7.50pm Friday 20 September 2019
On Monday, when prelim tickets go on sale, I’m on the work computer at 9am, seeking “best available” tickets for my daughter and me. Work is very busy and I can’t stuff around looking for the best seats on Level 4. I’m rewarded with bloody good seats in good time – M12, bottom deck, eight rows from the fence.
The weather forecast though, is terrible and these seats are in the open. It’s going to bucket down on Friday, especially in the afternoon and at night. That will be all right though. We’ll just get to the ground early and get good spots in standing room, under cover. We’ll have a paid a fortune just to stand up, but that’s how it goes. Should we make the GF I might not get a ticket and my daughter isn’t even in the ballot. So, the prelim is our big game and surely worth the money.
And by Thursday the forecast has improved out of sight – there will be no rain until Saturday.
It’s a tough week at work and I’m exhausted by Thursday. The Climate Strike is on Friday and I think I will go and then I think I’m too busy and that I can’t. But on the 6.06 Hurstbridge train on Friday morning I read about the world-wide day of action and decide I have to be a part of it. And at work I’m efficient and ruthless and I get everything done that I really need to and I catch the 2.01 to Jolimont. I’ve got three days off now, the sun is shining, the breeze is warm and I join a huge crowd of the young and the old in the Treasury Gardens and the very sight of their sprawling mass and the great sound of their chanting and cheering makes me weep.
I’ve had my bike on the train and when the rally breaks up, I ride home, uphill and into the wind. I’m at home a bit after five and step into dog vomit just inside the door. I spread it up the hallway before I realise what I’ve done. Nothing for it then but to de-boot, glove-up and scrub that floor clean. It doesn’t take too long. The dog, Wolfie, appears to be perfectly well and I’m glad he hasn’t spewed on someone’s bed.
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My daughter – the Richmond supporter – doesn’t have a phone and isn’t at home yet. She’s in year 12 and has had a tough last week of term. But like our boys hope to do tonight, she’s finished strongly. But where is she? I have a feeling I will be going to the footy alone, with an expensive, spare ticket in my pocket. But using a seldom-used bit of technology known as an APP – A phriend’s phone – she calls before six and we arrange to meet at Betty Cuthbert at seven.
I charge out of the house with a hastily packed bag, wearing two scarves and lugging my daughter’s duffle coat, a good bit after six. I run half the way to the tram stop which is just as well as a tram comes very soon. On my phone I check the train times and decide to alight after two stops and leg it to Thornbury Station. There’s a train at 6.31 and my own calculations tell me that it will get to Jolimont at about ten to seven.
It’s crowded, mostly with Richmond supporters. At Jolimont we all get off and I find my daughter at Betty Cuthbert’s feet, reading the Record. The lines move quickly, even the bag-checking line, and we’re in the ground in no time. When we played the Cats in the Qualifier in 2017 those lines were endless. Maybe we’re a bit earlier tonight.
My daughter asks if we’re standing up. No, I say, sitting. In quite good seats. She can’t believe how good they actually are, about 60 metres from the goals at the Punt Road End. But you pay a price, greater than dollars, for these seats. Our fellow Richmond supporters are almost silent. They are happy to bag the umpires and boo the opposition, but that’s about it. They won’t break into a chant to save their lives. And it must be true, as I read on the train this very morning, that the richer you are the less you connect to other people. The music is as loud and obscene as ever, but Nirvana’s song seems very apt – “Here we are now, entertain us…” My fellow supporters have parted with their hard-earned and expect the Tigers to deliver them a Grand Final. They won’t help cheer and sing them over the line though. Oh no. They’ve paid their money and expect a return, no further effort on their part is required.
Cotchin wins the toss and chooses the Punt Road End, which is unusual. Usually he likes to kick to the City End first. But there’s a good breeze blowing outside the ground, toward the City End, and maybe he wants to come home with the wind. His choice makes us nervous and we can’t help but think of the qualifier against Port in 2014.
Early in the game Ellis makes a great spoil on the half-back flank and I’m glad he’s in the side and intends to stay there. Then Cotch gets it to George who misses from not too far out. A bit later Riewoldt fumbles, Geelong rebound and Ratugolea takes a huge mark on the wing. He is one Geelong player who is truly frightening. With three minutes gone Ablett scores at the Punt Road End. It’s a goal but there’s a long score review before the match can continue.
I preferred the old system of trusting the goal umpires and then bagging them all week when they got it wrong. That seemed to work for everyone.
Geelong are on top and I don’t like it and there is much moaning in M12. But then Richmond attack, Rioli kicks to Martin who runs back, marks and goals and we all feel better.
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Graham makes a great break from the middle, kicks to Lynch who marks and kicks the goal from 48 meters. His kick is high and straight and aren’t we glad we picked up this feller?
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Dusty goes off the ground for some reason, Soldo taps the ball to Presty who kicks it long to the goal-square. How short the ground seems when players run straight out of the middle and bomb it long. And when you have Lynch in the goal-square who can fumble the mark but kick the goal anyway. Tigers lead 3.1 to 1.0 and it’s going to be our night.
Ratugolea out-marks Toby but misses from 45 out. I love Toby to pieces but he seems to be shorter, lighter and slower than Ratugolea. But then, most people are. Presty, who is already having a great game, kicks it to Caddy who marks but kicks a point. Geelong attack in a very controlled, relentless fashion, all skill and possession and clean marking – I mean, who needs it? Eventually they go long and direct, Grimes spoils but Kelly snaps and goals from 45 out and they’re back in it.
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Graham has come off the ground and one of the blokes in front of us, who is wired for sound, says he’s dislocated his shoulder. This is terrible news. This is going to be a tough game and he’s one of our toughest players. He won’t be doing any more tackling tonight.
The Cats attack again, Grimes tries to clear but Miers scores and it’s three goals each and the Cats have the momentum and their supporters, whom we clearly outnumber, are making a great noise. They actually seem to have some good chants going, something like “Geelong – kick it long!” Even when we had our three goals in a few minutes M12 was almost silent. The whingeing when Geelong are doing well is much louder than the cheering when it’s going our way. What does that say about people?’
Soldo takes a great mark in defence and the Tigers make a fast break but in the middle of the ground Ellis hands the ball to Toohey, which is a mistake. We win the ball back, Riewoldt marks on the forward flank, kicks short to Cotch who is tackled and is holding the ball. We’ve made some basic mistakes and our game might be unravelling. To underline this, Geelong get another through Miers who appears to be doing as he pleases. The siren goes with Geelong a goal up and well and truly on top.
Quarter time score: Richmond 3.3 – Geelong 4.3
At the very start of the second term Kelly goals from 45 out and Geelong are two goals up and we look a bit hopeless. Guthrie evades two tacklers in the middle of the ground, Blicavs wins a holding-the-ball free against Lambert, but misses an easy shot. Unlike their massacre of us in round 12, the Cats are actually missing a few shots. But they are still killing us. They seem to be winning the ball more and doing smarter stuff with it.
Vlaustin turns over the footy in the back-line but Selwood misses the easy chance this affords him. Bad luck Joel. Geelong have had 16 out of the last 18 inside 50s. But Graham has reappeared on the bench with his shoulder taped up. We’re still under siege though and Lambert is lucky not to be pinged for deliberate when he goes over the line as he’s tackled.
Geelong attack again and Miers wins a very soft free for in-the-back against Baker, who is smaller and much lighter than him. If such a little bloke can push you around what are doing playing AFL?
Richmond finally launch an attack but Bolton misses quite an easy snap. We’re looking a bit better than we were. Graham is back on but evidently has only one arm. We clear the ball well from defence, Cotch completely outwits Ablett on the boundary and soccers it beautifully to Ellis who kicks to Martin who marks but misses from close range. We really needed that one.
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Geelong rebound from defence and Narkle scores easily and this looks like one of those nights. Geelong are 19 points up. Nothing works for us, everything goes right for them. Cotchin is limping and the whingeing and moaning in M12 is insufferable.
Richmond attack well but Lambert’s kick goes down the throat of Kolodjashnij. Another good attack results in Martin giving the footy away after a great run down the wing. Broad is doing well and makes a great spoil against Ratugolea in the forward pocket. The Tigers rebound and Houli, who is having a good game, kicks perfectly to Castagna, 30 from goal. There is much grizzling in M12 about what a dud set-shot for goal George is. But he goes back and kicks it. It’s a goal we really, really needed but if you think that would fire up M12 you’d be wrong. People barely clap.
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Richmond are definitely looking better but Grimes’ clearing kick is marked by Stewart who sends it straight back in. It sails over a pack of players, from the front of which Dangerfield dives like Dan from Sea Change. The umpire calls “Push!” but doesn’t say whose ball it is. Houli assumes it is his, as he actually had some physical contact from an opponent. Cotch gives him the footy but the umpire says, no, it’s a Geelong free and now it’s 50. So, Danger is gifted a goal.
I hate to criticise the umpires. I umpired a game once when I was eight and I’ve never gotten over the trauma. But this is a stinker of a decision. The umpire never said whose footy it was. So how can it be wrong to give the ball to a Richmond player?
So, plenty to sook about at half time. After we were looking a bit better, we are now 21 points down again. It could be a lot more if Geelong had kicked straight, but we missed some sitters too, so it might be less.
Half-time score: Richmond 4.5 to Geelong 7.8
My daughter and I decide that we really don’t like our fellow Tiger supporters in M12. They have paid all this money and all they do is whinge. They never join in a chant and every mistake by an umpire is worth ten minutes of moaning, even while play goes on and even if Richmond might be doing well. And the man next to my daughter called the umpire a faggot and his girlfriend called someone retarded and this is what “Best available” seating gets you.
We don’t know what to do. My daughter suggests making eye contact with a few people and asking them nicely to be “chant buds.” Get a few going and the rest will follow. But I don’t have the nerve and so we go into the second half without a plan to make things better.
The Tigers, however, do have a plan. From the first bounce they attack with fury and skill. Cotch lays a big tackle in the square, Prestia gets the footy and kicks long to Lynch who marks and goals from 30 out and we can say, “We couldn’t have started any better.” It’s been so quick that our fellow supporters have almost nothing to whinge about and I’m out of my seat and in the aisle with my back to the ground, shouting and waving my arms. “Richmond! Richmond! Richmond!” And this is all it takes. In every row of seats a few people join in. Still a minority, but what a happy crowd we are. “Oh, so this is what you can do at the footy,” they seem to be thinking.
By the time I sit down again I’m faint with the effort, but it’s been worth it. And clearly our boys are appreciating this extra bit of barracking because they go in a bit harder and force a Geelong clearing kick out on the full. Martin gets the footy and kicks it high to Lynch who out-marks two defenders but misses the easy set shot. As Geelong rebound, Houli gathers the ball in the middle, handpasses to Short who evades two Geelong players and kicks deep into the forward line. Lynch can’t mark it but Martin crumbs the spilled ball and goals and we’ve got two in two minutes and are only eight points down.
And I’m in the aisle again, shouting and clapping and getting people going again until I’m too faint to stand up. And what a difference it’s made. People are joining in all over the place, still a minority, but a bloody noisy one. Who knew that this was all it took?
We are getting even better though. With only a second to put the ball on his boot, Bolton passes perfectly to Castagna. He finds the exact spot between two big Cats that George bravely flies into, with no thought for his safety. He holds the mark, of course, and nails the set-shot, of course, and there’s only a point in it. And I’m out in the aisle again, shouting and waving my arms again and heaps of people are joining in, and isn’t this fun when we’re playing well and you actually feel like you’re a part of it?
With six minutes left in the quarter Lynch puts us in front with his fourth goal. The build-up to this is magnificent, an endless series of pressure acts and tackles and a simple refusal to let Geelong clear the footy. Eventually Narkle almost breaks free but runs into The Great Wall of Cotch. The ball spills loose, Baker gets it to Shedda who kicks it to Caddy in a bit of space near the boundary. Caddy gathers calmly and passes to Presti in the pocket who centres the ball to Lynch. The big feller flies against four opponents, is held onto but marks anyway. He kicks the goal from fifteen out and we’re in front and going nuts, even in M12.
But I need to note that the glass-half-empty trio in front of us are booing the umpire even as Lynch lines up his set shot.
But it’s not all going our way. The ball is kicked into our backline, players go down and Miers wins a free. Broad is on the ground, concussed, and is helped from the ground by the overworked trainers. Our luck really has turned though and Miers misses.
The ball is on the wing at the bottom of a pack with Martin on top of it. Somehow, he gets out from under a great pile of Cats and brings the footy with him. I could watch this reply fifty times but I could never explain how this is possible. He gets the ball to Castagna who passes to Lynch who kicks to Prestia who marks a good distance out. In the face of the relentless Tiger pressure the Cats should have conceded a fifty but the umpire hasn’t noticed. It doesn’t matter because Prestia kicks a booming goal from 48 meters and we’re up by 10 points.
As a footnote to this, after Martin’s Contested Possession for the Ages, he finds himself tackled over the boundary line, near the interchange bench, so he just gets up, walks a few steps to the bench and sits down. Job done.
Half an hour ago it all looked pretty hopeless and I was making mental health care plans for myself for the next few weeks. Now we’re roaring and I think there’s just more good stuff to come. But Henderson marks and goals for the Cats just before the break and they’re back within a goal.
Is this the start of their fightback or a mere blip against our run?
Three-quarter time score: Richmond 9.7 – Geelong 8.9
The last quarter begins well. Prestia wins a free kick in the middle and kicks it long. A pack flies, Shedda crumbs it, kicks perfectly to Lambert who marks, runs into an open goal and scores. Tim Kelly, who hasn’t gone away, gets one back for the Cats and it seems like they still want to make a fight of it. Ablett has a chance to put them back in front after out-marking Baker, but he misses.
Geelong attack again but Ellis wins the footy just outside the defensive 50, gets it to Houli who give it to Prestia who gives it to Caddy. Caddy kicks long to Lynch who marks almost un-opposed and kicks his fifth and were up by 11 points again. And after each of our goals I’m out in the aisle again and M12 are making some noise. And then I’m sitting down again before I fall over with light-headedness.
Riewoldt marks on the boundary, kicks and celebrates and the Tiger crowd at the City End go up with him and I’m out in the aisle again and shouting and waving my arms to an un-moved audience. “It wasn’t a goal mate,” someone says, and I skulk back to my seat.
Soldo takes a great mark in defence and has been having a very good night. With six and a half minutes left Jack Graham has a chance to win the game for us but misses on the run. It doesn’t matter, because not long after Bolton grabs the footy and handpasses to Prestia who goals from 40 out. We’re three goals up and there’s five minutes left and we’ve kicked 8.6 to 2.3 since half-time.
Riewoldt wins a holding-the-ball free kick but misses and we’re up by 19. Geelong get another point when Lachie Henderson helpfully touches a kick that would have been a goal. At the very end Castagna has a set shot that doesn’t miss by much and we’ve won by 19.
We scream and roar and sing the song, even the naysayers and the whingers in front of us sing it. And people high-five strangers and say, see you next week, if only that could be true.
On the telly, Hawkins looks so sad that I feel sorry for him. On the field he’s a giant I want slain, in the coach’s box he’s just a fellow human who’s stuffed up and paid a great price.
Winners can afford such generous thoughts.
This has been the night of nights. From so far behind and playing so badly to right in front a quarter later. And then such a strong finish. We’ve won 11 games in a row since the bye and we’ve beaten the Cats in a final, again. And we’re in a Grand Final, apparently, against Collingwood or the Giants and maybe we could even win that too.
I sing the song as we leave but nobody joins in. And our crowd is very different to 2017. We left the prelim that night and everyone – everyone! – was glowing like new parents. Smiling from ear to ear, bursting into song all over the place. Not tonight though. There seems to be a feeling of, “Well what else do you expect?” On the crowded train home there is no bursting into song, like the carriage-full of strangers did in 2017. People are just chatting quietly and looking at their phones and, I know we all follow our own path, but I think we should be a bit happier and celebratory.
It’s not every night you get into a Grand Final.
It’s not every night you pay Geelong back, just a little bit, for the Waverley Massacre in the ’95 prelim.
We walk home from Thornbury Station full of love and dis-belief. My partner and daughter are in bed but Wolfie greets us and brings out his toy to show how happy he is that we’re home. I make my daughter a cup of tea and I pour myself a beer and we watch the second half on the tape and it’s no more believable on the telly than it was at the ground.
Best players: Lynch, Houli, Prestia, Martin, Edwards, Grimes, Vlaustin, Baker, Soldo. Can I name the whole team? Everyone has done their job. Bolton didn’t have a great game but several of his kicks and touches were gold. Ellis has been great. Broad was great before he was knocked out. Graham, as Dimma says at the presser, will have a chapter written about him in the history of the club. Castagna has been very good too, marking heroically against much bigger opponents and kicking calmly under pressure.
I just love the way this team plays and I love how hard it is to pick our best players. And I love how we’ve passed every test since the bye, since Geelong and Adelaide flogged us in early June.
But there’s still one game to go. I’ve missed out on the ballot, but have another chance to buy a ticket tomorrow. I’ve tried and failed to get a Giants membership this morning, but I seem to be not the only one trying that trick at the moment.
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Lynch 5, Houli 4, Prestia 3, Martin 2, Edwards 1
Cotchin, Bolton 7
Castagna, Soldo 6
Nankervis, Graham 5
Baker, Broad 4
Astbury, Ross, Naish 2
Rioli, Balta 1
Blair Hartley Appreciation Award:for players who have joined Richmond from another club
(Eligible 2019: Caddy, Grigg, Houli, Lynch, Nankervis, Prestia, Townsend and Weller)
Anthony Banik Best First Year Player:for anyone who was yet to debut before round 1
(Eligible 2019: Balta, Coleman-Jones, Collier-Dawkins, Miller, Naish, Ross, Turner, Stack)
Ross, Naish 2
Joel Bowden’s Golden Left Boot:for left footers
(Eligible 2019: Chol, Grigg, Nankervis and Houli)
Greg Tivendale Rookie List Medal:
upgraded from the rookie list during the current season
Maurice Rioli Grip of Death Trophy:
For the Tiges top tackler in 2019
Baker, Bolton 61