Round 23 – Richmond v North Melbourne: Faith is everything in footy

by Cheryl Critchley

 

Faith is everything in footy and if you don’t have it, you have nothing. I returned from a game last night with very little faith left in the AFL system.

After following Richmond through thick and thin (mostly thin) for 45 years, my team had finally become a regular finals contender. But I was far from excited leading into Round 23, thanks to a team prepared to bend the rules to breaking point. Worse still, North Melbourne’s tactics were endorsed by the AFL.

The Kangaroos rested nine players for the final round clash, after ladder leaders Fremantle decided to rest 11 for its game against Port Adelaide. Freo’s move was also dubious but its match would not affect final eight positions. If North lost, it avoided playing a final in Adelaide and almost certainly robbed the Crows of any chance of a home final.

This led to a game that was all kinds of wrong and an affront to those who paid to see it. I shelled out about $125 for four seats (two adult, two child) the day bookings opened, on the promise of a big match that could easily sell out.

Instead, we witnessed a complete farce and saw North set itself up for a Melbourne final, most likely against Richmond – a team that until last night had not beaten it since 2011.

And us fans were just expected to just cop it.

I arrived at Etihad with my second daughter, Bec, and her friend Emma – Jess was at a school formal – feeling like my team was in a no-win situation. If we won, North got to play a Melbourne final with fresh legs. If we lost, we’d be a laughing stock for losing to a B-side. This really sucked.

The Tigers fielded a full-strength team, including Brett Deledio, who had literally been knocked out the previous week. If anyone could have been rested it was him. As Lids ran out with his team mates, the banner read: “We are Richmond. We’ve come to play. A Tiger win. Is our goal today.”

The first half was a nightmare. The young Roos pushed hard, taking their chance to impress on the big stage and putting pressure on their more experienced opponents. North took a 10 point lead into half time, which literally left me wondering whether my team had “tanked” to get back at North.

Why else would we have kicked 2.7 in a half of footy against a second-string side? That was probably unsurprising knowing my team, but things are pretty crook if you are sitting at a game genuinely unsure if your team is trying.

Thankfully the Tigers slammed on 14 goals in the second half. Deledio led the way, as always, and was well supported by the likes of Trent Cotchin, Dustin Martin and Bachar Houli.

In the end, Richmond prevailed by 41 points. But it was a hollow victory. What if we played North again in next week’s elimination final, only to see the nine rested players overrun my team? I left without the usual spring in my step after a Tiger victory. This was not right and certainly not good for football.

After the game, North coach Brad Scott attacked anyone who questioned his side’s intent to win.

“I haven’t heard anyone say this but I’ve been led to believe there are people out there who think our intention wasn’t to win the game. They should be ashamed of themselves and we take that as a personal insult,” he told reporters after the game.

“I hope they apologise because you don’t have blokes like Jack Ziebell and Kayne Turner and Majak Daw at the start of the game attacking the ball and the opponent like they did if we didn’t care about winning this game.”

What were we supposed to think when he rested almost half his team? Even if the intent was not to lose, omitting so many players greatly reduced his team’s chances of winning.

The crowd of 40,461 was good, but many would have pre-booked. A genuine contest would have drawn five or ten thousand more, which meant that as the home team Richmond probably also lost gate takings. This game really was all kinds of wrong.

Resting players is fine and it not new. Richmond’s 2014 finals appearance was partly due to Lance Franklin pulling out of the last round game that saw the Tigers best the Swans by three points to secure a spot in the eight. But Sydney did not rest half its team.

Some people will say I’m overreacting and should be pleased that my team won and probably avoided an interstate final too. But that’s not the point. The AFL already has an image problem and allowing a team to rest so many players when it could affect finals ladder positions is not a good look.

The fact that many fans and AFL and club officials approved of North’s tactics says a lot about where footy sits as an industry. Some didn’t see it as wrong and others were resigned to this sort of thing happening. Even if they opposed it, many felt helpless to stop it.

If that’s the case, footy needs to take a good, hard look at itself.

ENDS

Comments

  1. Andrew Starkie says:

    Excellent, Cheryl. Well said.

    Scott has embarrassed himself with his attempts to deflect from the truth. North deliberately did not pick a team good enough to win. He is insulted? What about the rest of us?

    If you’re not genuine you’re soon found out.

    So what happens now? If North win next week, does that vindicate his tactics? Will he do the same next year? If North lose, will his job be questioned? Will he be remembered forever for an almighty stuff up?

    Richmond take winning form into next week; North do not. That is a big advantage.

  2. Cheryl Critchley says:

    Thanks Andrew. As you point out it has really tainted things regardless of the motivation. I’m just hoping and praying that Richmond thumps them and it backfires. But it should not have been allowed to happen in the first place.

  3. Bec. Blossomvictory says:

    Hi Cheryl, thank you very much for this absolutely heart-felt writing up from a wounded Tiger Fan’s perspective!! … How sad, the AFL even allowed (clear / commonsense) manipulation of potential match result to this Level Low … — B. S has redefined ‘Insult’ in 2015, and Karma will catch up!! — Kangaroo, no respect for ya anymore!! — God Bless Richmond!!! Go you the Crows!!! Carn all the good people in Footy!!!

  4. Cheryl Critchley says:

    Thanks Bec. It is frustrating and as fans we’re just expected to take it. If North beats us on Sunday we’ll have to forever wonder whether those tactics contributed.

  5. Cheryl, I too shelled out for this game, taking the opportunity to get some better than usual seats for myself and The Boy, which was looking like a dud investment when Geelong went down the previous Friday.

    My reaction to the mass restings was exactly the opposite of yours (and Smokie’s and Starkie’s too, I suspect). It turned the deadest of dead rubbers into a game with some genuine stakes. The North Nine were not Lyon’s scrubs from the Peel reserves, but fringe players in good VFL form with something to prove.

    While winning was honestly never likely, Majak’s form and that goal, and the better than expected showings from McKenzie, Dumont and Turner were the source of some genuine satisfaction and enjoyment for me, that would have been utterly ho-hum had there been a team full of senior players going bruise-free.

  6. Cheryl Critchley says:

    Good point Rob but I still think it hugely detracted from the spirit of this game and fair play. Hopefully it won’t give them an advantage on Sunday.

  7. Tom Christo says:

    Great article Chery but IMO, a waste of your valuable time. The AFL simply don’t care what you, me and the other scrubbers that pay their good money to see genuine results. They have now signed a $2.5B TV rights and as far as they are concerned can do no wrong. Their sole aim is make money and lots of it then make great PR on how well AFL is going. Yesterday, Peel Thunder the affiliate WAFL club for Fremantle Dockers played in their historic first ever WAFL finals match after spending years & years on the last two table positions. What should have been a fantastic day for their supporters was disaster. Thanks to Ross Lyon who cares about nothing but Ross Lyon (hello St Kilda & goodbye) and the AFL, they had to field a reserves team that included SEVEN debutantes. 7 in a finals match, your first one ever!. Needless to say, they got belted by 100 points plus

  8. Cheryl Critchley says:

    Hi Tom, how did that happen? Were they “saving” players for possible inclusion in the seniors? That sounds pretty unfair.

  9. Tim Pegler says:

    G’day Cheryl, for my mind this game was over as a spectacle once the final 8 was locked in. A dead rubber. Too many other dominoes had to fall for the Adelaide home game to be relevant.

    My feelings were mixed, even before the team was announced.

    As a Roo, I wasn’t enthused at ‘gifting’ a dangerous team we have had the wood over a win. Or flirting with momentum (if we had any). On the other hand, maybe there’d be an upside to selecting fringe-players hungry for career preservation, rather than witnessing an insipid, nothing-at-stake match where the big guns could get injured. The Andrew Bogut comments struck a chord.

    Either way, I’m glad I didn’t spend $125 on seats. (Thank you, school concert night).

    I’ll happily invest for next weekend, despite the inevitable huffing & puffing about coaches with/without egg on their faces. Because when the ball bounces, 44 professionals will go at it hammer and tongs to win a game that actually matters.

    May the best team win.

    NB: The Bulldogs (bless their September chances) rest most of their leadership group and lose to a cellar dweller – and no one blinks at all.

  10. Cheryl Critchley says:

    Hi Tim. I don’t think the Dogs rested nearly as many players. I think the problem is the sheer numbers the Roos and Dockers rested. But it is hard to draw the line and define how many is too many. In this case the added complication was knowing that losing would almost certainly benefit the club. Let’s hope it is a great game on Sunday – I’ve got my tickets and they are in almost the same spot where we sat for the 2013 Carlton final. I hope that’s not a bad omen :-)

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