The Cape of Bravado- Preliminary Final: Collingwood v Richmond, Friday 21 September, MCG

 

 

It wasn’t meant to end like this.

 

But then again, maybe it was.

 

Sometimes there’s a remarkable symmetry about this AFL caper. As Brodie Grundy roved his own ruckwork and strolled into goal to seal Friday’s Preliminary Final, my mind went back to his similar goal at the beginning of the 2016 season, with just four seconds left on the clock, consigning Richmond to a one-point defeat.

 

That defeat marked the beginning of a three-year journey for the Richmond Football Club that has spanned the depths of despair and the heights of ecstasy. That night – a gut-wrenching, inept loss at the hands of a clearly inferior opponent – marked the moment where the Tigers had to admit its problems. The season unravelled from that point on, but at least we were no longer glossing over the cracks. We all know how things turned around through 2017, reaching the peak of a Premiership. The consistent quality of our 2018 season, if anything, pointed towards even greater achievements to come. Until Friday night saw our remarkable odyssey come to an untimely end.

 

I know there will come a time, maybe this weekend, maybe years away, when this wonderful team starts to unravel, when savvy opponents start to unpick our structures and tactics, when age and fatigue start to affect these superbly athletic bodies.

 

So I wrote back in April. Easy words then, as the Tigers surged to top spot with a barnstorming win over the hated black and white. I wrote of appreciating the great times they’d given us, of living in the moment, of accepting that we were riding a brief, beautiful wave in an otherwise turbulent, messy sea.

 

“Maybe this weekend, maybe years away”. Well, actually, yes, this weekend just gone. That big wave suddenly dumped us on the rocks, our ultimate objective just a few agonising days away. The evil hour, postponed week after week, with a growing sense that we might be on the cusp of something quite remarkable, arrived with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer.

 

So, no matter how much it hurts, it comes the time to put those April sentiments to the test.

 

The truth is, I was mentally prepared for this outcome. So much so that I watched the game dispassionately as though it was a replay of what I’d already visualised. I’d rationalised long before that the lottery system that is the AFL finals allows, nay encourages, football’s equivalent of a smash and grab raid. In two rogue hours, six glorious months’ work can be reduced to dust. This is not a complaint. It worked beautifully in our favour last year. But the record of 25 years of the Final 8 shows only 8 minor premiers have won the flag. The system is skewed towards teams that time their run rather than rewarding consistently high performance. Collingwood was particularly well-placed to take advantage of this. At long last, they had close to a full-strength team. Home ground advantage was neutralised. Most importantly, they had some momentum whereas Richmond had been treading water for over a month. To the Magpies’ inestimable credit, they executed their raid perfectly.

 

Without in any way denigrating the quality of their performance, the other factor that Collingwood has in spades is bravado. In Bob Murphy’s interview with Adam Gilchrist, the “cape of bravado” was an interesting topic. Gilly noted that all players and clubs wear the cape to some extent but some do so much better than others. My reflection was that Collingwood – the club and its fans – wear the cape better than most. Whoever thinks that collective will doesn’t affect the result wasn’t there at last year’s Preliminary Final where the Tigers, backed by 90,000 fans didn’t just don the cape of bravado, they virtually suffocated the GWS Giants with it.   But on Friday night, we more than met our match in the bravado stakes. Despite Collingwood being a pronounced underdog, all week, their talk was loud, defiant and overwhelmingly believing. It was an obvious tactic for trying to unhinge a side that emphasised faith in its system with an almost religious zeal, but it was certainly effective. On the strength of that performance and the enormous shot of confidence such a win must give them, the Magpies should win the Grand Final comfortably.

 

Meanwhile, Richmond must reflect on an enormous opportunity lost. And yes, I mean enormous. I’ve repeatedly dismissed the theories that Richmond had this flag parcelled up. There were too many strong competitors for this to be the case. But we were the best performed team over the 2018 season and had given ourselves the best possible chance of winning it. Back-to-back flags don’t occur often (well, twice in 110 years in our case), and even with the acquisition of Tom Lynch apparently a fait accompli, it’s doubtful that the superb equilibrium and stability of the 2018 Tigers line-up will be matched in the years ahead. Our key men will all be a year older, our charmed run with injuries surely can’t continue (indeed, it was a factor on Friday) and this year’s finals have seen some powerful contenders emerge.

 

No, 2018 was there for the taking and we blew it. I can handle being beaten fair and square, but I know as I watch (if I watch) the Magpies and the Eagles fighting for the cup this Saturday, the magnitude of what we’ve thrown away will hit home hard.

 

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About Sam Steele

Stainless (aka Sam Steele) started following Richmond in 1970 when he was 6. This occurred when his mother, under instructions to buy him a Melbourne jumper, found they were out of stock and purchased a Richmond one instead. Despite the decades of heartache and turmoil this fateful decision has brought on Stainless, he is grateful to his mum as he has at least seen his side win a couple of Premierships. After 30 September 2017, his mum is now officially his favourite person.

Comments

  1. george smith says:

    Yep, our mob were cruising towards the 2011 premiership when it happened. ur best season statistically, 20 wins 1 loss all unraveled in one last match by 95 points!!! to our nearest rival, the angry Moggies. We lost all momentum that terrible night, and the Moggies were invincible from then on.

    I blame Australia’s real Madrid, the Hawks, for that loss, for costing the Cats their perfect season back in 08 and taking it out on our mob. You lot had no problems with the Galacticos this year, but what it all demonstrates is how bleep hard back to backs are to win. Moggies in 08, Essendon in 01, Magpies in 2011, you lot, all good things destroyed. It certainly gives the lie to the Carlton fantasy of shouldabeen 4 in a row from 79 to 82…

  2. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Commiserations Stainless. At least you don’t have to go back to 1980 to watch a Richmond premiership DVD anymore. Like George says above, 2011 was a bitter one after dominating the season. Let’s keep our expectations real. We are not Hawthorn fans after all.

  3. Peter Warrington says:

    Thanks Stainless you have pretty much summed up my views and feelings, before and after. Knew we could win it but never really thought we would. Was surprised, to be fair, that it took someone almost 27 or whatever games to crs k a fairly ctackable code

    Well played, Pies, and thanks for the season, Tigers!

  4. Fair enough Stainless.
    Philosophy is a good way to go.
    I’d say that Richmond deserved one flag over this 2017-18 period – except that there is no “deserve” in life.
    Adelaide was the best side of 2017.
    Like Richmond the best side of 2018.
    At least you got one.
    St Kilda probably the best side of 2009, 2010.

  5. John Butler says:

    Great piece of perspective there, Stainless.

    I’ll differ slightly from the “Richmond were the best team” narrative. You certainly ended the regular season with the best record, but I never really felt you were as dominant as you were made out. Those interstate losses, and their nature, were not those of a dominant team. The MCG had come to be too much of a comfort zone. The truly great sides don’t need that sort of thing. Richmond 2018 were a very good side, not a great one.

    I’m surprised by how much people are underestimating West Coast. Until Kennedy and Darling started missing, they were looking very strong. Now that both are back, and with games under their belt, Collingwood are no certainties.

    Richmond have made great changes in the last decade. Next year will be a real test of how those changes stick.

    Cheers

  6. george smith says:

    Collingwood are never certainties. We have 1977, 1970, 1966 and even 2010 to thank for that. The whole football world has turned into a giant Jack Dyer, ready to mock us if we fail. We know that.

    Statements like yours, Mr Butler, chill us to the marrow, in spite of our bravado.

    I remember that old Greek dude in a cafe in Brunswick after the 1981 day of disappointment –

    “Collingwuuud ha ha ha!” on repeat.

    Up here in Sydney no one cares, it’s refreshing…

  7. Thanks for the comments, all.

    George and E. Regnans – there are numerous top sides in recent years that have bombed out under this Final Eight system. If we’re going to persevere with this lottery in September, what about a trophy for the Minor Premiers, as per the A-League? Isn’t five months of achievement worth something rather than just four weeks? Awarded retrospectively, the Magpies’ trophy cabinet would be bursting at the seams haha!!

    Phil and George (again) – Collingwood are certainties this week!! The Weevils are good but they’re not the 2011 Cats and Collingwood’s intimidation factor at the G will more than match Optus Stadium.

    Peter and John – I think we’re in agreement. Richmond was the most consistently high performing team over the year but I can only think of a couple of standout displays. The media analysis was a bit weird, lurching from “Richmond clearly ahead of the pack” to “no tall forwards, no second ruck, can’t win away”. FWIW I reckon West Coast’s win over us in May was the best single game performance this year. It will remain the great unknown whether they could have repeated the dose against us in September.

  8. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    That one must hurt for you Tigers, Stainless.

    I love your description of the perfect team, the perfect opportunity, being about equilibrium and stability. But I guess it has to be cross pollinated with some capacity for movement, some kind of movement. I reckon Collingwood had that right on Friday night. It’s alchemical, no doubt.

  9. Thanks Mathilde
    Yes, hard to take but I realise that defeats like this are the price you pay for being up there regularly. I’m sure you would prefer the recent successful history of your Swans, dotted though it is with similar disappointments, to the alternative. After three and a half decades of mediocrity, I’ll happily take the 37 wins that the last two years have delivered.
    I agree with your theory about movement. In the finals, it’s often about disrupting system and order with something left field. You must think of LRT in 2005, Mitch Morton and Mike Pyke in 2012 as much as I think of Jack Graham last year. We had none of that on Friday. They had Mason Cox!
    Je souhaite les cygnes bonne chance en 2019, sauf contre les tigres!

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