Strange, tingly feeling leads to rare delight

By Barry Levinson

From the moment Round 3 concluded with yet another Richmond loss, I began looking ahead to Round 4 with a strange, tingly feeling inside … the sort of strange, tingly feeling usually reserved for the build-up to a final. But I wasn’t imagining the sensation … as a Melbourne supporter, this was the closest we’d get to a final in 2009.

Without wanting to sound like a cliché-worn coach, I know where we’re at. The Demons are still in for more than their fair share of defeats this year, but over the first three rounds I have seen enough to suggest that, after an abysmal 2008, they are heading in the right direction. This allows me to walk to the MCG with an unfamiliar feeling in recent times… that we are a chance against the ticking time-bomb Tigers.

No club knows how to implode like Richmond. Since their premiership in 1980, no side has featured less in September than the Tigers. But despite their lack of success, the yellow and black faithful have the ability to work themselves into a frenzy of anticipation like few others. It only sets them up for a bigger fall.

It’s a most unusual start. I’ve seen hundreds of league matches, but never before can I remember a contest starting with a free-kick on the half-forward flank. The Tigers goal instantly through Mitch Morton following the report of Matthew Warnock, and every teammate pats Morton on the back. After a week of intense scrutiny, Richmond look fired up. A soft free to Nathan Brown in front of goal moments later and Tiger fans begin to wonder what they’ve been worrying about.

But it doesn’t take long for Richmond’s shocking skill level and indecision to come to the fore, and Melbourne finally hits the scoreboard through Brad Green. The first quarter becomes comical. Both sides regularly miss targets.

The Demons threaten to get on top but are doing their best to keep Richmond in the game, hitting the post no less than four times, before Brad Miller finally puts them up by three points at the first break. Sadly Green won’t feature in the remainder of the match (or the next six weeks for that matter), after a wayward pass from Nathan Jones leads to a bone-crunching collision with Alex Rance and a broken jaw.

Melbourne has shown plenty of endeavour and spirit in the early part of the season, but has been sadly lacking in firepower. It’s not a problem in the second quarter, however, as the Dees go berserk!

Little Neville Jetta starts the onslaught, pouncing on the crumbs in the goalsquare, before Colin Sylvia kicks the first of two running majors from outside the fifty. It’s the best quarter of AFL football the third pick in the 2003 draft has played, combining a healthy balance of controlled aggression with power and skill. But Demons fans want to see more from Sylvia before they’re entirely won over.

Five unanswered goals leaves Melbourne in the unfamiliar position of holding a 34-point lead and the Richmond supporters around me look stunned. I begin to look ahead to an enjoyable half-time breather, but it’s only the fifteen-minute mark and the young Dees try to play tempo footy; they cough up three goals. With the contest again alive, Melbourne stand and take the blows from Richmond before counter-punching with three late majors to restore a five-goal buffer at the long break.

For Tiger fans the damage is well and truly done. It’s only Round 4 and yet another pre-season of hope has been shot to pieces. While the Demons struggle to hold onto their lead in the second half, it’s ultimately enough to keep Richmond at bay.

Stalwarts Matthew Richardson and Joel Bowden never stop trying for the Tigers. Richo, moved from the wing back to his customary position up forward, doesn’t let the crowd down. The 34 year-old marks strongly and finishes with four goals but misses several easy ones.

The Demons look tired in the last quarter as Richmond battle to steal the game. But time runs out for the Tigers and the Dees get to saviour a rare win.

With the Gold Coast and West Sydney set to pilfer the best young talent over the next few years, Melbourne may well have bottomed out just in the nick of time. But with a heavy reliance on players over thirty and a season of turmoil beginning to take hold, the future doesn’t look so bright for Richmond.

Melbourne 2.6, 10.7, 13.11, 14.16 (100)

Richmond 2.3, 5.6, 9.7, 13.14 (92)

GOALS: Melbourne: Miller 3, Newton 2, Petterd 2, Sylvia 2, Bate, Davey, Dunn, Green, Jetta.

Richmond: Richardson 4, Brown 2, Collins 2, Deledio, McGuane, Moore, Morton, Nahas.

BEST: Melbourne: Davey, Miller, Bruce, McLean, Sylvia, Frawley, Bartram.

Richmond: Bowden, Richardson, Foley, Polo, Tuck, Collins.

REPORTS: Warnock (Melbourne) for striking Hislop (Richmond) before the first bounce.

Umpires: James, Wenn, Findlay (McLaren replaced Wenn during match).

Crowd: 40,763 at MCG.

Votes: Davey (M) 3, Miller (M) 2, Bowden (R) 1.

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