Finals Week 3 – Richmond v GWS: The Universe is Aligning

The last time the Tigers made a prelim final, I still hadn’t made it to my first day of kindergarten. It wouldn’t be until footy colours day two years later that I found out there was a team that had my favourite animal as their mascot.

So as far as Tigers fans go, this makes me one of the lesser-suffering. The first game I properly watched on TV was Wayne Campbell’s last. The Tasmanian-sourced tall forwards I’ve watched have been Richardson and Riewoldt. Damien Hardwick has been coaching the club for half the time I’ve been following the club.


For all the significance of the Tigers making a preliminary final and having a shot at that long-elusive Grand Final berth, Saturday afternoon had an air of anti-climax. GWS had failed to attract even fifteen thousand fans the week before. The temperature – it was still pushing 30 degrees at 4pm – was far more suited to the cricket of months to come. Unfortunately I don’t have any summer footy supporter’s gear, so I sweated it out.


Nonetheless, for all the downsides of late afternoon games – mainly the two or three quarters of squinting from the Southern Stand as the sun flickers through clouds and buildings – there are also upsides. At four in the afternoon the walk from Richmond Station via Stewart St (ProTip: that end of the station is much quieter if you tolerate a 2 minute detour) is quite pleasant, accentuated by the boisterous pre-drinkers from Swan St. At seven in the evening, it’s cold, quiet and a little awkward as fans waddle to the ‘G in darkness.


Greeting fans (including me) as we arrived at the ground was the incredibly one-sided crowd. I saw more New York Yankees fans queuing outside Gate 5 than Giants fans, who were matched in number by a random assortment of confused Bombers, Swans and Crows supporters.


The homogenous crowd didn’t, rather surprisingly, lend itself to the exhilarating pre-match atmosphere of a fortnight ago. The boos from everywhere but the orange patches at the city end were barely audible above the general hum of the crowd and the Giants song (which seems to belong to a genre called ‘Foxtrotsky’), in stark contrast to the much talked about drowning out of Geelong fans.


For all the subdued build up, the game itself took less than half a minute to get the crowd on their feet. Lambert and Caddy gave the Tigers two goals in the first two minutes. How good was this?


A few minutes later, the mood swiftly changed. A Himmelberg Disaster threatened with two goals in reply – this would be no walkover. A Callan Ward goal a few minutes later put GWS in front. These Giants might just be all they’re cracked up to be.


Late in the first quarter Rioli and Castagna put two more through to give the Tigers a quarter time lead, but  a bare six point lead never inspires confidence.


A slow start to the second quarter saw the Giants claw back and then take the lead. GWS racked up statistics – particularly uncontested possessions – without really taking game by the reins. A few taken opportunities would put them in the box seat.


Daniel Rioli kicked his second in the last five minutes of the half to give the Tigers a solitary goal and, via a few scrappy behinds, a single point lead at the change. Not convincing.


The sun drew below the Ponsford Stand by the start of the third quarter, which seemingly signalled the start of an entirely different game. The relentless pressure of the qualifying final two weeks prior reappeared, and GWS simply weren’t prepared. When it mattered, under pressure, the Giants struggled to keep ahold of the ball. Several times, Giants players unwittingly need up contributing to Tigers plays.


Rioli scored his third. Townsend his first. Edwards one. Martin his first. Martin his second!


Leon Cameron would later say that this was what cost the Giants the game; while they were in a great position on the stats sheet, Richmond converted and had probably got themselves in the driving seat by the third quarter siren.


A minute into the last, and Dusty slots one on the run. The excitement of the first two minutes is back – perhaps even the euphoria of the fourth quarter against Geelong. Himmelberg and Big Jon Patton kick two, but they barely get their orange and grey fans out of their seats. The Giants club song lurches between Soviet propaganda anthem and Mexican wrestling fanfare.


After three and a bit quarters of mediocrity, Riewoldt finally kicks a goal. It will all Tigers from here. Dan Butler kicks one, then two. One final goal from Himmelberg, which forces Rioli to share the goal scoring honours, barely dampens the mood – although it does accidentally delay the Richmond celebrations after the siren.


For Tigers fans, by far the biggest positive to come out of the game was that Dustin Martin, Jack Riewoldt and Alex Rance were all actually rather unimpressive. The win was entirely put together through a career-best performance up forward from Daniel Rioli, one of Trent Cotchin’s more influential performances for a long time, and a great supporting act in defence from Bachar Houli and Nick Vlastuin.


Now there’s a Grand Final to look forward to. Richmond were sort of competitive against the Crows for a quarter and a bit back when they played each other earlier in the season – but the ‘big dance’ will be a different ball game. The Crows arguably aren’t as ominous as they were in round 6, and the Tigers have now beaten the other two top-four finishers reasonably convincingly. Add in the de facto home ground advantage (I won’t mention the clash jumper fiasco) and the Tigers go into Saturday with their premiership readiness at the best it’s been all season.


As for the Giants, and I write this having seen them play only a handful of times, there is a very tricky transition period ahead. Two prelims in two years is a great effort, but ultimately their performance wasn’t really polished enough for week three of the finals. Two quarters of competitive footy were let down by one half of sloppy ball movement and


At some point in the next few years the Giants are going to lose the ‘new club’ tag. They won’t be able to rely upon a flood of emerging young talent, nor will they be able to afford to keep someone like Stevie J on their list. If the Giants want to still be vying for top four positions, or even playing in a Grand Final, in two or three years, they need to quickly. Only then will the AFL’s New South Wales expansion have been a proven on-field success. Things could go south very quickly; you only need to look north (to the Gold Coast, who lost their special conditions in 2015).


Anyway, given the impossibility (both in terms of supply and cost) of getting a grand final ticket, I’ll probably be watching the Grand Final on a big outdoor screen somewhere, weather permitting. Or at home, given I’ve just discovered Channel 7 livestreams on the web.


Which is exactly how it should be. After 35 years, it’s those who have been following the club for at least those three decades who deserve to be there at the Punt Road end. They’ve watched KB finish with more than 400 games; they watched the first Tasmanian tall-forward ‘R’: Roach; and quite a few will think of Terry Wallace as being a recent memory. Given the median Australian wasn’t born last time the Tigers won, it’s only appropriate Gen Y&Z wait it out.


No matter Saturday’s result, I will only remember this season being a success for the Tigers. Just winning a single final would have been more than a pass given 2016’s result. Two finals wins is more than was ever expected of the team of Hardwick. Two All-Australians and Dusty getting the Brownlow is the icing on an already delicious cake.


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


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

Richmond: Cotchin, Rioli, Martin, Grimes, Rance, Lambert, Prestia
Greater Western Sydney: Ward, Kelly, Tomlinson, Scully, Davis, Himmelberg 

Richmond: Nil
Greater Western Sydney: Dylan Shiel (concussion) 

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Nicholls, Meredith, Ryan

Official crowd: 94,258 at the MCG


Read more of our Richmond v GWS coverage HERE.

About Thomas Foster

Journalism/Politics/Linguistics student at Monash University and prematurely retired number three batsmen, fill-in fullback and hockey goal sneak.

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