Round 1 – Richmond v Carlton: Nervous? Not me.



I was nervous at the footy a few weeks ago. My 18-year-old son made his senior debut for Warrandyte in a practice match against Mt. Waverley. After transferring to the club to play with his mates in the under-19’s the senior coach unexpectedly gave him a run in the firsts. He had never played footy against men before. Bigger bodies and harder hits. Of course, everybody who has played open age footy, regardless of the standard, has trodden this path before. My boy acquitted himself well, booted a couple of goals and emerged unscathed, although he’s still unsure as to whether he would prefer to contend for senior selection or stick with his teenage mates.

There are no nerves tonight for Richmond’s opening round clash with Carlton. If I could have my choice of first round opponents it would be the beleaguered Blues, roundly predicted to battle Essendon for the wooden spoon this year. Undermanned, inexperienced, cobbled together with cast-offs from other clubs, the unbridled enthusiasm of new coach Brendan Bolton can only take them so far. Melbourne Victory kick more goals than the plodders from Princes Park. True, the Tigers are without Ivan Maric and Brett Deledio. It’s an uncomfortable fact that Richmond struggles to win whenever Deledio has a rare absence from the field. But how much personnel do you need to overcome an opponent at the carting of the old bricks away stage of rebuilding?

Footy’s back. Daryl Braithwaite serenades us with his hit song Horses. While Sherbet never did it for me, I admit to having a soft spot for their version of Free’s Wishing Well. They’ll have to get Dazza back to perform Howzat at the cricket. The Japanese-style drummers pound the skins in front of the race and the organisers have even managed to smuggle fireworks past the extra security at the gates.

The Carlton list has altered so much in recent years that I am frequently compelled to glance at the AFL Record to identify new players. You can’t knock the loyalty of the vastly outnumbered Carlton supporters. It’s going to be a long, cold winter for them. The Blues lead by three points at the first break and their barrackers give them a rousing ovation.

Midway through the second term Everitt converts for Carlton and the Tigers find themselves 11 points adrift. The match is not going to script. The yellow and black members take umbrage at the umpires. I reassure my son that the corresponding game in 2015 followed a similar pattern. The Tigers fell behind by 23 points midway through the second quarter before assuming control and winning by 27. The Blues won’t be able to sustain their intensity. The mistakes will come when the Tigers step up a gear. It’s as inevitable as grey skies during Easter. Right on cue Vickery nails one to put the Tigers up by a point at the 21-minute mark and they go into half time with a seven-point lead and the promise of greater spoils in the second half.

But this is not what happens. Far from employing a safety first flooding strategy favoured by bottom feeders with an eye to minimising their losing margin, the Blues are very effective when they attack. They play with flair, run hard and deliver the ball with precision. This is exemplified in a rapid coast-to-coast journey which culminates in Patrick Cripps running into an open goal. Murphy, Gibbs and Simpson are getting plenty of the ball in the midfield. Zac Touhy sets up across half back and Jacob Weitering is making a seamless transition to the bigtime. Former Crow Matt Wright boots three for the term. Panic sets in for Richmond fans. I hear something I have never heard before – some Tiger members taunt Trent Cotchin, who has struggled to impose himself on the contest. Carlton leads by nine points at the final break. They are blitzing the Tigers in terms of possessions, inside 50’s and scoring shots. An upset is looking extremely likely. Catastrophic headlines on the demise of the push from Punt Road are appearing on keyboards in the press box.

But with the game at their mercy, the Blues falter. In the opening minutes of the final term Kerridge fires on the run and shanks his kick. Casboult takes another strong mark and misses from close range. Tigers start to win key contests. Kane Lambert is everywhere. Dustin Martin is like a tattooed minotaur in the packs. Richmond boots the next four goals of the match, two of them to Sam Lloyd, seizing the ball in heavy traffic before dodging, weaving and snapping truly. When Miles strides into fifty and goals at the 21-minute mark the Tigers are up by 16 points and the home fans breathe easier.

Not quite. Everitt replies for Carlton. Cripps’ flying shot is touched on the line by Dylan Grimes. It’s the Tigers by nine points. They’re not as bad as we thought, these Blues, and the people watching at home have witnessed an entertaining start to the 2016 season.

No doubt the neutrals were far less nervous than I was at various stages of the evening.

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