Round 2 – Collingwood v Richmond: Asterisk you take*





The asterisk  – a little star – is an innovation from the ancient Greeks and Romans. It alerts the reader to a note beneath the text as the writer wishes to qualify something. It can be five, six or eight-sided. It is used to indicate that an account needs to be moderated, or is somehow compromised or tainted, by additional information and that the footnote will reveal all. Every computer keyboard includes an asterisk key.


The asterisk has already entered the realm of sports. In 1961 Roger Maris of the New York Yankees was threatening to break Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs set in 1927 in a 154-game season. Maris was playing in a 162-game American League campaign. Baseball commissioner Ford Frick, a friend of Ruth’s, said some “distinctive mark” should be placed next to Maris’ name if Maris should break Ruth’s record but take more than 154 appearances to do so. It had first been suggested by New York Daily News sportswriter Dick Young.


Maris scored his sixty-first homer in the final game of the season against the Boston Red Sox. Ruth’s and Maris’ records were acknowledged separately and no asterisk was ever officially employed.


And so to the 2020 chapter of the long-running AFL saga, fated by many to bear an eternal asterisk due to the 73-day Corona Virus lockdown between Rounds 1 and 2. My son and I are members of an exclusive group of supporters who have actually seen Richmond play live in 2020. They were Marsh Community Series matches against Collingwood in Wangaratta and GWS in Wagga Wagga. Both of them losses, by the way, but we still enjoyed our excursions to the bush.


Which clubs will adjust best to the novel situation? Mind the gap. No spectators, shorter quarters. How will the fact of living in hubs effect the live-in footballers?


Watching footy becomes like watching Netflix. We’re not there. There is an element of local footy. Not quite the whump of bodies colliding, but the sound of players calling out to each other and cheering team goals.


The irrepressible Jack Higgins returns to the Richmond line-up after a year’s absence and two bouts of brain surgery.


The subtle artificial crowd noise is as comforting to the footy fan as a CD with the sounds of the rainforest to an over-stressed business executive. We’re back.


For the entire evening in front of the television I am under the impression that the huge Richmond and Collingwood banners laid across the seats are real. It’s like the AFL has singlehandedly revived the Australian textiles industry with a massive order. Or maybe the cheer squads have set to work in some vigorous sewing bees throughout the week. It’s not until I read the press reports on the following morning that I learn that the banners were digitised.


Disregarding pre-season matches, Richmond have won their last 13 games, breaking their club record which they set when they were a powerhouse back in the early thirties. I want their winning run to extend past 15, the number of consecutive losses they suffered in 2004-05.


What transpires is one of the more bizarre episodes in the long history of Richmond-Collingwood rivalry.


The Magpies are off to a savage flyer and boot the first four goals of the evening. With shortened quarters the advantage of a rapid start is like having first go and placing your X in the middle square of a game of noughts and crosses. Pendlebury, Sidebottom, Grundy and Adams are running rings around their opponents. Jeremy Howe glides into contests and marks everything that comes his way. Tigers falter at key moments, fumble and struggle to link up as they advance. Defensive pressure is down. The Magpies play the short game and keep denying possession to the reigning premiers.


Cotchin and Martin barely keep the Tigers in touch. Long Tom Lynch kicks three in the second term and they trail by 14 points at the long break. And it is a long break, far too long. Less football with 16-minute quarters, an extra 15 seconds after goals are scored and an interminable wait at half-time for the action to resume.


Not that many goals are scored. The Tigers turn the screws in the third term with their patented brand of ferocious pressure. The Magpies are stranded in their defensive zone with no way out, but Richmond can’t land any majors. Late in the term Bolton scores from a fortunate free kick and Higgins snags another after marking a snap from Dusty on the goal line. It looks to me as if he was over the line, but who am I to argue with progress? The video review decrees that the ball was partially in play when Higgins grasped it. Trust the science. Young Jack is making a habit of tormenting Collingwood with miraculous efforts in the teeth of goal, as attested by his overhead goal-of-the-year winner in 2018. Only two points in it at three-quarter time.


I can’t sit still in the last quarter and resort to pacing around the family room.  The teams are locked in an intense struggle for supremacy where one more score could win it. Both outfits have their chances. Mihocek, Phillips and De Goey miss for the Magpies. Lynch fires wide. I joyfully anticipate that Riewoldt’s set shot from 40 metres out will put the Tigers up for the first time in the match, but I’m stunned when he doesn’t get enough power on it and the ball is marked on the line by Darcy Cameron. Higgins’ attempt sails to the wrong side of the post a few moments later. It’s a point the difference. Bolton sets off on one of his weaving runs and lobs to the square. The ball bounces off the sprinting Castagna’s chest as he is pressured by Chris Mayne and the ball is rushed through for a behind by Howe. Scores are tied! The Woods launch one more attack in the dying seconds. My heart is in my mouth as Phillips’ pass floats in the direction of Callum Brown. Vlaustin is onto it and nails him, hustling ball and opponent over the boundary line and into safety.


The siren sounds after an ineffectual ball-up. Outlandish. Scores of 5-6 (36) apiece, like an Under-13s game. A goalless final term. Collingwood score one goal after quarter-time and manage not to lose. Richmond land two majors in the second half and they don’t lose either. It’s the first draw between the clubs in 103 years. The lowest aggregate score in an AFL match since 1999. Perhaps neither team deserves the four points. Then again, the performance of the defenders of both teams deserves some recognition.


Hardwick cites the dew, the fatigue factor and the uncertainty in the ranks arising from a recent history of eight weeks in isolation, three weeks back at training and match stimulation in groups of eight. He runs into opposing coach Nathan Buckley in the carpark after the game. They agree that the match was so forgettable that they probably won’t bother dissecting it throughout the coming days as they prepare for their next opponents.


This remains to be seen. With the chance of a second meeting sometime in the spring they might choose to glean all they can from the video.


If Richmond wins the 2020 premiership, it will be the greatest triumph in AFL history. If Richmond fails to win the premiership, the season should have been cancelled anyway.*



COLLINGWOOD          4.1       5.3       5.4       5.6 (36)
RICHMOND                   0.1       3.1       5.2       5.6 (36)


Collingwood: Phillips 2, Adams, Sidebottom, C.Brown
Richmond: Lynch 3, Bolton, Higgins


Collingwood: Pendlebury, Howe, Sidebottom, Moore, Daicos, Phillips, Grundy.
Richmond: Cotchin, Vlastuin, Broad, Martin, Lynch, Higgins.





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  1. Michael Viljoen says

    I’ll admit that the banners on the seats had me fooled, but not the crowd noise. I find the canned crowd noise irritating. It makes you wonder what else is not real. It was more subtle with the NRL. Is footy more about theatrics, or is it a contest between players and combatants?

    What did Martin do to get listed among the best? I saw him turn it over a few times.

    I’m not convinced there won’t be asterisks put against a lot of things this year. Don Scott was even wanting to put one against Gary Ablett’s 350 game milestone.

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