Grand Final – Adelaide v Richmond: When it matters most

Artwork: Zelko Zelac



We were going off in Jake’s shed! Joining in an echo that travels the world. Cheering, celebrating, shouting abuse! New Years as we know it. Barracking for Adelaide or Richmond, as if they were our own.


Over at the MCG, that land of giants, the Tiger Army roared and roared! A sea of yellow and black, throwing the impossible volume of 37 years of pain! Under that, Matt Crouch gave four quarters of every cylinder a motor can have, trying to bash history Adelaide’s way. Sloane had a red hot go, but faded. Jacobs was close to B.O.G in the first half, but Toby Nankervis did a brilliant job of fighting back and shading him. Toby is not flash, but provides grunt, spirit, things beyond stats. An upgrade from Ivan, if you like your footy blue collar, he’s been the recruit of the year.


When the Great Ink got the ball, his use of hands in particular, was gob-smacking. To watch his lack of panic in traffic, his ability, on the few times he did get tackled, to get a kick off, was to see both power and strength of will. But, here’s the thing. The game was won in the first few minutes of the third. The game was won in the second quarter. Dusty wasn’t much of an influence when the game was up for grabs. He got better as the game got going.


The Grand Final was won by Richmond early, because it was a Grand Final.


Grand finals are all about pressure. Always have been. The MCG surface shrinks to half its normal size as players go above and beyond what they can humanly do, forcing themselves to contests they have no right getting to. Treating every moment as if it was the last few seconds of a nail-biter, one point down.


This leaves little or no room for clever forward pockets like Daicos, Milne and Betts. Electrifying in the regular season. Gods! Masters of the slingshot back. Kings of the momentary laps in concentration from their man. But come the big stage, where opponents are good enough to play tight without pause and not be led under the ball…


This same pressure leaves little room for hulking forwards. Carey through to Tex have found that out the hard way. If you kick two or three, when it counts, as a big donk, you’ll have done well. Look at Tom Boyd last year for the Dogs. Tex, for all the porn star, lead up the guts looks, has got most of his goals this finals campaign through the slingshot or frees. He has presence, is a leader. But his goals, as they have all finals, came from out the back or in dead time.


A Grand Final isn’t about previous reputations. Or stats. All those “Specialists” who don’t do much more than quote a player’s statistics, and yes, that’s most of them, may as well stay home. Within a Grand Final it’s about influence. Time and place within a game.


That’s why I rate Stroppy Jack’s performance. In the zoo that was both team’s forward lines, he found a way – leading impossibly hard, leaping over the line in front of him. Doing this, he took two hangers. Neither of them resulted in a goal, but so what? Look at when they happened.


Jack took his first speccie half way through the first, when Adelaide had all the momentum, and the first few goals. The stuff that breaks a team, gets the other mob fumbling as they panic, chasing tail all day. Sliding doors moments that lead to blowouts forever etched in time. Yes, Jack missed three shots in that period, but he was getting the ball! It wasn’t bouncing out for more Crows forward thrusts. Jack took a hanger, Richmond settled. Talia, an All-Aussie, was given notice – don’t try to run off me, I’ll be everywhere.


Then, Jack did it again just after half time. Adelaide had been in the rooms, the echoes of 100 circuses going on outside, re-grouping, ready to come out hard. Determined to hit body on body and reassert themselves. And Jack took a blinder! Before the Crows even knew they were back out there. It screamed – More of the same.


The game was done.


Yeah, in Jake’s shed, we didn’t notice Dusty that much in the first half. But Graham, the five game kid, burned! Burned and kicked goals.


“Who’s he?” someone kept asking, until it became a running joke.


“He’s the bloke setting up a Premiership on his own!”


In modern football, it’s the spread that wins finals. The lesser lights. Champions are marked by champions. Jack sucked Talia into his wake for a no-score draw, and players like Graham filled the space behind. Adelaide’s general was busy chasing tail, while Richmond had half-a-dozen lesser lights with goals.


In the first half, that’s all that matters.


Rance was unstoppable. There is a flow to a normal game that a polished side like Adelaide thrive on. Even if the ball is bouncing out of their forward line, they can spin it back in through unhealed zones. They love motion. It gives them space. No Alex Rance didn’t get a huge amount of it, but each time he did it was with a stamp!


My ball.


You wait.


The game can wait.




He pantsed his man. He pantsed the Crows forward line.


In the first half, when it was a game, the best was Bachar!


In packs, out wide, pushing forward, thrashing his opponent, kicking goals. He is so good in close! I’ve always rated him, and called him for the Norm before the first ball was bounced. Grand Finals are made for players like him, their character.


He showed force of will, too. He showed an ability to read a game. He broke tackles and hit targets and drove long…


Bachar, Bachar, Bachar!




The call in Jake’s shed, and later on the street and all over social media, by casual fans through to blokes who have played top level footy for decades was almost universally the same. Buckley, Judd, Dusty. A lot of fans aren’t as blinded by big names as are those giving votes from within the Hungry Beast. All those names were champions, Champions! But the Norm not a popularity contest.


Bachar, if not Rance, was best on ground.


Edwards was the key, though. And Rioli. And Lambert. The second tear. Those that stepped up. In the end, the game was won in the middle. In the second. Richmond got the ball first, spread better. Their on-ballers were more of a team, and, most importantly, harassed far more. Their defensive work was superb! Zoning the corridor, giving the Crows nowhere to roll out the carpet for their drag-strip courage to ride the ball to forwards on hard leads. Forwards who like it crisp. Who aren’t the best in the country at bustling and reading long bombs through the air. It took a team.


Adelaide’s silk was beaten by Richmond’s pressure.


AFL Grand Finals are pressure. And always will be.


Back in Jake’s shed, once the siren went and we’d all calmed down, then worked up that Dusty was given Norm, then calmed down again, we rocked on into the night!


We celebrated being alive and football!

All that was left was the laughter and tears of an army that have been through so much shit over three decades. Who fully deserved their glory!


All that was left was Richmond’s CEO, Benny Gale, who hung fat, refusing to knee-jerk Hardwick out. Benny, who believes in stability over ego, club over self. Who turned a struggling club around, making it something proud again. Ruthless Richmond! Eat ‘em alive!


Another year done and dusted. Nick Vlaustin, Dylan Grimes, Don Pyke, Adelaide supporters, former Richmond players from the hard years, you, me, Tiger friends we know. All that was left is stories to be told.


Old Dog’s Votes


5 The Tiger Army

4 Benny Gale

3 Bachar Houli

2 Alex Rance

1 Edwards, Crouch, Dusty, Graham


Special mention: My Dad, a lifelong Tiger, who also cried.


Check out the other pieces on the 2017 Grand Final HERE



  1. Fantastic wrap up of the game Matt. Will now ignore the summer AFL circus and refresh for 2018.

  2. Joe De Petro says

    Love it, Matt. Agree wholeheartedly with your comments re Bachar and Benny Gale.

    I attended a function many years ago where Benny spoke about his five year plan. He made the comment that the club had previously had many five year plans. It was all anybody ever talked about. So he went looking for them, on hard drives, in filing cabinets. He found bubkus.

    Then he wrote down his five year plan and worked it.

    Bachar will always be the people’s choice for BOG in the 2017 Grand Final. Well done to him.

  3. What a day,, I am exhausted, not just the day but the constant and gradual buildup over the last few weeks. As fans we really did have to ‘keep a lid on it’.,,a year that, whilst it did have some Richmondy moments, was stealthy.
    Great to read this Matt, as I haven’t had time to sit and take in a paper yet either.
    Agree re Bachar, solid performance all day, but especially first quarter.

  4. As ever, Matt, a superb summary.
    Absolutely with you about Bachar. Pity he missed those two set shots, then he might have snagged Norm.

  5. That’s better than any mass media on that GF, Matt.
    Nailed it.
    Every bit of it.

    I was in a loungeroom with adults sitting around, some standing – kids at our feet on bean bags and general atmosphere of a party. Only a couple of the adults knew footy (one had ~100 AFL games of it), but all of us knew the story as it ticked over. What a story.
    There have been plenty of talented sides lose Grand Finals to more urgent opposition, more connected, more willing, more co-joined opposition.
    That Richmond footy is a beautiful thing to watch.
    Great words from D Hardwick afterwards on the podium. Something like “I love watching you guys play.”
    Me too.

    Well played M Zurbo.

  6. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks all. Jo, yeah, met benny, he was/is a ripper! I remember they had a ‘youth policy’ for about two decades. Even the policy itself was getting old. I suggested they try a winning policy. A bit of both goes a long way!

    We should start a retrospective movement – Give Bachar the Norm!!

  7. Matt Zurbo says

    E.regnans, c’m’on, mate, which player?!

  8. Amen Matt. With you on Jack the Lad. Tex threatened. Jack imposed.
    Some great lines. You can’t make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse in a GF.
    O/S and only saw the second half – kept thinking of the old boxing commentator Merv Williams’ line regarding Adelaide “like the boy who fell out of the balloon, he’s just not in it”. 2014 and 15 were the same. Not much of a show. One fighter lands the punch that turns the other to jelly for 15 rounds.

  9. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Geez I wish I could see the game (and life) with your clarity Matt. Thanks.

  10. John Butler says

    Put me right there in it Matt. Great stuff.

  11. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Vintage stuff OD,
    A Muslim, a Jehovah’s Witness and the son of a bikie run onto the G…
    Toby was key, has straightened Richmond up all season.
    Crows too top heavy.
    Great moment for your dad. How come he followed Richmond?

  12. Matt Zurbo says

    Phillip (just had an urge to call you Dimi!). He told me he was captivated by the Yellow and Black when he first came to the country. Tigers! Bold colours and the Punt Road mud!

  13. Terrific Matt. Thought Dusty getting the Normie was popularist nonsense. Houli or Rance for mine.

    And Tex Walker’s speech (if you can call it that) was ungracious in the extreme. Needs to spend a month in the room of mirrors. Forget stupid moustaches and pathetic stares before the ball is bounced. Get the ball! And learn some manners. Appalling stuff.

  14. Joe De Petro says

    Yep Dips, that speech was straight out of the Serena Williams book of not giving credit to your opponent.
    It was Houli or Rance all day long. It is starting to get annoying how the media just latch onto someone that they can build up into a superstar and, once it happens, they win everything. Dusty this year, Danger last year, Judd before them. All great players but, seriously?

  15. Dips – great job tipping the Tigers by plenty. I don’t think many did.
    I’m glad it’s not just me who thought Walker’s speech was such poor form. I’m still waiting to see this “great leader” really strut his stuff, on or off the field.

  16. Matt Zurbo says

    Amon Bucanaon was rober blind when Judd won. Buckley did not deserve his. Now this…! It is getting boring, frustrating! The Norm is the highest accolade there is. The best player on the biggest day against the best opponents. Worth far more than a Brownlow. How dare they turn it into a popularity contest!

    The media obsession with superstar crossed over into the coverage, when, as the siren was going to end the match, the moment of Victory (!) did they pan out to get as much team reaction as is humanly possible? Show the coach in his moment of victory? Or even Jack, the man with the most heart on sleeve? No. The camera was zoomed in on one man. The Great Ink. As if it was all about him. I expected far more from the telly boys than that. It’s about the game. The team. The coach. Very shit broadcasting, I thought.

    So there!

  17. Joe De Petro says

    BTW, did anyone else notice that, near the end of the game, Bruce Macca started waffling about how Dusty was the first to win the Brownlow and a Premiership medal? Of course, he wasn’t, several others have as well. He meant to say, the Brownlow, a Premiership medallion AND the Norm Smith.

    The only problem was that he hadn’t actually won the last one yet.

    Old Dog, turn that retrospective movement into a poll, put it on the AFL website and we will all vote for Bachar.

  18. I’m relieved the game didn’t turn out like Gary Lyon predicted on Melbourne radio on Friday when he said, “Every player on the ground will expose himself tomorrow”…phew!!

  19. You nailed it Matt. We were on the ground level in the members’ pocket, and while not embedded with The Pride of South Australian Cheer Squad, certainly encircled by them. Also met a few wandering around town. They deserved more than they got from their captain’s words, and from his teammates during the play for that matter.

    And you called it spot on for the Norm Smith too. Halfway through the parade of honour to the final siren – that the 4th quarter became – we started talking about the Norm Smith Medal, and found it hard to pinpoint any one. I had it Rance. He was the hammer down back. If you’ve got to put your best forward on a defender to quieten him down you’re in more doodoos than a Werribee duck. But Bachar was in everything. His game was a blinder. I mean, 8 goals from the finest in the land; that was a dismantling.

    I must admit I missed Shane Edwards’ contribution till I watched the replay. He was a regular twinkle toes. I’d say it was his most sustained performance I’ve seen him play. They all lifted. It was incredible team effort.

    On the day I thought Dusty got caught a few times, and the long bombs into the fifty were missing. But you can get a bit spoilt. Watching the replay he did a lot of close-in heavy work in the engine room. Sure, a lot of his ball wasn’t clean, but it came out, And Edwards was more often than not a beneficiary.

    I agree totally with your five votes, too Matt. This whole year has been about Richmond the Football Club. The Year of The Tiger. They’re going to hate us again, but you know what, they’ll just have to suck it up.

    BTW, there’s trouble in the Dell. Mrs Wrap just stuck her head around the door to announce they’ve sacked the CEO at Hawthorn. (Might have had something to do with Ty Vickery’s recruitment)

  20. Matt Zurbo says

    Hahaha! Exposed players and Ty Vickery! Good on him, he’s AFL, a servant of the game, a million times better than me, but there’s just something, I dunno, so, Tippett about him.

  21. Malby Dangles says

    Top analysis, Matty!
    I was barracking for the Crows, mainly because 2 players who my team (Carlton) had decided were surplus to ‘our’ requirements are now stars for the Crows (Betts and Jacobs).
    I thought Jacobs was really good. Lots of tap outs and some hard running saving marks deep in defence. Its funny though for all of his influence it was telling that bit parts man (and Blues traitor) Shaun Grigg played really well as the backup ruckman. Did his job!
    Poor Eddie Betts suffered. He played so well against the Cats last week, but was barely spotted this game. I dunno…how come he was where the ball was not! I hope he bounces back and gets to win one.
    I loved seeing Riewoldt take those big grabs! He didn’t do much in the first two finals but I agree with you to a tee he was vital in the big game.

    As an aside all I heard on brekkie radio last couple of weeks was Kevin Bartlett complaining about the clash jumper. I reckon a few free kicks were given because of Crows players tugging the Tiger guernseys (even momentarily) and that bright yellow jumper being pulled stuck out like dogs balls. :D

  22. Matt Zurbo says

    Cheers Malby. I LOATHED the reverse jumper, but didn’t want to bring my piece down with negatives. Killer point on the holding thing!! Never thought of it!

  23. Matt, you really do know how to spin a yarn. Richmond were simply switched on and their pressure was intense; the Crows has no time or space. Bachar was involved in so much of the play, a champion effort. Rance shut down Tex completely, solidifying his position as best defender in the league. I thought Bachar deserved the Norm Smith Medal, but I am sure he will settle for the premiership medal.
    I love that your Dad shed a tear for the big moment, footy is a pretty special thing.

  24. matt watson says

    Brilliant Matt.
    Loved the line about the MCG shrinking…

  25. Chris Rees says

    Matt, my neck is sore from furiously nodding along to this. Great read. I loved my Grand Final day in Launceston with a long-time Tiger mate (we were together in Grade 9 in Burnie last time the Tiges appeared in the decider) but I would have enjoyed being in the shed with you.

    I tipped Bachar for the NSM, was disappointed it went to Dusty, then came around after a while. He’s the best player in the league, the fact that it was maybe not in his top ten efforts this year doesn’t lessen the fact that he just did what he liked. But the win was built on the 2nd tier blokes and as a representative of those solid citizens Bachar (the solidest) should have got it.

    “Dusty wasn’t much of an influence when the game was up for grabs. He got better as the game got going.”

    He’s been truly phenomenal this year but this analysis has been true of most games. When the usual media suspects talk about the Tiges winning led by Dusty with x possessions and y goals, I think, do you not have any sense of how a football game works, how it is won? Even more so with the GF; its like first-innings runs in a test. “Shop early, miss the rush”. Bachar shopped early.

    Sheds’ 2nd quarter was a clinic. Slid in and out and joined the dots. Like Mr Wrap I didn’t appreciate it live as I did on the replay.

    I agree vehemently about Jack’s grabs. What a paradox that the missed set shots didn’t bother me, Jack or anyone who was really paying attention. The marks came at crucial times and sent a seismic shock through the hapless hoops.

    Malby, dead right about the jumper showing up and winning frees. Hungry is a legend but like anyone else in the media he is paid to never shut up. You don’t get credit for tipping us early for the flag when you have done so every year since you retired.

    Taylor Walker, after the game you had a big stage on which to salvage something from the day, for yourself and your club. You mucked that up like the game itself and your punishment is to reflect on it for eternity. Grow up.

  26. Beautifully put Christopher. . And you’ve given me an idea about the Norm Smith. The Archibald has subsidiary prizes: The Packing Room Prize & The People’s Choice. With all the technology at hand, couldn’t we have a People’s Choice Prize? We can run a competition for the medal’s name, but I’ll start it off with the Robbie Flower Medal. (Sorry Doug, you’ve already had a wing named after you)

    Not sure about the Packing Room Prize; the players wouldn’t have their hearts in any voting. Certainly not judging Tex the Temper Tantrum’s little number. Maybe a selection of the administration and support staff alf the winning club. And right down to the girl the front desk and the bootstudder. Again, technology makes this possible. Of course, Benny Gale & Peggy O’Neil would have get a grip of themselves long enough press the keys. But anyway, voting wouldn’t be compulsory. You could even throw in ex-players.

    Good thread MZ, and Chris, I loved the line about commentators being paid to never shut-up. Sums up Hungry to a tee.

  27. Welton B. Marsland says

    Great read.

    You’ve just reminded me of a comment I heard from the row behind me on the day, directed at Jack Graham – “YOU’RE A NO-NAME TODAY KID BUT YOU’LL BE A HISTORIC NAME TOMORROW!!”


  28. Matt Zurbo says

    Ha! Reading these comments makes me stoked to be a Knacker! Such smart, funny buggers on this sight. No haters, either. The best, all of you!

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