Grand Final – Richmond v GWS: Damage





There’s damage, debris everywhere. It spills out from the big screen projector, littering Murph’s empty shed, spreading to where the gang are now piss farting around with a basketball, drinking, too bored to bother with the presentation. Why bother?


17 goals to 3. The train wreck has filtered through word-of-mouth and technology, across the planet, covering everything, and everybody, everywhere, who love Aussie Rules football – the people in the G, the crowds in parks and pubs outside it, Alaskan researchers on their mobiles. We wanted skills, we wanted bone-crunching collisions, strategy!


The 2019 season is done and dusted, pieces all over the place. But humiliation is not the carnage we were craving.


The first ten minutes went to script. Intense football, ferocious bodies thrown recklessly, playing to the Giants’ template, what beat Collingwood; strangle a game, strangle your opponents. Invent mud and roll in it. But the day was dry, perfect. The game was always going to wear down into football.


“Richmond are doing all the attacking…” Jake said.


It worried me a little. “How often do you see a team give everything for only a few points, then, the other team goes bang, bang, breaks them.”


Then, Grimes lost it in the sun, and Cameron marked outside 50.


“You’re a smartarse, Old Dog,” Jake said.


The first few minutes of chaos, grunt and madness had lasted twenty. But now a goal was scored, the game was opened for both clubs. There’d be ability, team plans.


Now, there was Richmond.


Bachar and his mates kept intercepting, spoiling, tackling, seamlessly creating attack, but, more so, Richmond were simply faster around the ground. Nankervis and Soldo were winning the ruck, and Prestia, Castagna, Rioli, were tearing up everything!


It wasn’t even in how they got or used the ball, but in the way they bullied the Giants defenders and midfielders. The few times it did go forward for GWS, the ball was hot, high, loaded with Richmond defenders.


The most sweetly balanced, structured, disciplined defence I have ever seen, Richmond’s back six have no legendary names, no great individuals, just very good players executing great coaching. All things being hail Marys and traffic, they turned it into simple maths, while down the other end Stroppy Jack tore the game open.


Lynch and Riewoldt had swapped. Tom was leading up, clunking them on the wings. Jack, on the injured Davis, ripping it deep.


Half way through the second the game was over. In the shed, Everybody neutral was bored with it.


What do you do when the roof of the shed doesn’t come off? When nobody bothers to cheer, or shit-stir, or shout in amazement? None of us cared about GWS. Collingwood you love or hate. You can hope they come back, or suffer brutal history. You can let your mate know about it!


GWS are a manufactured team. I respect the reasons, yet there is no passion you might find in a Tassie team, or NT mob. All that was left to hope for was something close, frantic. Their last fifteen minutes against Collingwood, just seven days earlier, was one of the best quarter hours of my life! How do you find inspiration in 89 points?


There are always backstories…


Pickett being one of the best ever. We all know it by now, two years in jail, mid season draft, first AFL game. He smashed it. Everything about Marlion still looks the next level down. He still looks rough, speaks rough. Has rougher disposal, handballs that loop more than punch. No fancy hairdo. And that is exactly why a country was happy for him! He was us, plucked from nowhere.


Suddenly, in Pickett, we were out there.


There was Houli’s continued rise, Mummy’s last call. Phil Davis playing broken. Jack’s reinvention from glamour forward to hard working team player. Toby Greene…


I love Toby. Sport lovers still need their Rhys-Joneses, their Nick Kyrgioses, their McEnroes, people for the haters to hate. For the dull to despise, to stir the masses. They create reactions, feeling! They are needed, vital. The pantomime villains. The theatre. Everybody booed Libba until he was leaving, then they loved him. In a homogenised world, oh, we need them!


There was the other Toby, Nankervis. (G’day Big Rig!) Every year at Sydney, they recruited two more ruckmen, as if they never wanted him. Sinclair, Tippett, some bloke from West Coast. He was everything they say they are built on – honest, tough, using his body to clear the way for others. A team man with fierce grunt, the opposite of superstars. Unwanted.


Two premierships later…


There were, no doubt, stories in the crowd. Who and what is a Giants fan? There would have been Tiger faithful carrying 150 years of family blood and bone, craving the Pies, Carlton, epic echoes and new, violently written additions to history.


There was Rance, Graham, the Giants themselves, as an entity.


But, as Richmond pulled away in the third, there was no spark in the shed. No clashing of titans. We saw no flying limbs born of desperation that elevates these stories into mythology.


“Don’t they know this is my Christmas!” I raged at the screen.


Diamonds are made by crushing copious amounts of coal together, by insane pressure, making something rare, impossibly hard and beautiful. By conflict.


“This is meant to be a GRAND final!”


But Richmond were too good, too seasoned, too well spread. Too everything. A ridiculous tide. The Giants weren’t ready.


The Tigers continued to line up for goals. Martin gave to Pickett, who turned the MCG primal. Soldo got one on the siren, turning them happy, ridiculous! Dusty cut loose. If you barrack for them, you were being given invincibility, immortality! A day, a strength, you will never let go.


If you were just a lover of the game, needed some sort of afterglow to get you through the cold, hot months that are the off season, the Norm Smith was the only thing left to barrack for.


Bruce MacAvaney is on the Normy panel, so you know it’s about names, not football. The race caller.


The only way to know who deserved it was to discuss it, yet the shed was already draining.


I managed to pin Feathers, a teammate from Dodges Ferry.


Martin does everything with such power and silk. He gets it hard, he gets it outside, he brings teammates into the game with his world’s best delivery, gah, his delivery! He burns them when shooting for goal, but kicks amazing goals, doesn’t chase. He is all things. I could watch him play forever!


But it’s too easy to get caught up in the amazing things Dusty does, rather than the time he does them. Like two years ago, he smashed it once the game was over. Stroppy Jack was the one who seized the moment, and did enough either side of that three goal second quarter. Houli and Vlash were both mind-numbingly good, but this game, with so much midfield pressure, was made for them. They were always going to be sensational when the ball thumped and bumped its way towards them, through chaos. And, for much of the game, were simply waiting.


With Toby Greene spending much of the game in the middle, Grimes destroyed the Giant’s one, genuine go-to. Cameron is so good, even though GWS got hammered, when they did get it, he was their target. And he ran! Cameron tried his hardest to be everywhere. He and Grimes were always in the action.


Yet Grimes got eleven marks of his own, used every possession! Didn’t waste a single kick. As a defender down at mug level, I jut think he beat the Giants’ best, and did so a little better than the rest did theirs.


Pickett was and was not as good as the commentators said. He looked VFL in traffic, but when Richmond opened the game up, was terrific at receiving and carrying the ball forward. Absolutely in the best five. Such a good story!


Heath Shaw was a great story. His footy life has been full of them. He gave, he repelled, he stood to an onslaught, driving it back time and again. Never once surrendered.


He had been there.


He was ready.


 There is passion!


It’s not so hard to play Bachar’s great game while winning so easily.


I said all this to Feathers, sitting in front of me. He just shrugged. “Martin will get it because.”


It was a good answer.


I’d still call Jack. Then Dusty, then Grimes and Marlion, Bachar, Shaw, so on…


But that’s all analytical, dry. Almost cold. In Murph’s shed, we wanted to roar! Then stagger out, noticing sheds all over Tassie’s south east had been roaring!


To share something magic.


Some Grand Finals are everything you dreamed of. Sometimes you get coal in your stockings. I told myself to lighten up. The trick, as Stroppy Jack said in an interview recently, is to always enjoy the journey.


Last to leave the shed, even though the players hadn’t even started their lap of honour, I was grateful for the last quarter of Giants v Pies. For Pickett, Houli. The Big Rig! Backlines. Richmond.


For Eddie Betts and Tom Stewart, and lovers of the game, and football.


Outside, everybody was laughing, having a ripper time. The dust had already settled on the wreckage. Great mates, booze, great food, only an afterglow was missing.


I spared a thought for those at ground zero, who’s every action, and reaction, would have cause and effect that shaped their lives forever. For Richmond. How delirious the players, and their families, must be right now, still in their jumpers, surrounded by glory.


For the Giants, blokes who live and breathe football with such pride and passion they make a very public living off it. Most punters won’t have remembered how impossibly hard their month was leading into the Grand Final. How spent they must have been coming into it. I thought of how the shame of such a scoreline might haunt them forever.


I walked out into fading daylight, beer and basketball and a kick of the footy. To my waiting baby girl and a summer full of possibilities.





  1. george smith says

    Sadly, the one sided walkover is the normal grand final. From 1980 to 2000 they were all pretty much one sided, only 1984, 1989 and possibly 1997 a stirring contest. We have seen the final 5, final 6 and the alphabet soup final 8 come and go, to be left with the current system which sometimes throws up some thrilling matches in the grannie. You have to accept them for what they are, and Rocky usually loses out to Apollo Creed.

    I went back and watched the one sided grand finals, such as 1974 and 1985. They’re not too bad, showcasing as they do some champion teams. Maybe this one will watchable some day…

  2. Over here in SA, nothing beats the 1989 SANFL Grand Final for one sided matches. Port Adelaide, coached by John Cahill, defeated North Adelaide, coached by Mike Nunan, 15:18 to 1:8. What a joke that was.

  3. george smith says

    yes Fisho, remember the “One goal in mind!”

    Worth noting that North won the flag two years later…

  4. Yes George in the so called “blood bath”when North defeated West Adelaide.who had previously knocked Port out in the first semi. I remember it well for that was the day my Uncle Malcolm passed away (the first semi that is).

  5. Old dog absolutely brilliant you have managed to capture every possible story re players and highlights
    I admit I turned it off before the game was over as yep you nailed it just didn’t have feeling and meaning

  6. Super piece Matt. Even in my euphoric state I’ll admit that yesterday’s game doesn’t really warrant a detailed write-up – until I read yours. “Invent mud and roll in it”. Brilliant!
    So my piece (just posted) is more about the “so what”. In short, praise Richmond for their season, not for yesterday. And rejoice in the collective blunders of Collingwood, Brisbane, Geelong and West Coast, combined with the rigours of a brutally hard finals campaign for GWS, that handed us the Premiership on a platter.

  7. Great writing, Matt. I am a Tiger fan so loved every minute of the game! We’ve been on the end of plenty of thrashing s so we know all about haunting humiliation. A really refreshing perspective on the game!

  8. Yep. And big Mummy running to catch a bus that’s already off and gone down High Street. Again and again like one of those recurring dreams where the door is always closing just as you get to it.
    Richmond’s method is a thing of wonder. Dimma doesn’t get enough credit for his footy brain. More Sheeds than Clarko with his crazy “what if’s”. My TV screen was constantly black and yellow as if the white had disappeared from the contrast settings. How does that happen? Did the Giants literally and not just figuratively dig a hole and hide?
    My theory du jour is that the Tigers have binary game plan. They have the ball we compress the ground. Manic pressure to create a spillage turnover or a panic kick into our 40 metre dead zone. Other teams do that but maybe without the same ferocity. We have the ball and its instant stretch the ground. A mad dash pass the parcel to the try line. No-one else does that. My Eagles have 4 bandpasses backwards to the bloke 30 metres back of the stoppage who chips sideways to support. Richmond are half way to Darwin by then!
    Food for thought. Not that anyone in our lounge room was bothered by footy by half time as you say. Next year’s family jaunt back to Croatia. The funny loop at the top of the backswing. Will Ivanka be around for 5 minutes after the cops/white coats take Donald away? The Giants a first world problem. Like the friend who got our wedding date wrong and wondered why she didn’t know anyone at the reception.
    So long and thanks for all the fish Matt.

  9. Love it Matt. I was watching at the Nightcliff Footy Club in Darwin – tiger heavy. Attention pretty quickly turned to the races after quarter time. It was a lot like 2017, Crows and GWS would have thought they had the game on their terms at quarter time. Then it wasn’t, really wasn’t, and no brief moments of control could right the ship.

    The Giants aren’t nothing. Wherever there is people there is something and the Giants are (slowly) gaining people. All clubs have to be artificially constructed from something whether it be an AFL focus group in the 2000s, an SANFL board room in 1990, or a pub in the 1870s. They are the meaning we invest and supporters of “old” clubs are not the sole shareholders.

    Would add 1998 to that list George (but agree with your point) – the team that lost was up by four goals at half time and Darren Jarman, he stirs.

  10. Earl O'Neill says

    Dave, your sentence about “All clubs” is perfect. I’ve wanted to write something like that for years.

  11. Matt, that’s the best summary of the day I expect to read. Thanks.

    Hear’s to that summer of expectation.

  12. Thanks John, good on you. Thanks all.

    Wise words Dave. As I said in the piece, I can well see the reason for the Giants, but there is a lack of passion when barracking against them. I could feel for a Tassie club, as people have waited over 100 years. It means something to the whole state. There is a communal feeling involved.

    IN 50 year time, I’m sure the Giants will have it, too.

  13. I loved Bachar putting his arm around a typically snarly Greene and having a quiet word, smiling. And Toby visibly relaxing his body language and smiling as well.

    I loved all season Dimma’s ability to tinker under the hood at quarter time or half time and somehow completely fix whatever hadn’t been structurally working for a quarter or so.

    At the Punt Road Live Site, it was fun. The last goal was celebrated as hard as there first. We could lock out the rest of the world having a crap GF and just be Tigers, dazzled in the moment.

  14. Oh, and the next day, at my regular social kick of old blokes no longer trying to be stars, just enjoying the rare moment of a perfectly kicked Sherrin, everyone was trying to pull off the 360 spin. Pickett Folklore begins.

  15. Matt Zurbo says

    Peter B. I agree with everything you said!

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