Round 15 – Geelong v Richmond: The ties that bind

Geelong v Richmond

4:35pm, Saturday June 25

MCG

 

 

I’m standing by the fence at the back of section M50 in the Northern Stand and watching the Geelong players burst onto the field for their ‘home’ clash at the MCG with Richmond.

 

I barrack for the Tigers because my father was born in Richmond in 1935 and swore allegiance to the local team, along with virtually every other resident living in the narrow streets bordered by the Yarra River, Victoria Street, Hoddle Street and Punt Road. Although he never applied any pressure for us to choose them, I followed in his footsteps along with my younger brother. We gladly accompanied him to Richmond games at the MCG and all the suburban warzones from the late Sixties onward.

 

But what if I had grown up in a family without an attachment to football? Some of my friends at primary school were from migrant families that had no affiliation with Australian football. Still, each one of them was obliged by the culture of the day to choose a club. One friend from a Maltese family followed Essendon through the influence of a much-admired uncle who wasn’t much older than him.

 

I went through a stage as a youngster when I really enjoyed watching replays of Geelong games at Kardinia Park on black-and-white TV. Geelong was an exotic club; the only team from outside Melbourne where you had to drive along a highway for a long time to watch them play at their home ground. Their hooped colours, which I took as black and white as I watched on television, looked bold and formidable. Kardinia Park was always packed and I liked the look of the trees rising over the heads of thousands of spectators on the outer wing. The Geelong crowd screamed whenever they scored and the goal squares were covered in ripped up paper. The team was full of glamorous players with film star names, like Doug Wade, Denis Marshall, John Sharrock and Gareth Andrews. Then there were the champions like Polly Farmer and Billy Goggin, whose names sounded like they were leading a rollicking, marauding band of pirates.

 

Left to my own devices, would I have chosen Geelong as my team, even though no-one else in my class of fifty or so students barracked for them? Or would I have followed the lead of the best footballer in my year level (who happened to be a Collingwood supporter)? He was intelligent, charismatic and possibly the worst-behaved student in the school. He grew up to become a high-ranking detective who often spoke at TV press conferences about notorious crimes. Years later he told me that he recommended our old school grounds as a meeting place for the special operations squad he led on an early-morning raid in the suburb where we grew up.

 

But no, my devotion to the Tigers was settled before I started Prep. My first friendship group consisted of the four of us who all barracked for Richmond. On free dress days we always turned up in team colours.

 

My father took us to Kardinia Park for the first time in 1969. We might have won the grand final that year with a late-season charge, but Geelong dealt with us that afternoon with imperious ease. Richmond were soundly beaten and I remember Dick Clay kicking a couple of late goals after he was moved from the wing into attack in a vain attempt by Tom Hafey to get something happening for the struggling Tigers.

 

Geelong donned the white shorts for their home fixture away from home. I can’t understand it and believe it makes them look less imposing. But it doesn’t appear to affect their form for today’s bout with Richmond. The Cats dominate possessions, inside-50s and clearances in the first term. The Tiger defence is under constant bombardment. Then Prestia deals with an awkward bounce by cleverly tapping the ball to Jack Graham. In doing so he leaves himself totally exposed. Tom Stewart runs past the ball and cannons into him, knocking him down for the ten count. No! Not Dion! Stewart is reported and Graham receives the free kick. My heart sinks. Already under siege, the Tigers can’t possibly win if Prestia is subbed out. His presence is essential to the effective functioning of the Tiger system and we find it difficult to cope without him. I’m too dismayed to join the Richmond supporters in my section who are enraged and demanding Stewart’s head. Prestia is assisted across the field by two trainers and the umpires allow play to continue. Tyson Stengle scores for Geelong before our gun midfielder can be replaced and our woes are compounded.

 

Geelong lead by 20 points at the first interval and cruise to a 35-point break midway through the second quarter. The Tigers are unable to counter Cameron, Stengle, Duncan and Stewart. Things are looking bleak and I steel myself for inevitable defeat. I rehearse the explanations in my mind that I will share tomorrow with my son, who is not able to be at the game. The uncomfortable truth that we’re not as good as Geelong and that we’re not a top-four team. But the narrative takes an unexpected turn. Hardwick rings in the changes and they succeed. He moves Baker into a dominant role in the midfield and the dangerous Bolton to a deep forward assignment. The Tigers rally with three quick goals to Bolton (twice) and Martin, reducing the margin to 16 points.

 

The resurgence continues in the third term and the Cats are looking shaky. Nankervis is getting on top in the ruck and the defensive trio of Vlaustin, Grimes and Broad constantly repel Geelong’s forward entries. Pickett and McIntosh prowl the open spaces. Ralphsmith intercepts a short pass from Kolodjashni to Bews, runs on and kicks straight to put the Tigers up by three points at the 21-minute mark. It’s the first time that Richmond has been in front and the army roars at maximum volume. The Tigers lead by five points as we turn for home.

 

We drink deeply from the silver goblet of momentum. Cheers! Majors early in the last to Judson Clarke and Lynch extend Richmond’s mastery. We’re seventeen points up at the five-minute mark and heading for a memorable come-from-behind victory. Then our cup runs dry and it’s Geelong’s turn to take a draught of the magical elixir. They take risks, attack through the middle and retaliate with quick goals to Stengle and Close. Then Riewoldt takes a hanger within easy range of goal. Here’s the counter punch to force the Cats back onto the ropes! But the Richmond supporters are aghast when the umpire commands Jack to give the ball to Sam De Koning. We watch the replay on the big screen and howl in rage. De Koning had obstructed Lynch’s passage to the marking contest, causing both players to veer out of contention. Riewoldt completed the mark before Lynch slung De Koning aside. The umpire paid a ‘block’ for a trivial incident that had no bearing on the contest. Geelong surge and Stengle emerges again to pass to Cameron in the square, who blasts the ball into the stand in the act of recovering the lead for Geelong. Then Pickett locates Maurice Rioli with a perfectly weighted pass. Rioli displays composure way beyond his years and converts to put the Tigers up by three points at the 26-minute mark. Geelong wins the centre clearance, the elusive Tyson Stengle gathers the ball yet again and wheels around, lofting the ball in the direction of their goals. Former defender Jack Henry twists in the air and hauls in a brilliant contested mark, only fifteen metres out. Goal. Richmond counter-attack and the Cats fall back to man the barricades. Baker soccers the ball from a pack and it lands in the hands of the notorious Tom Stewart. It could so easily have gone our way and now the Tigers’ last chance has evaporated. The siren sounds and I slump on the wire fence, totally deflated. We’ve dropped another close one after being so near to victory.

 

I trudge up the hill to the station and reflect, trying to overcome a mounting sense of grievance. If I had followed the Cats I would have needed to endure a string of heartbreaking grand final losses before finally experiencing my first flag when well into middle age. Three titles in five years was a momentous achievement, followed by a decade of top-eight finishes and inglorious finals exits. But regardless of the pain I’m experiencing in the moment, I have no doubt that following the team of my father has enriched my life, even allowing for that interminable 37-year gap between the triumphs of 1980 and 2017. I’ve witnessed eight premierships and I can remember every one of them. And five wooden spoons as well, one of them in the year I was born, all part of the fortunes of the club followed by generations of families like my own.

 

I console myself. Regardless of going down to Geelong today, nothing can erase the joy of those finals wins over the Cats in the three premiership years under Hardwick.

 

Family trees grow and disparate families are joined as people meet, fall in love and marry. Later this year my son will marry a girl from a clan that supports Geelong. She’s sticking with the Cats. There it is. A family link to the club whose feats I admired on television as a kid all those years ago.

 

 

 

GEELONG           5.2      8.5     9.8      13.11 (89)
RICHMOND       
2.0      5.3    10.7     13.8 (86)

 

GOALS
Geelong: 
Stengle, Cameron 3, Henry 2, Blicavs, Miers, Smith, Tuohy, Close
Richmond: Bolton, Lynch 3, M.Rioli 2, Baker, Martin, Edwards, Ralphsmith, Clarke

 

BEST
Geelong: 
Stengle, Cameron, Stewart, Duncan, Guthrie, Atkins
Richmond: Baker, Bolton, Vlastuin, Lynch, Pickett, McIntosh

 

 

 

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