Round 18 – Hawthorn v Richmond: Marginalised no more



My son and I are feeling marginalised at the MCG tonight. The Hawthorn supporters have their turn of barracking for the home team at this shared arena and so somebody in brown and gold reclines in our customary seats in Row E, just near the interchange area. We’ve been here since ’65, what about your mob? Instead we lean on the fence at the rear of the members’ section. I prefer this view to being perched somewhere up near the rainclouds in the Olympic Stand for away fixtures.

I’m feeling marginalised from a top four finish, too, after losing last week to Fremantle by four points after David Mundy goaled with 30 seconds to go. Hit the boundary! But Garrick Ibbotson had marked Bachar Houli’s kick-out before passing to the unmarked Mundy. Did the Dockers lure Houli into a trap by leaving a little portion of space up the central corridor and enticing him to pass to Kane Lambert? Poor Lambert was swamped by a quartet of opponents long before the ball arrived. What goes around comes around. I remember the Tigers snatching a one-point win over the Dockers at Subiaco back in ’99 when a kick-out landed in the hands of Ben Hollands just 25 metres out and dead in front.

What chance have the Tigers got tonight, with Hawthorn coming off eight wins in a row, including crushing victories over legitimate rivals in Fremantle and Sydney?

We’re not alone by the fence, however, as there are hordes of Tiger supporters standing alongside us, perhaps deprived of their normal home game comforts just like we are. They’re vocal, too. Particularly one increasingly inebriated stalwart, who maintains a running diatribe all night designed to get up the noses of the Hawthorn members sitting in front of us.

“Come on Tiges! They don’t like it when you tackle ‘em!”

“You’re not playin’ Carlton now! You’re not beatin’ up kids tonight!”

“Ya reckon ya premiership favourites, do ya?”

The Tigers play with intense discipline, tenacity and patience. They begin with keepings off and manage to hold onto possession without committing costly errors. They incessantly tackle and harass the Hawthorn ball carriers. Deledio kicks three spine tingling goals. They come from a free kick after he nails James Frawley in a tackle, a dart from the 50-metre line after he smothers Luke Hodge’s attempted clearance and a play-on to advantage after Vickery is infringed in a marking contest. The Hawks are goalless at quarter time.

Feeling marginalised no more, yellow and black infiltrators begin to sidle into vacant seats at the rear of the members’ section. It’s like asylum seekers sneaking into the Channel Tunnel at Calais on the promise of a better life.

Riewoldt puts the Tigers up by 25 points early in the second term. It’s not until the seven-minute mark that Gunston scores Hawthorn’s first major. They apply some pressure of their own and the Tigers begin to stumble. Gunston’s goal is the first in a set of four. The Hawthorn chant goes up at the 20-minute mark of the quarter when they hit the front. Richmond snatches the lead back when McIntosh snaps truly. Tiger supporters howl in disbelief when Cyril Rioli ducks into a tackle just before half time and goals from the resulting free kick, handing the Hawks a two-point lead at the major break.

Is it a bridge too far for the visitors?

But Hardwick has the Tigers playing as he wants them to play. His game plan is built on manic defence. Rance, Chaplin, Grimes and Houli are not only miserly in the back half, but creative on the rebound. Martin, Cotchin and Miles are holding their own in the midfield battles. Mitchell, Lewis, Hodge and Burgoyne get their hands on the ball often enough but are struggling vainly with insufficient support. For the second time in the match Hawthorn fails to score a six-pointer at the city end goals.

Emboldened Tiger fans continue to trickle into the zone restricted to the paid up and passionate Hawks. They are soon in full voice. Those who retain their places at the fence become increasingly rowdy, especially the main protagonist.

“You’ve got ‘em Tiges, you’ve got ‘em! They can’t handle it! They don’t like it tough!”

When sub Sam Lloyd curls it home in the last term despite being under intense pressure, I finally allow myself to relax. It’s one of those magical games which you don’t expect to win but somehow do.

Meanwhile, the mood amongst some of the Hawthorn members who have been unmercifully baited all night begins to turn ugly. I can’t say that I blame them. One of the privileges of membership is to be isolated from opposition barrackers who taunt you if their side is winning. One disgruntled fan tries to have some Tiger intruders cast out of their section. He steps back to the fence to confront the Punt Road heckler. For a moment it looks serious, because neither party will back down. Cooler heads prevail and the situation is diffused. The steward, like his Gallic counterparts at the French end of the Chunnel, merely shrugs his shoulders as if to say “What do you expect me to do about it monsieur?”

Every Richmond chase, smother and tackle is met with rapturous applause. Hawthorn supporters departing before the final bell are provided with the customary send-off from jubilant Tigers.

A top four finish? Maybe we belong in such illustrious company. That’s three wins out of the last four against the mighty Hawks. As for my boy who recently turned 18, not only was he thrilled by the Tigers’ unexpected triumph, but he was served at the bar at the footy for the first time. It was a Coke but he told me that the queue was shorter than the place where the families go.



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