Finals Week 3 – Richmond v GWS: Caught in the Richmond Wave – the Orange Year is Over 


There were a few of us Giants supporters at the airport, waiting for the 6am flight. We gave each other a nod of acknowledgement, but this wasn’t a time for much chatting. Tiredness, apprehension, a feeling that this was going to be a tough game. The season had been unpredictable. There was no Cameron or Mumford and the side had shown little of note against the other top 4 sides in the second half of the season.


I had hired a car for the trip, so when the car hire shuttle arrived at Tullamarine, the driver said back to base, “I have the one GWS supporter with me”. I laughed and we had a chat about the game. He was a Canadian expat who had barracked for Essendon, but had been burnt by the ASADA business and was more passionate about the Storm these days.  We had the kind of conversation about football that one just never has in Ubers and taxis in Sydney. He was hoping that Richmond could be stopped from winning the flag, if only so his Richmond supporting colleague would be stopped from going into full gloat mode.


Because I was landing pretty early in the morning, it would be a good chance to see the Dior exhibition at the National Gallery. I had not much idea about Dior – just thought it was about dresses and selling branded perfume. I wasn’t disappointed – it was as opulent and filled with chandeliers as a Sydney Swans fan event. It was also a presentation about the changing fashions and their relationship to culture. And a tribute to the people who spend days working on the incredible details on each dress. While I was wandering, I was a bit of a fashion plate myself, with my Giants cheer squad polo and scarf on. Not a Richmond one to be seen anywhere. #AdvantageGiants.   


I continued to the Hokusai exhibition also at the gallery, even though my tiredness was taking over and the effects of the two excellent coffees I had along the way were fading. But that did not stop me from being amazed and awed by the fascinating series of prints depicting various perspectives of Mt. Fuji and the cultural life surrounding it. His most famous one, of a wave next to Fuji, was fascinating to see in the flesh. Hokusai had a great ability to capture colour of different times of the day as well as the social divides and roles inside Japanese culture. His humour when depicting such elements was also subtle.


Having had my fill of art and dresses, it was time to join the Giants’ pre-game event at the Imperial. It was nice to see the Melbourne based fans – I generally sit with my family at Melbourne Giants’ matches – as well as the cheer squad people who had travelled on the 12 hour bus trip from Sydney. It seemed to us that we had brought the hot, windy weather with us. From there, a group of supporters went on an Orange Army march from the hotel to the game. I went earlier, as I was on the banner and I didn’t want to miss out on getting there – and the security queues were fairly long. 


On the way to the ground, it was clear to see how this was a black and yellow event with a touch of orange.  But no-one was rude and Richmond supporters weren’t shouting abuse at us. On the way to the ground, near the entrance, I saw a 10 year old boy selling handmade figures with pins, all spread out on a blanket. $5 each. I was impressed – even more so that there were Giants ones. So, I had to get it – and put it on my scarf. This is part of what I like about football culture – the random, handmade merch, not so much the stuff pumped out of design teams.


To be part of the banner crew at a Preliminary Final feels different – and especially different when there’s 95,000 outside at the MCG. The nerves are higher, there’s not the casual atmosphere that we have at the Showground. Plus, we talked a lot more than usual with the opposition cheer squad. It was a very friendly, respectful, convivial chat. This wasn’t a surprise. The Richmond cheer squad is one of the best and friendliest in the league. I suspect some of the people in the stands around us, seeing this outbreak of respect and photos might have been a bit shocked by the sight – expecting us to be at each other’s throats, like some kind of Facebook / Twitter battle. But that’s not how cheer squads work – we have respect for the passion and commitment for football inside those squads.


But then, after the banner was unfurled and the players ran out, there were very loud boos. We went back to our seats, the white line ready to be crossed and all the pre-game respect and smiles gone. And then, in the first two minutes, the Tigers scored two goals – one of them featuring a Tigers’ player scoring very close to our end. The noise was overwhelming and I was fearing the worst.  We weren’t here for a 100 point thrashing.


Fortunately, it turned out my fears were unfounded.  This was not the same Giants side who was crushed by Adelaide two weeks before. This was a tougher group, bonding together despite the sound of affirmation and connection from the collective Tiger Army. Players were who had had indifferent seasons were standing up – Adam Tomlinson and Harry Himmelberg were two notables. And they had to stand even taller when Dylan Shiel, a player born for battle, was felled in the first quarter – an action that brought back memories of Callan Ward in the 2016 Prelim. This time, Ward was integral to the toughness of the first half, also scoring more goals than usual, keeping the brass band that had again been brought along busy. Such efforts were necessary in a game without Cameron and where Greene and Johnson were not up to their usual standard. It also didn’t help that Patton had a brain fade at the end of the first quarter – if anyone was ever equipped and needed to take a set shot at that time just before the siren, it was Patton. It went from a possible iconic moment to an oh no moment in the blink of an eye.


So it came to pass that at half time, the Giants were well in the game, much to the surprise of many, especially me. They weren’t blown away by the crowd, the atmosphere, the occasion – indeed, during the second quarter, the crowd were relatively quiet.  The tension was palpable.


The third quarter was, as usual, the deciding one. The Giants’ run and carry vanished in the face of Richmond pressure. The ball was coming into the Richmond forward 50 far too often.  There were fairly questionable calls in that quarter which did not go unnoticed by the cheer squad, and others watching at home – an unreviewed goal, a “deliberate” out of bounds that only just missed its target, Dusty Martin and Heath Shaw mutually holding each other, but with Martin getting the free kick and goal. Putting this aside, however, the ball should not have been appearing in the forward 50 as much as it did. The Giants were still slow and static and Richmond were in the ascendancy. And that’s when the crowd became a considerable factor. The noise of the third quarter was like a Hokusai wave, rising to envelop the whole stadium with its crescendos.


In the midst of this, however, the Giants’ cheer squad never diminished in our cheering and energy. We were in an orange cocoon at the Ponsford Stand end, our little orange and charcoal strip continuing to keep up the encouragement of our players, providing opinions of the umpiring performances. In the fourth quarter, the glimmer of hope returned as the brass band again performed our song after a couple of early goals. It was sadly another false hope as the Tigers again ramped up their run – and Dustin Martin showed why he will be a deserved Brownlow winner. It was remarkable to me how different he was to the way he played against us in Canberra in 2016 – he looked lost then, focused now.  


Then came the end. The Tigers’ long wait for a Grand Final came to an end, but they had to wait to sing until Harry Himmelberg’s goal after the siren and our brass band playing our song – the last time we would hear it this year.  It was a thunderous performance of yellow and black – apparently heard two suburbs away. Unrepeatable, incredible, unique.  


We in the cheer squad, along with the other 1200 or so Giants fans in the stands, were gutted. Another Prelim, another Victorian fairytale narrative to see unfold. At the time, they just look like an impenetrable wall willing us not to exist, but now that the villains had been vanquished, the joy was everywhere.


It was a vision that Hokusai could have captured, if he had the time and hadn’t passed away 200 years ago.  He would have been able to go beyond seeing them as just a massed sea of yellow and black and been able to capture the individual stories of dedicated Tigers’ fans, all waiting patiently, working on their supporter jackets and clothing, a bit like the unseen Dior workers, all painstakingly working on making something special and lasting.


For us, that was it. The tears were everywhere – especially for Kath and Seb Dell’Orefice, Steven Strother, Paula Strother (who had come to most of the season in a wheelchair), Jessica Kidd and our leader, Michael Shillito, who never gave up inspiring us to chant no matter what. But the optimism is still there. We saw good courage and tenacity, in the face of the atmosphere and the setbacks that had beset the team in 2017.  Himmelberg and Tomlinson in particular were noteworthy. And there’s players who need to internalise the pain and bitterness that comes from losses like that and turn it into a greater determination that should be a part of them this next pre-season and into 2018. Us Giants fans in the stands are starting to get sick of gutsy losses in prelims.  


Then it was time to go. We were there so long, security asked us to leave.  Shillito and most of the Sydney-based squad went straight to the bus, which was ready to take the 12 hour trip back. I wandered down to the city, where even Tim Ho Wan on Bourke Street served food that was yellow and black.


To compensate the next day, my last food of the trip was orange – from the Hatter and the Hare in Bayswater.


When I returned my car and was driven back to Tullamarine, the Canadian driver was back and we had another great chat about what this all meant – whether the Giants players need to be tougher, need to be less focused on getting everything perfect, which was a prevailing Melbourne radio view. I said I didn’t really know what the answer was – but that I do know that next year needs to have a bigger, better outcome. And as I departed, he hoped that he would see me this time next year. I replied that I certainly hoped so, too.

About Mark O'Sullivan

A teacher, musician and GWS Giants Foundation Member


  1. Joe De Petro says

    Lovely read, Mark. I was seated right next to you guys in Bay 34.

    Two points. Firstly, what were the stewardesses in full regalia all about? This made no sense.

    Secondly, do not mistake us, we are not willing you to not exist. I think I speak for the supporters of every team when I say this. You are welcome. However, you need to pay your dues in this competition. Hawthorn entered the competition in 1925 and did not beat Collingwood for fifteen years. Richmond has not played in a Grand Final since 1982. That is pain.

    To see GWS in two Preliminary Finals so early in their existence, is wrong on many levels.

    Glad you enjoyed Melbourne and please don’t take my comment the wrong way. Pain is our bond. You need to share it first.

  2. Mark, well done on surviving the experience. Will we ever see a crowd quite like that one again?

    Thought the team held up pretty well considering the setting, and the way their season has gone. Another part of their education.

    I don’t doubt we’ll be seeing you in September again.


  3. Another brilliant piece Mark. You make the most of your trips to the footy.

    It was lovely to meet you on Saturday, even though I had returned to my yellow and black roots. There’s a lot to look forward to with the Giants, and yes, that Himmelberg is one to watch.

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    A fine read Mark. Have you met Dave Brown in the flesh? You seem to have very similar outlooks. Perhaps at next year’s Grand Final.

  5. here’s what i think

    1. The Giants are proof just how hard it is to build a football culture. top players and Sheedy and some old salts, but it doesn’t necessarily give the hunger for the jumper. and it doesn’t inspire the immediate love (or hate) that plonking teams in more traditional Rules states did.

    2. that passion will come – when Greene and Patton and Cameron and the young guns in the mids and the back realise what is at stake i.e. your career passing by (notice that it has taken 7 years for the Hardwick-Cotchin-Martin-Riewoldt-Rance axis todare to believe, and to inspire)

    3. recruiting stevie J for a sense of what winning feels like was shrewd, but a year or two too late. for both clubs.

    4. i think they are recruiting the wrong types in Deledio, Griffen, Scully. all solid players and athletes. but outside players. never tasted success. they need another 3 Callan Wards, maniacal leaders. maybe Miles should head back?

    5. Leon C might need to do a Dimma and “just let them play”. so much talent but so regimented. too many handballs. kick the bloody thing.

    6. and it’s 5 that makes me worry about the groundswell and therefore 1… I think they need to play a brand of Rules that is nothing like the 3 other codes, kick long tackle hard and contest everything. this overly tactical outside play looks like league. they already have league.

    7. toby greene is their best marketing asset. get him out there.

    8. Himmelberg was sensational. My young Tiger was in awe of him.

    9. imagine if Jordan Lewis or Mitchell had gone to the GIants and not elsewhere. who could come in and have a crack – could they make a play for Ablett?

    10. Boy did they need the Mummy to chuck some pain and presence around.

    11. But the win-win trade for me this year is another poaching – Luke Parker to the Giants. Hard nut most weeks and good grab and beentheredonethat. I hear he is potentially available after another underwhelming final. Swans need pace – Scully and a pick swap? Or a whopper – Ablett to Geelong (I wouldn’t but they might), Parker to the Giants, Motlop to the Swans, Scully to the Suns.

    12 Yes I am nervous about the Grand Final

    13 Go Dusty!

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