Grand Final – Richmond v Geelong: Grand final day at the Gabba




It wasn’t Melbourne in spring. It wasn’t the MCG. It was still a grand final, and it was a big show. Grand final day, for me, was alive with expectation and wonderment. What will happen? Who will win? Who will perform?


In Melbourne, during grand final week, everywhere you go, posters are set in shop-front windows and people’s houses. Victorians can’t get though a two minute conversation without mentioning the grand final.


It is obviously different in Queensland. Rugby league is the dominant game. While people in Queensland were talking about the game, Brisbane, as a collective, wasn’t into it as people in Victoria are.


Though the radio stations devoted time to the game, the build-up was almost subdued. This was a game for the expats and those who chose AFL over rugby league.


Luckily, I had a ticket to the grand final, and I also had a ticket to the post-match entertainment in my garage, fondly known as the Ardent Street Bar, or ASB. Three mates, Adam, Andy and Simon, had gathered at my house to watch the game. They’d be waiting for my return, to celebrate the victors and commiserate the vanquished. They were drinking at 4pm, when I left.



Driving to the Gabba, I couldn’t find any football talk on the radio. Paying $20 to park in someone’s backyard in Rosslyn Street, I walked in the rain to the Gabba without donning the poncho. As I neared the ground and saw people in club colours, police directing traffic and the nervous smiles, I was drawn into the atmosphere.


It doesn’t matter where the grand final is played. The atmosphere at the Gabba was no different to the MCG. There was just 70,000 less people.


No football records were left. I didn’t see anyone with a football record at the ground. I barely saw any kids at the ground. The scarcity of tickets, and the late start made the grand final almost an adult-only event.


My seat, in bay 49, was almost at the top of the stand. I was surrounded by AFL members, with most of them neutral supporters. I gave one man in a North Melbourne jumper the thumbs-up.


Rain fell during the pre-game entertainment, which was way too loud. The bands were good, but the smoking ceremony performed by First Nations peoples was better. I wore a wrist band that lit up in different colours.


I was alone, among 30,000 people. The fella next to me wore a grey goatee. He was short, about 60 and struck up scattered conversations. He’s been an AFL member for 30 years, and had a shelf full of match-day grand final records.


Before the game, I pledged my support for Richmond, in honour of my grandparents.


However, I figured Geelong’s strength and their big bodies would impact on the match. I thought Geelong could win, and wouldn’t have been surprised if they did.


The first quarter packed a lot of drama. It was fierce, collision football. An accidental elbow from Dangerfield starched Vlastuin three minutes in. As the ball rebounded, Cotchin tackled Ablett and ruined his twice-repaired left shoulder.


Both players were off. Vlastuin wouldn’t return. Ablett did, but injury limited his impact.


Richmond got the jump, with the first two goals. The crowd noise was no different to the noise at the MCG, but it obviously wasn’t as loud. Still, the roars and boos reverberated around the Gabba as the Tigers bashed the ball forward.


The Gabba invaders, two alleged comedians, got their moment of attention-seeking glory, and hopefully a huge fine. When they’d been walked off the ground, a security guard ran across the field to get back to his position. The umpires, players and 30,000 people told him to get off the field and run around the boundary.


Richmond played haphazard football, and for the best part of the opening half, it didn’t work. During the second term, they barely went forward and panicked under Geelong’s relentless pressure. The Cats kept possession, stayed calm and when their lead extended to 22-points, they had kicked five consecutive goals.


They should’ve been further ahead.


Around me, Richmond fans fretted and chewed fingernails, screamed out encouragement and bemoaned skill errors.


Enter Dustin Martin…


His first goal, a right-foot snap, dragged Richmond back into the contest, giving the Tigers belief, and they went into halftime trailing by 15-points.


The halftime break was extended, for entertainment and advertising purposes. Shepard played a few tunes, to a neat light show. The crowd got into the music, but I wasn’t there for music. I wouldn’t care if the grand final went without songs.


While waiting for the resumption, I wondered if Geelong’s age and bigger bodies might struggle in the third quarter, because of the extended break.


Back in the ASB, my mate Adam said Richmond would only play one bad quarter. About 8pm, they put a lump of pork in the weber with a bunch of potatoes and chunks of pumpkin.


The man behind me spent much of the match explaining the rules to his mate. I didn’t mind. It was a game for Queenslanders, and there’s always someone at a grand final who has never been to a game before.


The third quarter didn’t seem tactically different, but Richmond’s frenetic game plan started to work. They pressured Geelong and hunted in packs, shutting down the space, forcing turnovers and skill errors.


At three-quarter time, the Tigers led by two-points. I thought Geelong looked spent.


When Prestia kicked the first goal of the final quarter, my brother Nick sent a text – it’s over. I wasn’t so sure, but as the minutes ticked by, the Tigers were dominating every contest and shutting Geelong down in defence.


Unfortunately, the margin blew out to 31-points. For three and a half quarters, it was an absorbing, brutal contest. Immediately after the game, I felt immense sympathy for the vanquished. I always do. Geelong were gallant in defeat and ultimately wilted. Still, the grand final was a classic.


I didn’t wait for the ceremony. I had one waiting for me in the ASB. On the way out of the Gabba, I threw the wrist band in the bin. The match reminded me of the 1992 grand final. From memory, Geelong led West Coast by five goals midway through the second quarter and lost by 22-points.


Walking back to the house on Rosslyn Street, I called my cousin Pat, a lifelong Richmond supporter who couldn’t travel from Sydney to Brisbane due to COVID-19. He was pumped. I thought Martin had kicked five goals. Pat thought it was three. His daughter, Amanda, corrected both of us.


‘Just think,’ Pat said. ‘It could’ve been four premierships in a row if it wasn’t for Cox and Collingwood.’


Driving home, I tuned into the ABC in time to hear Dustin Martin win the Norm Smith Medal. No surprises there. Kudos to my mate Russ, who put $50 on Martin.


In the bar


I could hear the music pumping as I closed the gates. Jimmy Barnes – no second prize. I walked in and Adam put two full shots, tequila and bourbon, in front of me. ‘Time to catch up,’ he said and poured me a beer.


We talked about the game, reliving the defining moments. That’s when it hit me. Luckily, I had attended the only AFL grand final to be held at the Gabba, the only grand final to be played outside Victoria in my lifetime. I was so damn thankful.


I had another beer, then a wine with the pork roast at 10:30pm. We talked about things other than football. Family happenings. Work. More beers flowed and the game was replayed without commentary as Andy selected songs about victory.


We made bourbon and cokes in pint glasses. Then gin and tonic in pint glasses. More beer. I broke out a stogie I’d received for a recent birthday.


Simon fell asleep at the bench and I put him to bed. The mood quietened as I nursed a beer and watched Richmond take control of the game in the third quarter.


I paid silent tribute to my grandparents, Rita and Pa (Bill). They loved Richmond. My brother Nick sent a picture text holding the tiger statue that used to adorn their mantle in their lounge.


Pa, who barely talked. Barely smiled. Not because he was a miserable man. He was simply the strong, silent type. As the saying goes, he wouldn’t say shit if he had a mouthful, but a Richmond victory made him smile, and he’d utter a few words. ‘The Tigers played well.’


Rita, who did his talking for him, loved football. She’d listen to it on the radio and watch the replay. Always involved with the play, no matter if she knew the result. ‘Kick it,’ she’d cry, her body moving as though she had the ball. As she aged, her doctor suggested she stop watching football, because he was worried she’d have a heart attack.


It was Pa who died from a heart attack at 82 in 1992. Rita died at home aged 99, in 2007.


Sunday morning, my eight-year-old son Angus woke me with a video call. He’d watched the whole game and was happy that Richmond won. ‘Maybe North Melbourne will be in the grand final next year,’ I said, not wanting him to ditch North for the Tigers.


Mid-morning, I called my parents. Bill and Patsy are 78, and went to bed at halftime. ‘When I woke up and saw they won, I thought Rita and Pa would’ve been thrilled,’ Bill said.


Sunday night, I put the NRL grand final on, to watch it with my boys. A few minutes later, when I was plating up dinner, Angus changed the channel to cartoons. ‘I don’t want to watch it,’ he said.


That’s what brainwashing can do.


Over dinner, I watched the second half on the iPad. It was a great grand final, performed brilliantly by both teams and produced wonderfully by the AFL and the Queensland Government.


There is sadness now that the season is over. And hope for the future. Queensland helped save the AFL season, and I loved attending the game, but I want to be at the MCG next year…



RICHMOND     2.1     3.2     7.4     12.9     (81)
GEELONG        2.2     5.5     6.8     7.8     (50)


Martin 4, Prestia 2, Riewoldt 2, Castagna, Lambert, Lynch, McIntosh
Geelong: Menegola 2, Dangerfield, Duncan, Guthrie, Hawkins, Miers


Martin, Short, Edwards, Prestia, Cotchin, Bolton
Geelong: Duncan, Stewart, Selwood, Menegola, Dahlhaus


Vlastuin (concussion), Houli (calf)
Geelong: Ablett (shoulder), Simpson (concussion)


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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…


  1. A lovely reminisce Matt. My sister living on the Gold Coast was able to attend the game and represent the family, all Richmond. Our Dad was born in Balmain St in 1914. Struggletown for ten years before moving to more struggles in Oakleigh. She prayed for his divine intervention at half time. It was indeed a great grand final

  2. Nice stuff, Matt.
    Love the “ASB”.
    And love the image of your brother sending a pic of your grandparents’ tiger statue.

  3. Thanks for the mention mate! I’ll name a teddy bear in your honour….

  4. Thanks Smokie.
    The ASB is a wonderful place.
    KNDole, family and football is amazing.
    And Pat, you’re family and football…
    Can you call the bear Kanga?

  5. So good to be there wasn’t it regardless of the back story change of venue et al and the season that preceded it
    yeah there weren’t many kids and yes there was tiger fan who had flown in from Darwin with her Footy record

    Great to hear a perspective high up in the stands complete opposite to my experience
    Well almost except for a cracking result in the Gabba humidity
    Go Tiges

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