Round 23 – Richmond v Bulldogs: 2016 versus 2017

It’s taken until the last round of the year but the Dogs — the 2016 premiers — are finally crossing paths with the Tigers — the 2017 premiers. Such are the quirks of the AFL draw these days that Richmond has played the Saints four times since we last met them, in May last year.

 

In the interim, so much has changed. The Bulldogs, having scaled a premiership mountain, have fallen off a cliff. And the Tigers have broken a drought that many — not least their own fans — thought would never end.

 

The Tigers haven’t rested on their laurels, though, as my Doggies appear to have done. They have powered to a top-of-the-ladder finish and a strong favourite to go back-to-back, as they did in 1973-74, my ‘football awakening’ years.

 

I have many close Richmond friends, and I was as happy for them last year as they were for me the year before. I feel a little differently now. I’m worried that while we have gone back to our ‘rightful role’ of suburban strugglers, the Tigers have returned as a permanent powerhouse. So as I walk from Jolimont station to the ‘G, I can’t help but wonder if this match between ‘2016’ and ‘2017’ is the Fleeting versus the Forever, the Passing v the Permanent.

 

And I’m not sure if I’m particularly happy about it.

 

I had been looking forward to standing with my core group of Footscray fans today, but they dropped off one by one as the game drew nearer. Mick emailed me early in the day to say he’d be spending it painting the bathroom, while listening to the footy. Then Zitter sent me a message: “Gigs, baby, sweetheart, been trying to psyche meself for this one, but just have no appetite for goin’ to the footy.” And finally, Dave, who has said he would try and make it, messaged: “Not gonna make it Gigz. Too busy I’m afraid.”

 

So, not for the first time since we won the flag, it’ll be just me. I get a little bit annoyed when the others ‘pike it’. But the truth is, their ‘meh’ attitude (as the young folks term it) is really similar to my own. I had always said that once the Dogs won a flag I’d be happy to ride off into the west and leave AFL footy and its associated ‘fan engagement’ behind. And by west, I meant specifically the Western Oval – now the Whitten Oval – to watch VFL footy from a terrace with a can of beer in hand, and a chance to listen to the coaches at three-quarter time.

 

But I have found myself struggling to tear myself away from AFL Bulldogs games. I think there’s a couple of reasons for this. First, there’s an element of me that had hoped to see the Dogs create a bit of a dynasty of their own on the back of the 2016 flag, and I wanted to be part of that ride. Second, after years of failure, I finally convinced my two sons, Oliver and Spencer, to start coming regularly to the footy in 2014, and they are now passionate attendees every week. I feel kind of guilty about ‘abandoning’ them now.

 

Nevertheless, a couple of weeks ago I missed my first Bulldogs game played in Melbourne for years, watching our upset win against North from the couch. It felt weird but it also felt good being able to get other stuff done until the moment the game started and as soon as it was over.

 

The thing is, Oliver and Spencer never stand with me and my Bulldog buddies anyway, preferring to sit, so they won’t be missing much if I’m not there, save for the post-match doughnuts (only if we win) and debriefing outside the ground.

 

So, as I walk into the MCG, I reconcile the thought of not going to EVERY single Melbourne game in future. I’ll still go to quite a few, but not as many. I’ll definitely go to the games played at Ballarat, because they remind of how footy used to be. (Although sadly they insist on playing music after goals and between quarters. Can’t you just let us pause, reflect and chat in peace in those moments?!)

 

I went to see the Dogs take on Port at Ballarat a few weeks ago. It hailed. It was freezing (4.4°C, with a “feels like” temperature of minus 5.1°C — which I thought was being too generous!) and although I cursed the fact that I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes, it was a great leveller, a wonderful reminder of all the hard years Footscray fans endured before finally tasting success in 2016. Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing that we have slipped straight back down the ladder after winning our flag.

 

Richmond fans might not agree. They seem pretty happy and content before the game at the ‘G today.

 

The game itself starts off as a free-flowing affair. With top spot secured for the Tigers and the Dogs out of the premiership race, there’s nothing on the line for either side here, save for the clichés of pride for us and taking winning form into the finals for them.

 

With early goals to the Dogs, the crowd around me is eerily quiet. There aren’t many Dogs fans, and the Tiger fans don’t appear too concerned. I feel like I’m at an exhibition game. I certainly feel no nerves. I’ve come along with a mindset of “any loss under 10 goals is a pass mark for where our side is at”.

 

By quarter time we lead 6.0 to 5.1, a very un-2018 kind of scoreline. A classic ‘bruise free; round 23 encounter appears to be unfolding. I don’t mind at all. This is fun!

 

Much of my enjoyment stems from seeing so many young Pups doing many good things against quality opposition. Most of all, they are taking the game on, not being ‘deer in the headlights’ as they were for much of the earlier part of this season.

 

(When I realised just how young our side was at the start of this season, I quickly adjusted my expectations. I knew there would be bad quarters, bad halves, and even bad entire matches. And their have been — but in amongst that, there have been signs of new growth. 2016 was not to be the start of a Dog Dynasty as many of us had hoped, but perhaps we are in for a sudden drop followed by a big bounce-back in the next year or two.)

 

After quarter time the Tigers tighten the screws, and over the second and third quarters there’s a feeling that at some point the Dogs will fade. We hang on until the final break, at which point we trail by eight points.

 

Early in the final term, Jack Riewoldt marks and kicks his fifth. Here we go.

 

Or perhaps not. To my surprise and great pleasure, the Dogs don’t fade at all. We continue to take the game on, and as time ticks on, we are matching, if not beating the Tigers. In the last 10 minutes there’s a feeling we could even pinch the game. If not for two ‘posters’ from Billy Gowers and Jordan Roughead we might even be in front.

 

Finally it comes down to Brad Lynch, playing just his ninth game of league footy. He’s raw like many of his teammates but he shows no fear and takes it on like many of his ‘newby’ teammates. This is the Luke Beveridge way.

 

With half a minute left on the clock, Lynch has the chance to put us in front. He’s almost 50 out, hard up against the boundary. Without a moment’s consideration, he sets up for a ’round the corner’ kick. This is footy today.

 

Lynch’s kick hits the sweet spot. Momentarily he raised his right arm in triumph. The kick is going to go through. But it doesn’t. Lynch drops his arm as the ball hits the post, for the third time in the quarter.

 

The siren sounds soon after, the Dogs having fallen three points short of ending Richmond’s epic unbeaten MCG run.

 

I should be gutted, but I’m not. This is the best I have ever felt about the Doggies after a narrow loss. Because I can see the future and it is very bright.

 

Perhaps the one thing that had me doubting my plan of riding off into the west was the prospect of enjoying several years of sustained Footscray success. I thought it might come immediately in the wake of 2016 but it did not.

 

But I can see it coming now. I’m bullish about these Bullies. I can see myself wrestling with my conscience next season. Should I head to Marvel Stadium, ignore the mindless money-making mayhem, and enjoy the new breed of Dogs? Or should I spend more time in the suburbs, soaking up the real footy atmosphere of VFL and VFLW footy?

 

Hopefully, I’ll get the balance right. And hopefully Bevo’s Bulldogs will get the balance right and forge a side that will deliver sustained success.

 

But that mental battle is for next year. As I walk home from the ‘G, having never felt more buoyant about a three-point loss, I pass a house with freshly cut grass.

 

There’s the smell of September.

 

My Doggies won’t be in the finals but that’s okay. I’ll be able to enjoy the next month of footy with no knots in my stomach. I’ll reacquaint myself with those — at the ‘G, at Docklands, and in the suburbs — next year.

 

RICHMOND                         5.1       7.7       12.8     15.8 (98)
WESTERN BULLDOGS  6.0       8.3       11.6     14.11 (95)

 

GOALS
Richmond:
Riewoldt 5, Graham 3, Castagna 2, Rioli, Martin, Caddy, Nankervis, McIntosh
Western Bulldogs: Gowers 3, Dunkley 2, Lynch 2, Schache, Greene, Trengove, Macrae, Richards, Williams, Wallis

 

BEST
Richmond: Riewoldt, Martin, Nankervis, Graham, Edwards
Western Bulldogs: Macrae, Hunter, Dunkley, Daniel

 

INJURIES
Richmond: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Lipinski (concussion)

 

Reports: Nil

 

Umpires: Schmitt, Pannell, Glouftsis

 

Official crowd: 56,998 at MCG

 

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About Andrew Gigacz

Well, here we are. The Bulldogs have won a flag. What do I do now?

Comments

  1. Andrew Starkie says:

    great piece, Giggsy.

    Hope it’s not a false dawn for the Dogs.

    Far too good for my Roos a few weeks ago. I like the look of Gowers.

    Yeah, watching footy at the dungeon year after year does suck your will to live.

  2. Neil Anderson says:

    We should both be ashamed about slipping back into ‘ Danny from Droop Street’ mode Gigs. Saying to ourselves several times this year, “I hope we don’t get done by more than ten goals at least.” In my case, 62 years of waiting for that second premiership does that to you.
    Even after our glory ‘era’ of 2015-2016 and then watching the Dogs start so well on Saturday… the sphincter tightens as you wait for Jack Riewoldt to cut loose. It’s hard to shake off the underdog feeling such as what can go wrong to deny us the win. We’ve had out match-day injury (Lipinski) so what else? I know, hitting the post. Three times as it turned out.
    I feel the same way about the future for the Dogs. So far the recruiting has been spot on and the new guys have done a terrific job.

  3. Gigs, the symmetry of Tigers V Doggies, 1973-74 is intriguing.

    Yes the Tigers won the flag both years; it’s also worth recalling you beat them in the final home and away game both seasons. In 1973 you won by a point @ the ‘G’, then in 1974 you came home by 7 points at the Western Oval. in the 1973 match future dual premiership player with the Burras, Ivan Rasmussen lead the goal kicking with 3 for youse .

    I remember my parents taking us to the ‘G’ for the R11 clash in 1974. Footscray were looking good, on the way to your first finals series since 1961. For the first three terms it was tight but the Tigers ran way in the last term. As an 11 years old it was the biggest crowd i’d been amongst.

    The last two seasons have been great for the backbone of the league, two Melbourne clubs who have long been in the doldrums, wining the flag. Let’s see who salutes this year, with my hope being a victory by a ‘real’ side with organic links to the base.

    Glen!

  4. Hello Gigs.

    Only got to eight games this year due to WRFL commitments (50%) and couldn’t be f’d (50%). Was impressed with Naughton, Richards and Lipinski. Gowers was better than advertised. Your piece will inspire, and shame, me into getting along to a few more games next year. As always great stuff, take a bow mate.

    Glen – I think Glen Gingell kicked the winning point in the 1973 clash. In what was sadly his final game of VFL football Robert Rose had possession of the ball when the final siren sounded. Having joined the Dogs midway through ’73 “Rassa” still managed to place third in the LVFL goal kicking behind Ian Jennings and 16 year old Kelvin Templeton.

    KT kicked a bag of five against the Tigers in the corresponding round 12 months later and was dropped for the following weekends Elimination Final against the Maggies. Go figure.

    MCR

  5. Michael, i’m fairly certain you’re right re Gingell kicking the winning point. “Rassa”, was a good pick up Port Melbourne.

    I remember it was school holiday so we went to the grand parents in Corowa. I recall Geelong lost to Fitzroy @ the Junction Oval. I reckon Collingwood won at Windy Hill that round. That was one of John Emin’s few senior games.

    Glen!

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