Kardinia sojourn a rite of Tiger passage by John Green

I felt it was a necessary part of my 11-year-old’s footy education to take him to see the Tigers play away at Skilled Stadium. After all, where else today can you have the experience of jostling for space on old fashioned concrete terracing and watching an AFL match? Where else can you walk not only on the footpath, but on the nature strip and road as well if you wish, as you make your way with the rest of the visiting tribe past the weatherboard cottages and laneways to the enemy’s patch of turf?

It takes me back to winter days with my own father when the Tigers were a fearsome outfit at suburban battlegrounds. Today the bookies are offering odds of eight dollars for a Richmond win.

My son and I play spot the yellow and black in a sea of navy blue and white. The home crowd at Skilled Stadium is like a vast appreciation society dedicated to paying homage to its local sporting heroes. They expect to win every week no matter who the opposition is. When Ablett weaves his magic in the first term there is an exhalation of “Gazza!” and thousands of knowing nods in the direction of family and friends. It’s the same for “Chappy”, “Linger” and “Johnno”.

By quarter-time the Tigers are down by 26 points. I multiply 26 by four on the calculator for a projected final margin. It’s like they don’t even belong on the same park as the hosts. Richmond players are monstered in the clutches and forced into frantic over-use of handball on the rare occasions gain possession. Geelong defenders such as Scarlett and Taylor force their opponents into impossible situations before linking up effortlessly with a stream of runners to carry the ball back through the central corridor.

The Cats appear to lose interest in the second term but do enough to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Nevertheless, their fans purr contentedly as they make their way to the bar at

half-time with a 31-point lead. They look forward to hoisting their next premiership flag at the first home game of 2010.

Nobody is prepared for what happens in the third quarter.

Morton, Richardson and Riewoldt boot majors in the first five minutes, the latter resulting from an exquisite tap-on from Schulz. It’s only 13 points the difference, before two of the more dubious rules in football conspire to gift the Cats with two face-saving goals. First, Daniel Jackson, who is effectively blanketing Joel Selwood, is penalised for holding on for a millisecond too long in a tackle and lumbered with a 50-metre penalty, resulting in a goal to Corey. Then Luke McGuane punches the ball into the crowd after Mooney roosts it through the sticks from long range. The ball is handed to a grateful Tom Hawkins in the square and the Tigers suffer a double whammy.

But the Tigers aren’t finished. Richardson, who has led Jimmy Bartel on a merry dance on the wing, is thrust into attack where he applies immediate pressure to an unusually jittery Cat defence. The normally unflappable Matthew Scarlett makes a series of bizarre errors. Schulz and Morton reel in a couple of spectacular marks. Brown, Deledio and Bowden are responding to the criticism dished out to them after the Carlton debacle of the previous week and control the paths leading through the midfield.

When a fierce Tom Hislop is awarded a free for a high tackle and duly converts from 15 metres out deep in time-on, the unthinkable has happened. Richmond hits the front by a point. Isolated bands of yellow and black desperados are suddenly in full voice.

When Bowden slots one from the boundary at the seven-minute mark of the final term to put Richmond up by six points, I am beginning to think my son’s experience of old-fashioned footy watching may include a completely unexpected Richmond victory.

Instead, it turns out like it often did for soldiers in the Great War. After extending themselves to take an enemy trench they then had to endure an artillery barrage and a counter-attack while caught out in the open. The barrage comes in the form of the wildly unorthodox Steve Johnson, who boots three opportunist goals. Chapman adds another in a run of four. The brave Tigers are spent. Geelong does what all good teams do: kick the goals that matter in a tight finish. Hardened campaigners like Ablett, Milburn and Ling re-assert control.

As we make our way back to the South Geelong railway station, I provide my son with another kernel of football truth. My father first took me to Skilled Stadium in 1970. I finally saw the Tigers win there in 2006. If you keep turning up, you break through eventually.

Votes: 3. G. Ablett  2. M. Richardson  1. S. Johnson

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