Round 1 – Carlton v Richmond: Just A Little Bit Of Sledging

 

Of all the affectations Carlton employs on Easter Thursday to make the MCG feel like their home patch, I most appreciate the re-emergence of Princes Park’s old white picket fence. The pickets appear by some electronic magic around the boundary fence. The Blues pull out all stops. Navy blue streaking along the signage on the upper decks, the antics of mascot Captain Carlton, the return of his hovercraft for the first time since 1999 and a tribute to former wild child Brendan Fevola. They even have some fireworks left over from the World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand.

I return with my son to the scene of Australia’s cricketing triumph of the previous weekend. We had discussed the Aussies penchant for sledging their opponents whilst on our train journey. He is far more forgiving of their tactics than I am. After all, as coach Darren Lehmann pointed out, no-one was actually reported in that match. So a little bit of sledging is alright.

Now it’s a different experience. The lights of the stadium, the autumn chill in the air and the aroma of fast food outside the ground. The natural order is restored. I am far more relaxed than I was at the 50-over finale. Finals? After years of yearning for some September action before experiencing successive Elimination Final losses I am convinced that finals footy is not all it is cracked up to be. Let’s just see what happens and enjoy the wins if and when they come.

As this is Carlton’s home fixture we must relinquish our reserved seats to the new tenants. Consequently we are perched somewhere near the summit of the Olympic Stand. At Richmond home games we sit a few rows back from the interchange area. You see the players regaining their breath as they stride inside the boundary line to recover from a quick burst in the midfield. Sometimes they smile or wave a hand to acknowledge applause from the members. But from our lofty vantage point tonight we have a greater chance of making contact with the residents in the high rises across the river in South Yarra. The seats are narrow and the burly Carlton supporter next to me has adopted the man spread that so annoys women on crowded trains.

Our isolation means that I completely miss the first dramatic incidents of the 2015 campaign. I don’t learn until later that Brett Deledio is actually reported for his bump on Simon White just seconds after the opening bounce and that Dale Thomas suffers a dislocated shoulder in the first minute and is forced to leave the field.

The wind is swirling and mistakes proliferate. Carlton wins the clearances and applies significant defensive pressure to the Tigers. They prevail in the midfield battle with Judd, Gibbs and Yarran prominent. Their match-ups are succeeding – White on Martin, Curnow on Ellis and Carrazzo on Cotchin. They lead by a handy 16 points at quarter time. Former Bulldog Liam Jones already has two goals on the board.

Five minutes into the second term their lead is extended to 23 points after another recruit, Christian Jaksch from GWS, steers it through from a sharp angle at the Punt Road end. The Tigers are sliding into a spot of bother and the Carlton fans around us are growing increasingly animated. Fortunately for Richmond Ex-Cat Taylor Hunt is a prolific possession winner. Debutant Kamdyn McIntosh is displaying considerable dash on the wing. Physically he resembles Dean Polo. Polo made a spectacular first appearance for Richmond in the 2006 Dreamtime at the G clash with Essendon. He picked up a pair of threes on that fateful evening – three goals and three Brownlow medal votes. McIntosh boots an assured goal on the run and seems perfectly at home in his present company.

Richmond’s playmakers in Martin and Deledio begin to break the shackles. Ellis, Houli and Edwards come to the fore. Sam Lloyd provides an alternative target in attack. The Blues are unable to maintain their intensity. They are left flat-footed as the Tigers break into open country. Their lead evaporates and by half time they are seven points down.

The question as to how the Blues are going to kick a winning score without Eddie Betts and now Jarrod Waite is answered emphatically. With great difficulty. From early in the second term they go for the best part of an hour without registering a single six-pointer. In the meantime Richmond increasingly dominates play but is unable to administer the fatal blow with a quick burst of majors. It’s frustrating and somewhat disconcerting. Didn’t the Blues almost pinch a couple of recent season openers when Richmond had those matches in their keeping? But when the lead is extended to 26 points early in the last quarter Tiger supporters begin to relax.

When Riewoldt slots his fourth the boys behind me rejoice in the fact that he’s hit the front in the Coleman and has the medal all sown up.

Then the sledging begins as Carlton people make their way down the steps to the exits.

“There’s some good seats up here if you want to upgrade!”

“It’s gonna be a long season for ya!”

“Goin’ downstairs to say goodbye to Malthouse?”

I’m prepared to overlook the poor manners of my fellow tribe members. After all, the memory of the 2013 Elimination Final loss is still raw.

While I may have too moral purity to do the sledging myself, I don’t mind others stepping in for me.

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