There is a bunch of us Richmond supporters in our early 30s who have only known misery from their football club. We all have jobs, some have mortgages, some children. We generally get along OK in life and don’t ask for much other than to sit back on the weekend and observe a set of circumstances of which you have absolutely no control and enjoy it. We’ve adopted NRL, NBA, EPL and NFL teams and cheered when they won but deep down knew that we’d much prefer it to be Richmond. I even have a theory that Richmond supporters are the best at pretending they care when Victoria wins the Sheffield Shield and the only bridge too far is caring about who wins a Big Bash game.
We’ve had glimpses, flashes and signs of promise but all have gone as quickly as they came. Last week’s build up to Friday didn’t feel like the other glimpses, it promised to be different. Richmond this year has had a calmness about it that has been missing during even the best of times in recent years, this wave of momentum feels timed and sustainable. It felt like it could have even survived a slip up on Friday and everything would still be OK.
But then the night came and the slip up didn’t.
For some reason, night games at the MCG just feel bigger. The backdrop of a night sky makes you feel like it’s the only thing happening in the world, and with 95,000 people watching on Richmond played like there was nothing else in the world. It was a delight to host Geelong at our home ground for such an occasion but weird they decided to leave their forward line back down the highway.
In the stands it was primal and on the ground it was savage, I’ve never heard such crowd noise nor seen such onfield pressure. When people have asked me how it was over the weekend I’ve only been able to mutter something about ‘really good and very loud’, that’s about where I am at for the moment.
Chatting with Richmond fans in the lead up to the evening there were three scenarios:
- We shat the bed
- We played well and lost, or
- We played well and grinded it out.
Five minutes into the first quarter we were able to rule out door number one, but door number two was still a very real and scary option. Little did we know, and even less could we expect, that a door number four was on the horizon: we’d do it easy.
During the match I was too terrified to process anything more than the scoreboard and Dusty having the ball but on watching the replay (three times and counting) there were loads of moments that jump off the screen.
I could write tens of thousands of words Demonblog style and break them down one by one, but few were better than Ellis clattering into Dangerfield in the second quarter. Both had eyes only for the ball and while Ellis was greeted by five or six mates urging him on, Cam Guthrie and his shocking haircut simply walked straight past Dangerfield as if it was the most basic of training drills. He was obviously preoccupied with getting the post match lines right in his head about how hard done by they were for having to travel 70 kilometres to play the biggest game of the year at a first world ground.
All year long the praise for Richmond has been qualified and followed with ‘but they’ll need to find a second tall forward for the finals’. It would have been easy and must have been tempting to bring in Griff once we had a couple of runs under his belt. Instead Dimma and co stuck to the script and backed in the game plan.
The comparisons to the Bulldogs of last year have increased as the year progressed and will likely click into overdrive now that we are down to the last four. For me though the narrative is similar but the stories are very different. The Bulldogs took an unconventional forward line into the finals last year because of injuries, Hardwick has taken his unconventional forward line into the finals this year because it works.
Jack and Nank deserve more love than they’ve received externally, as both continue to pull double and triple shifts to make the setup work. Jack plays both full and centre half forward and in an industry determined to measure key forwards only by goals kicked he offers a full suite of services. Nank’s worth is summed up through the words that are often muttered after his name in commentary ‘has worked tirelessly tonight’, that should be his nickname.
Our season has been viewed through the prism of Dusty and on Friday, as he has many other times this year, he did the brilliant things that made the difference.
But this wasn’t a win placed solely on his shoulders, it was like a game of pool where 21 people set up the game winner for him and he knocked them in on a hot streak. With six minutes to go in the third quarter he’d been only fair and we were grinding it out, by the ten minute mark of the last quarter he’d gone for the throat and it was over. I’ve played pub pool with blokes like that, they’re off buying drinks and talking to girls and but manage to find their way back to the table and win the game when needed. You really want them on your team, and you hate playing against them.
Picking a Dusty highlight this year is like picking your favourite Rolling Stones song but the shake and bake on Tom Stewart and bounce down the wing is shooting quickly to the top of the charts. Who knows what is to come this season or for the next seven for that matter but the occasion and, my god, the noise when he took off down the wing will be very hard to top. The ball ended up with Prestia in the square, the siren went not long after and the decibel level shot off the charts again as they gathered for the huddle.
It was special moment in what was a very special night and Martin Scorsese makes the Richmond movie (or Dusty movie) that’s the bit he’ll play Gimme Shelter over.
The last quarter was, to put it simply, perfect. The slow buildup maximised pressure and despite the fact we’d been the better team for just about the entirety, the lead was narrow enough for Dangerfield to have dragged back on his own if he stopped kicking it out on the full for a few minutes.
Nick Vlastuin on radio said that he wasn’t sure when to be happy and relax, which is fantastic to hear because none of us ever do so why should they really?
For me on the night, it was the Lambert goal which looking back at the replay is completely ludicrous given the time still to play out but given Geelong had kicked four goals for the night until then it was probably fair enough. Then the dam burst, only this time the flood of goals ruined their night instead of ours.
I don’t know how dam walls usually burst, but when it did everyone was lining up for a crack. Including the skipper, my goodness the skipper and his perfect hair, who hit a contested footy at pace and on the spin and kicked the goal that made up for three elimination finals.
The guy who has copped it from everywhere from years who now leads his band of brothers into a preliminary final. That was a moment I’ll never forget.
As covered by the RTT lads Friday night doesn’t even the ledger for the last thirty years, but the promise of the next three weeks hints at the debt being repaid and then some.
The votes [double points for finals]
10: Nick Vlastuin – Dusty blew them away but it was the first half of grinding that built the stage for him. He has been a very good player for a while now but this might have been the night the rest of the footy world took notice.
8: Dustin Martin – What is there left to say? He did it when it needed to be done, we’ve got the best midfielder in the league.
6: Alex Rance – ‘Taylor stitched up him a month ago’ they said. They probably should have played Taylor on Friday then. Wait, what? He was playing?
4: Dion Prestia – He’s never going to be the cleanest because of where he wins the ball, but he did the hard yards that we’d lacked in finals of recent years.
2: Josh Caddy – Fought hard early, run hard late and got one up over his own mob and extra points for obliterating Mackie in the second quarter. Our Mr September?
Deepest of apologies to the captain who I’d have loved to worked into the votes but I couldn’t manage it.
18: Lambert, Houli
7: Rioli, Townsend
Blair Hartley Appreciation Award:for players who have joined Richmond from another club
(Eligible 2017: Caddy, Grigg, Hampson, Houli, Hunt, Nankervis, Maric, Miles, Prestia and Townsend.)
Anthony Banik Best First Year Player:for anyone who was yet to debut before round 1
(Eligible 2017: Shai Bolton, Dan Butler, Ryan Garthwaite, Jack Graham, Ivan Soldo, Tyson Stengle)
1: Bolton, Stengle, Graham
Joel Bowden’s Golden Left Boot:for left footers
(Eligible 2017: Batchelor, Chol, Corey Ellis, Grigg, Nankervis and Houli).
Greg Tivendale Rookie List Medal:
upgraded from the rookie list during the current season
Potentially eligible 2017: Castagna, Chol, Moore, Stengle and Soldo.
Maurice Rioli Grip of Death Trophy:
For the Tiges top tackler