Round 5 – Richmond v Melbourne: On the Eve of Anzac



Richmond takes on Melbourne in the Anzac Eve clash.


The Last Post sounds. Thousands of pinpricks of light from mobile phones lead me to think of Gallipoli back in 1915; of the sight that met reinforcements, or men returning from rare leave on Imbros Island, as they were silently rowed to shore in the darkness of night. While the old hands were familiar with the surrounds, the newcomers were about to inhabit a new and terrifying world. The dark hills lit with the fairy lights of cooking fires, reminding some of a boat ride with their sweethearts at Luna Park and others of glow worm caves. But this place wasn’t quiet. There was the crump crump of artillery bursts and the incessant chatter of small arms fire from unseen places above the beach. They reckon you could smell the place from out at sea before you could actually see it – not only the cooking fires, but the odour of latrines, unburied bodies and the cordite from exploding bombs.


We witness the match tonight in peacetime. No total war and massive civilian armies these days as the professionals carry it on in our name in far flung places like Syria and Afghanistan. The rain starts to fall before the bounce and brings another reminder of those long ago events. It rained at Gallipoli on the second day of the campaign as the Australians desperately dug into a few miserable acres of hills, ridges and gullies. They were fortunate that the Turks were as traumatised as they were after the fierce fighting of the first day and in no condition to counter attack.


I reflect on the fact that it’s probably a good night to play Melbourne. No Max Gawn and no Jordan Lewis due to suspension, with Jesse Hogan under a cloud through a lack of form and his exposure as a clandestine smoker whilst on leave in his hometown of Perth. Hogan is following in the smoke rings of a number of champions who didn’t mind the occasional fag. Puffers like Bob Pratt, Alex Jesaulenko, Percy Jones, Malcolm Blight, Robbie McGhie and Plugger Lockett.


The match gets underway. The Demons must have recruited from some of the rougher neighbourhoods of Hell. They are aggressive at the stoppages and inside the packs. Clayton Oliver, who looks like Richie Cunningham from Happy Days but plays like a berserker, as well as Viney, Salem and Jones, apply relentless pressure to the contests. Tom McDonald and Jayden Hunt sweep across half back. Michael Hibberd is the last of the Bombers caught up in the drugs scandal to re-emerge onto the playing field, an achilles injury having prevented him from making his debut for the Demons up until now. He’s making up for lost time tonight and dominating the opening term. He scores on the run from outside the fifty-metre arc.


Melbourne controls early proceedings and swarms around the Richmond ball carriers. Cotchin is unsighted and Martin is unable to break free. The Tigers desperately hang on and their defensive cohort of Rance, Grimes, Astbury and Houli is compelled to absorb a truckload of pressure. It’s fortunate for the Tigers that whenever they have a rare foray into attack they manage to kick goals. Jack Riewoldt swivels onto his right and scores, repeating the dose on his left a short time later.


Richmond trails by three points at quarter time and by six points at the long interval. Somehow they  manage to stay within reach despite being pummelled in terms of possessions and forward entries. Have the Tigers taken Melbourne’s best punches or are the Demons about to overwhelm them in the second half?


My son alerts me to Jake Spencer’s absence early in the second half. His wild afro is nowhere to be seen. Sure enough, Jack Watts is manfully taking on Toby Nankervis in the ruck, deputising for his missing ruckman just like he did when Gawn went down against Geelong. We can’t see a disconsolate Spencer sitting in the dugout with his arm in a sling. Youngster Tim Smith is missing too after coming off second best in a marking duel with Alex Rance. So the Demons are down to two on the interchange bench. Petracca has his knee bandaged and is nowhere near as effective as he was earlier in the game. Is Melbourne vulnerable here or am I indulging in a bout of wishful thinking?


Nankervis monsters Watts but the Melbourne midfielders are roving to him. Garlett boots a couple while Lambert, Riewoldt, Prestia and Grigg miss vital shots. The Tigers are down by 20 points with a quarter to go.


It seems like half the Melbourne players are receiving rubdowns from their trainers in the huddle. It’s clear that they’re being asked to run the entire final quarter out without a break. The Tigers are a chance here if they can snare a couple of early ones.


Melbourne starts the quarter with a five-man forward line which is soon reduced to four. Kicks sail out on the full as they push back and attempt to move the ball along the boundary line. The Demons are out on their feet and the Tigers sense a wounded prey. Cotchin, Martin and Rioli emerge and start causing havoc. Goals to Riewoldt, Rioli and Martin slash Melbourne’s lead. The Dees are unable to extricate the ball from their defensive zone and their exhausted playmakers are floundering.  The contest becomes a gripping, blood and guts struggle and the Richmond supporters are in a ferocious frame of mind. The Tigers draw level on three occasions before Riewoldt puts them ahead at the 24-minute mark with a precision goal from a sharp angle. This makes it six for Jack in a best-on-ground masterclass. Caddy adds a fifth goal during time-on and the Tigers have pulled this one out of the fire.


There’s no doubt that Melbourne were unlucky and ran out of resources in the last term. As for Richmond, the team that no-one fancied at the start of the year has now won its first five games of the season. You take the good fortune from wherever you find it.


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