Tigers defy expectations

“Got your myki?”
“Got your footy membership card thing?”
“Ye-wait, no. Thanks Mum.”
And so I was out the door and on the train to Eaglemont to meet my uncle and see Richmond.
While the Tigers have been on this ‘four of five’ hot-streak, Richmond has beaten three pathetic teams and a top eight side in trouble. So to go up against a top four side, albeit without an astounding and important player, is a true test of how far the Richmond Rug Rats are going to go.
My uncle Gerard, eleven year old cousin Sarah and her friend Marley and I are in the car at ten to six and off.
Both Gerard and I agree that the young Tigers have reached the end of an astonishingly impressive run (neither of us expected the Tigers to get more than two wins this year). More worryingly, the young legs will be spent by Round 20.
Still. Even if we don’t win tonight, there are only around a hundred Dockers supporters there, so we’ll bear it. Even if we do have to listen to that theme song.
We meet Chris Fellowes and his twelve year old son Billy, both of whom I’ve been going to the footy with for seven years, at the match.
The Tigers make their impression early on, with Jack Riewoldt taking a great grab in the square to kick the first inside a minute (apparently his cousin, who, from all reports, is a gun, is playing for the Saints tonight).
It’s then a goal for goal arm wrestle for half the quarter, but the two sides are Richmond and the umpires.
The Tigers get their first three from long kicks; Freo are gifted three from soft free kicks to spoil excellent work from the Tigers.
We’re helped by Sandilands, who, although being the Dockers’ best, makes the stupid decision to simply belt the air out of the ball deep in defence for an easy goal to Connors (B.O.G by night’s end with 35 touches). He also sprays a chance from five metres out. Collins and Griffiths kick goals to have the Tigers just four down at the first break and making the better of their chances.
Even though the Dockers seem to be having a Tool Of The Week contest (e.g., Pavilich tripping over the ball twenty metres on his own in the square) the Dockers are the better team and should be able to go on to win.
The Tim Tams are passed around, the home made muffins (with yellow icing and black liquorice in a diagonal slash) are consumed and the second quarter begins: in which the Richmond grog squad grows ever more furiously vocal as the umpires continue to give frees to the Dockers.
Embarrassingly, the Tigers were taken apart by Kepler Bradley-the most unlikely looking key forward
since the beginning of professional footy. He kicks a goal from the square and another from the only time Sandilands’ ‘smash and see’ rucking technique works.
And still luck glares on the Tigers: Ben Griffiths buggers his shoulder, Angus Graham, holding his own against Sandilands, goes down and, in the same contest, King and Nason, crucial and in form smalls, clash heads. King, who has a head of granite, goes off and comes on, but Nason is not so lucky: a split face and concussion.
The Dockers receive a free out of the contest that eradicates whatever control the cheer squad had. The ball goes forward and Crowley marks, but the faint cheers from the Freo contingent are drowned out in a monstrous wave of vocalised fury from 28,000 people, who have had enough of the umpires, of Freo, of their general run of luck. Gerard and Chris, normally restrained against umpire criticism, are sincerely annoyed. Billy and I, never sympathetic, are furious and screaming madly. Crowley tugs his shot left and the revitalised Tigers, through young guns Webberley and Astbury, regain the lead.
Another Freo free inside 50 and the men in red are looking over their shoulders at the glowering, growling grog squad.
Pavilich shows his astonishing athletic ability to kick his third and the Dockers hold a two goal lead.  The break gives Richmond fans a chance to simmer off, their ears still smoking.
Adam McPhee starts to come into the game and within five minutes is our best player. He decides to handball forty metres out and costs the Dockers a goal. After a strong mark deep in defence, he gives off another handball to an unwary teammate and Jack Riewoldt, well held so far by Alex Silvagni, snaps his second.
Matt White, playing brilliantly, marks fifty out. Goal. Tigers in front.
I attempt to start the Richmond clap-clap-clap chant and fail embarrassingly, setting Chris off in a gale of laughter.
The Tigers are dominating, but are missing chances in what I suspect will be a slim window of opportunity. Upfield, Freo shank the ball everywhere. Morabito misses a crucial snap. The ball goes to the other end of the ground for a laser Deledio pass to Riewoldt for his third.
White, back on the ground with a bruised eye, marks in the pocket.
With two minutes left, Stephen Hill hits the post with a snap and has Freo’s fourth behind, without a goal, for the quarter, but the Tigers, for all of their dominance, lead by just seven points.
“We’ve got all the run, are kicking straight and are in control,” I sigh glumly to Chris. He knows what I’m thinking. “We’re gone,” says the 2009 mentality in us.
But when Nahas roves for a goal, the stadium is rocking with the whiff of an upset.
“That’s why he should play every week!” screeches Sarah, on her feet with her hands exploding in applause.
I don’t point out that he’s missed two sitters because I have the same ravenous hope that Richmond might beat a top four side.
The umpires, deciding they haven’t been villainous enough, hand Kepler Bradley his third to bring the gap back to eight points. Stephen Hill then sidesteps Deledio (of all people) to slot a classy goal and it’s just two points.
But here is the difference between this years’s Richmond and last year’s: we stand up and roar in the face of adversary.
And who better to save the day than Jumpin’ Jack Flash? Riewoldt takes a colossal, pack crashing Carey mark to kick his fourth and give us some crucial breathing space.
Tyrone Vickery, who’s been fantastic, then scoops the ball up from a tight angle and has a kick. It’s swinging! Swinging! Swinging-arrggh! It’s stopped swinging and has hit the post. We lead by nine points.
But we’re still not home. A Mitch Farmer handball, intended for Matt White for a huge goal chance, is intercepted by Ballentyne, who kicks to Michael Johnson, on his own in a paddock, who goals from fifty to bring the gap to two points.
The umpires give two free kicks from forty out to Freo. They miss both, levelling the scores, and we continue to breathe-or at least hyperventilate.
And then a magnificent twist comes.
The whistle blows on the Freo bench. An interchange infringement against Paul Hasleby! A free kick and a fifty metre penalty! After crucifying us all night, they’ve handed it to us on a platter, and Jack’s fifth seems to sap the life out of the Dockers.
Dustin Martin, who has been astonishing, bananas through a goal from a stoppage to set the cheer squad on fire and extend the gap to two goals.
Freo still goes long, but Newman, a magnificent crunch time captain, holds marks again and again and clears accurately.
The siren goes with the ball in the hands of Edwards (fantastic) and Richmond 19 points clear.
The seething Tiger horde, fans and players alike, are on a high as the best theme song in the league, as opposed to the worst, is roared with passion and delight.
As we cross Harbour Esplanade, yells of excitement simply burst forth.
“Who got the best Riewoldt?!”
“When was the last time we won five outta six?!”
“Keep ninth open!”
I stagger into the bathroom back home, grin at the mirror and brush my teeth as the radio reminds me of Bon Jovi’s December tour. At the beginning of the season we were Livin’ On A Prayer and being told to Keep The Faith. Now, Blaze Of Glory seems to be the song we’re singing.

3-D. Connors (R) 2-S. Hill (F) 1-D. Martin (R)

About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.


  1. Steve Healy says

    Great report Callum, although its a shame about the injuuries for the Tigers. And I’ve never seen a team playing so well who are 15th on the ladder, but luckily the Demons are up to 11th after our win.

  2. Top work Callum, awesome match it was, although rather ominously, the last time Richmond won 4 in a row were the 4 weeks immediately before Nathan Brown broke his leg in 2005.

    You get on at Eaglemont? What school do you go to?

  3. Just caught up with the report Callum. Te Tiges have been magnificent this year. great young list, great young coach, great administration, new facilities. Buckle up and enjoy the ride. I’m old enough to remember the Glory Days. It can be that good again.

    BTW, how’s myki working for you?

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