Finals Week 3 – Richmond v GWS: Richmondy no more?

 

After all the wasted years drunk on their own ruthlessness, after the many times they’ve eaten their own, after all the frustration and rage they’ve caused their supporters, after all the accumulated schadenfreude of opposition fans, it turns out that Richmond’s way back to a Grand Final was as simple as keeping calm and NOT sacking the coach. Of course, it’s never really that simple. When people are taking their bows for the Richmond revival of 2017, Peggy O’Neal and Brendon Gale should be first in line. Quelling the animal spirits in this most unruly football club has been a long term project.

 

Not that their fans have lost any of their volitility, or volume. The MCG had never witnessed a crowd like Saturday’s. There’s a chance it never will again. Ultimately, that is a tribute to those Richmond fans. No club has ever seemed so custom designed to drive its supporters mad as Richmond during these last 35 years. That those fans were still able to effectively turn the ‘G into a one team stadium is a testimony to how much people care about their footy club.

 

Of course, there was another team involved in this preliminary final. The small, hardy bunch of Giants supporters who braved the MCG were staring down the greatest disadvantage in football history. How to prepare for that? The only thing the club could have done was send each attendee a copy Zulu, so they could imagine themselves as Stanley Baker or Michael Caine. At least that had an ending that offered hope.

 

Hope remained very alive through a tight first half. After Richmond had kicked two goals in a blink, the Giants could have been engulfed by the occasion. But if any side is acclimated to an unfavourable crowd, it is GWS. With considerable aplomb, they turned the balance of the game their way. Himmelberg won crucial one-on-ones. Ward was attacking the ball fiercely, and scoring goals himself. Tomlinson ran gamely from defence. Patton worked far up the ground to provide a target. Kelly and Scully ran tirelessly. Coniglio was holding Dusty to just an ok game. Phil Davis had the better of a tense looking Riewoldt. Whenever the Orange Tsunami got outside and running, Richmond looked taxed.

 

But the Richmond defence is hard to crack. All season they have been the bedrock of the club’s revival. Rance is the extrovert headliner, but Astbury, Grimes and Vlastuin are crucial. Around this solid core, Houli and Ellis can run and rebound. GWS had plenty of the ball, but only five goals by half time. it was the Tigers by a point.

 

That was as good as it got for GWS. A crucial midfielder down, and fighting the crowd, the second half was always likely to be an uphill run. So it proved to be. Daniel Rioli added another entry to his extended family’s September Hall of Fame. Dusty moved deep forward and found Heath Shaw a more amenable matchup. Trent Cotchin continued on his mission to rehabilitate his finals reputation. And that defence clamped down tight. Once Martin kicked his third a minute into the final term, only the lingering scar tissue of past Tiger disasters kept the perception of a contest alive.

 

So the Tigers have ascended from 13th place to this year’s Grand Final. For such a rowdy club, they’ve rather snuck up on us. Early season Richmond promise dissipating into June agony had become such a regular football trope that we almost took it for granted. But in truth, right from round one they have looked a different side. One with much more incisive ball movement. Plus that back six, which has rarely wavered from first bounce to now. And they also had Dusty.

 

Dustin Martin announced his intentions by destroying Carlton in the season’s opening game. He has rarely let up since. Taking his game to an entirely new level, we now know he has also claimed the Brownlow Medal with a record vote tally. No longer lurking in the back half accumulating easy possessions, this year he has terrorized opposition defences to the tune of 35 goals, in addition to playing imperiously through the middle. The manner of his play has been reminiscent of Jonah Lomu in his All Black prime. Both had a way of making opponents look like physically overwhelmed schoolkids. That he has done this in the face of the ongoing soap opera that was his contract renegotiation, as well as the turmoil of his father’s situation, suggests a player of singular focus, however taciturn he may be publicly.

 

And what of the defeated Giants? After potentially missing a flag by a single straight kick last year, GWS entered this season for the first time burdened by enormous expectation. Though they led the ladder a number of times, and only let a top two spot slip in the final round, they have in reality had a season where much went wrong. Having lost some notable playing list depth in the off season, they then suffered a prolonged injury plague. As a result, they reached the finals still unsure of their proper team balance. Despite this, they again reached this preliminary final, and held their own in the most hostile of environments. Many disparage them, but like it or not, it is difficult to imagine them not competing strongly for the flag again next year.

 

Richmond have much more pressing concerns than next year. Their defence has one more formidable challenge ahead. Tex, Eddie and co. will take some quelling. But after all these years, where ‘Richmondy’ became a recognised adjective, this year’s Tigers have been as reliable as any team in this most unpredictable of seasons. Struggle Town might be in for some impromptu renovation after five o’clock this Saturday.

 

RICHMOND                                 4.3    5.7    11.11    15.13 (103)
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY     3.3    5.6    6.10       9.13 (67)

 

GOALS
Richmond: 
Rioli 4, Martin 3, Butler 2, Lambert, Caddy, Castagna, Townsend, Edwards, Riewoldt
Greater Western Sydney: Himmelberg 4, Ward 3, Kelly, Patton

BEST
Richmond: 
Cotchin, Rioli, Martin, Grimes, Rance, Lambert, Nankervis

Greater Western Sydney: Ward, Kelly, Tomlinson, Scully, Davis, Himmelberg

VOTES: Cotchin (Rich) 3,  Ward (GWS) 2,  Rioli (Rich) 1

Umpires: Nicholls, Meredith, Ryan

Official crowd: 94,258 at the MCG

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he is in his 40th year as a Carlton member.

Comments

  1. steve todorovic says

    John, you have shattered my stereotypical view of Blues supporters. As I read your wonderful piece, I thought it could only have been written by a Tiger or at the least, a complete neutral. You’ve summed up the season perfectly and managed to capture the essence of what it’s like to follow the Tigers. Thanks for that. As they say, unless you’ve experienced bad times, you can’t really appreciate the good times.

  2. Lovely work John. I needed your sensible analysis because I still can’t think straight after the prelim win.

    The most un-Richmondy part of the season was when after the very Richmondy string of close losses, the Tigers kept the faith and stormed home to the top four. I don’t like the media references to the Tigers of old; I much prefer these new Tigers.

    Two more sleeps…

  3. Kind of you Steve.

    It’s a funny old footy world nowadays. Doggies winning flags, old Carlton people stomaching the thought of the Tiges in a GF. What next?

    Cheers

  4. Gill, I notice you reverted to your old clan when the crunch came. Wise choice. They say you can never go home, but ‘they’ are usually full of it.

    Sleep tight. :)

  5. Joe De Petro says

    Great writing, John. It has certainly been a year. I have told my kids for years that we would not know it was happening until it had almost happened.

    I didn’t really believe that though. It was just another delusion.

    Funny thing, life.

  6. Seeing Richmond abandon their appalling style of football from the past few years and play with freedom this season has been inspiring to me. I barely remember one backwards kick this season, whereas last year they could spend a whole quarter chipping the ball around the backline only to turn the ball over and concede a goal. It’s been a revelation.

  7. Joe De Petro says

    BTW, John, I hope your mob get their act together sooner, rather than later. It will be fun to get the old gang back together again for a while. And the Maggies too.

    Imagine Melbourne if these three all make the Prelim in the same year.

  8. I don’t know if I’ve got in in me to write three nice things about Richmond in the space of a month…

  9. We’re trying, Joe. We’re trying.

    I know what you mean Litza. ’73 GF was my very first football trauma.

    I noticed Tayla Harris wearing a Tiger jumper on social media. Someone needs to set her straight. That’s taking it too far.

  10. Richmond not “Richmondy”? Say it aint so Joe. What will happen to GFF?
    Footy needs Alex Rance to reprise Neil Balme ’73 and king hit Eddie Betts in the first 10 minutes so they can go back to being rightfully despised for another 40 years. (Smokie made me write this).

  11. PB, if an ominous cloud forms over the ‘G on Saturday, it won’t be the weather. It’ll be the ghost of GR.

  12. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Despite the congratulatory veneer, you still stuck the word ‘schadenfreude’ in there JB. I prefer good-old fashioned spite. And I don’t think it will take long for that spite to re-accumulate should the Tigers take it out on Saturday.
    Jeez, will we feel like this about Carlton in 10 years?
    PB, Not sure about Rance doing a Balmy on Eddie, but I am imagining Tex Walker doing a Yeats on Dusty at the opening bounce.
    JB – please never speak again of so-called ‘Grand Final trauma’. You know nothing about that and you know it !!
    Great report BTW

  13. That’s right Phil. Only Collingwood supporters know true suffering.

    And aren’t we all grateful for that. :)

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