 2nd term, as was Boomer.

    Riewoldt was the only Tiger forward who worried me before the game. he played well, however our bigger bodies in defence eventually got on top.

    Swallow, Goldy, Cunners, Boomer, Nicky Dal were heroic in the second half. I could sense they drew on their experience from last year to get us over the line.

    Next week is another challenge. The Swans have had the wood over us for years now, however their injuries can only help us. Our big defence may be a problem as I suspect Sydney will play a small forward line.

    Go Roos

  3. matt watson says:

    There’s always immense sadness for the vanquished.
    Even as a North supporter, I feel sorry for Richmond and their fans.
    It just seemed so inevitable…

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