Round 23 – Richmond v St Kilda: Double chance?

 

It is the last Winter Sunday of the year. The skies are vibrant blue but the temperature is chillingly low, the wind bites and wounds and the clouds move rapidly, bringing brief but violent showers of hail and rain.

I am out and about early, taking a morning constitutional around my local streets, with my heaviest coat, umbrella, cap and sunglasses. All are necessary as I brave the irregularity of the weather while contemplating the importance of this afternoon’s game.

The equation is a simple one.

Win and the Tigers earn a double chance. Thanks to Geelong winning last night, the Tigers will also get a home final. It means I may be able to share the day with friends and family at the MCG, the spiritual home of this great game, the place where football had me at hello, exactly fifty years ago, coincidentally, against the same opponent.  What a lovely bonus that will be!

We Tiger fans have been starved of success in this uncaring world of expansion teams, boutique stadiums and barren markets that burn cash. Grass roots supporters like us have been marginalised and ignored. Our beloved team has become a cash-cow, attracting members and crowds, bringing money into AFL coffers, bled and sacrificed at the altar of change. They, in turn, have been intent upon conquering the world, leaving us behind. Somehow, the best players have found themselves playing elsewhere for the best part of a generation, for us, a sad and lost generation.

Lose and we are left to take our chances in the elimination circus. I do not wish to contemplate this. The Tigers have not dealt well with this pressure during the last few years.

A big crowd is expected today and many messages are exchanged. Our group grows in number. The bandwagon is fully operational and rolling on, gathering momentum.

It isn’t long before we are in the MCC queue, armed with a bevy of scarves, waiting for the gates to open so we can participate in the Member’s charge for the best seats on Level 1. You know the drill, one lines up patiently, one  smiles politely at security, one passes through the gates with all the decorum one can muster and then one runs like a crazy person to claim seats, lest the next crazy person gets there first.

My last fleeting look at the sky suggests that undercover vantage is a good idea, a decision that is vindicated several times during the game.

Job done, time for a relaxing beer or three. As our group assembles, we are distracted by a Prize Fight of some notoriety that plays out on screens in the Bar.

When the Tigers run through their banner, we are eager with anticipation. I am seated next to a relative newcomer to our game and it is my job to explain the finer nuances. Tigers good. All other teams bad. That umpire does not understand the rules. Look, there is Dusty. That sort of thing.

The game begins. The moment has arrived. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, no more excuses, no more chances, no margin for error.

Jacob Townsend, our latest unlikely hero kicks the opening goal of the game and it is most welcome. When Shaun Grigg takes a mark within range a few moments later, I remark that he will most likely miss by less than half a metre. He doesn’t. It sails over the goal umpire’s hat…cap…for full points. Townsend quickly adds another. I begin to relax. I like how this is going. Richmond seems to be in control.

The Saints have been sluggish, not surprising, given that other results have not fallen in their favour this weekend. One of their greatest heroes is playing his final game today and they have extra motivation to send him off in style, but their cause is lost.  For how long can a player continue to risk injury for a lost cause?

This metaphysical question is answered in the first ten minutes of the second quarter. The Tigers attack relentlessly and the St Kilda defence is breached repeatedly. A fifty point lead opens up. The Tigers have broken the resistance. Having completed an early kill, they begin to drift, easing the pressure.

St Kilda slowly restores the contest. The Saints find their pulses again as youngster Jade Gresham scores their first three majors, encouraging his team-mates. Not long before the main break, Richmond captain Trent Cotchin scores another goal to keep the Saints at bay.

When the game resumes, St Kilda makes a determined attempt to spoil Richmond’s ascent into the top four. Their midfield dynamos Jack Steven, Seb Ross and Jack Steele fight hard to gain the upper hand.  Up forward, Gresham is joined by Billings and the deficit is soon reduced. When Nick Riewoldt chimes in with what turns out to be his last-ever goal, the game is back in dispute. Richmond fans do not wait comfortably for the last quarter to begin when their team leads by just 25 points. We are restless and apprehensive. What is happening here?

Have I mentioned Dusty Martin yet?  He is a footballer who is at the height of his powers. In his free agent season, he has lit up the MCG, driving his way to Brownlow Medal favouritism. He is the sort of footballer whom Lou Richards would have loved. What would the man who gave us “Lethal Leigh” Matthews, “Bustling Billy” Barrot and “Slamming Sam” Kekovich have made of this wonderful custodian of their legacy, this unstoppable juggernaut who bounces off opponents, scythes through defences and kicks sublimely to moving targets?

The final quarter belongs to Dusty. He scores a truly impressive goal with a banana kick from 45 metres out that sails through at goal post height. Immediately, he sets up Townsend for another goal. As he leaves the arena for a few minutes to recover his breath, the rapturous Tiger Army give him a standing ovation. In a raucous last quarter, as we realise that the double chance is ours, this scene is repeated several times.

Stay and be our hero, Dusty, we love you.  Surely, you know that you are where you are meant to be!

Joe De Petro is a financial planner and life-long Tigers tragic who has raised his three adult children as diehard Tigers fans. In some circles, the last of these things is considered an act of cruelty.

RICHMOND      4.1    11.5   12.7   19.8 (122)
ST KILDA         1.2    4.3     9.9      12.9 (81)

GOALS
Richmond: 
Townsend 5, Riewoldt 3, Grigg 3, Prestia 2, Martin 2, Butler 2, Graham, Cotchin
St Kilda: Gresham 5, Billings 2, Membrey 2, Bruce, Riewoldt, Longer

BEST 
Richmond: 
Martin, Grigg, Prestia, Cotchin, Townsend, Vlastuin, Nankervis, Houli
St Kilda: Steele, Gresham, Billings, Sinclair, Ross, Dunstan

INJURIES 
Richmond: 
Nil
St Kilda: Geary (concussion)

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Donlon, Nicholls, Hosking

Official crowd: 69,104 at the MCG

About Joe De Petro

My favourite period in history began with the Summer of Love and came to a sad end with the birth of Disco. It was from 1967 to 1975. What was not to like in those days? The Grateful Dead, Creedence, The Beach Boys, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond and the mighty Tigers won Premierships every other year. It was a magical time!

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