The start of the season is always too early for me. March is the most beautiful month in Melbourne until footy comes along. A Long March, with fine weather and no men’s footy, would suit me fine.
It would suit the AFLW too, of course, and send the best message about the value of their game. We’ll make the men’s season a fraction shorter (our players are always saying it’s too long) and give you some more time and space. Now is the time for the AFL to announce this. Not in ten years’ time. Not next year. Now, after the Tayla Harris’ stand, after the AFL has trashed the women’s game once more.
And while they’re at it, now is the time for Toilet Equality at the ‘G and elsewhere. Make some of the men’s dunnies into women’s until our queues are of equal length. Only then will women and girls know that the AFL takes them seriously.
I digress, but I needed to. The first game doesn’t come out of nowhere. It comes into a glorious month trailing controversies real and contrived. Then the ball is bounced and a flip is switched and it’s on again.
Our tickets in row Z in the Southern Stand cost us about half a year’s membership, but without them we might not have gotten in at all. As it was we missed Lynch’s first goal. From outside the ground, when we were still lined up, I assumed the roar was for Carlton. There was something about the sound that I didn’t like and it seemed strong at the Punt Road End where, at a Carlton home game, I assumed the crowd to be Blue-ish. But once we were in we learned Richmond had scored first. What did that teach me about tribalism? That, in fact, a crowd’s roar sounds much the same, whatever team it’s for?
We were in our seats when Lynch kicked a goal and were able to deduce, from the way all the Richmond players didn’t mob him, that it wasn’t his first. This was so much better than last year when the Blues killed us in the first quarter and it felt like round 1 at Waverley in 1981 all over again. This was footy the way it should be – a big crowd, Richmond with five goals on the board and Carlton yet to score.
The second quarter was footy as the AFL prefers it – more of a contest, but with the Tigers still in control. Higgins’ goal was the highlight, a quick snap from fair way out on a very tight angle. Has there ever been a player who loved playing so much? His celebrations make me feel young again.
But Carlton had come back a bit and worse was to follow. The third was footy as nightmare. A good lead being whittled away, the Carlton crowd roaring. The lead went down to four goals, to three and then to two. The Richmond defence was under siege. Finally, they forced a turnover and broke away. Dusty tore through the middle, wondering which option to take to set up our much-needed goal. Then he was caught, the Blues fans went nuts, the ball was turned over. He looked very cross with himself. But the counter-counter-attack was thwarted once more.
At a big marking contest Rance went down and play was stopped. We know it’s bad when they actually stop the game. Nobody knew that the problem was. From the scraps of replay we saw he was hurt either in the head or the leg or somewhere in between. All we saw was him falling. And now on the ground, un-moving and the surviving players huddled, discussing life without him.
This could hardly have been worse. Carlton surging, the lead down to two goals, the quarter barely half over, the best full-back of all time on the deck. But Richmond really stood up then and gave Carlton nothing. It was a desperate end to the quarter but if anything, the break in play had settled the Tigers and all of Carlton’s attacks were blunted.
In the last, order was restored and the Blues were taken apart. What could be better than getting the jump on them early, teasing them in the third and then breaking their spirits in the last? Even after our third goal, with the lead at 28 points and the quarter not half gone, Blues supporters were leaving. This is something I will never comprehend, but I saw Richmond supporters do the same in the prelim last year, so this fickleness infects everyone.
Rance emerged from the tunnel on crutches with a bag of ice on his knee. The crowd roared in appreciation and in sadness.
The best goal of this quarter was Weller’s, a brilliant soccer kick from a good distance out and a similar angle to Higgins’ effort. The lead went out to 40 points before a late consolation goal to the Blues. We could get our breath back before we stood and sang the song.
I could see the smile on Rance’s face which was encouraging. But the way his mates went to him and patted him on the head said “season-ending injury” and so it was.
Match reports have bemoaned this game as a spectacle. “Objective” writing often does. There were plenty of highlights though. Cotch and Riewoldt each took beautiful marks. Cotch kicked a behind from his but I think Jack split the big sticks. Many too-tall and too-skilful Blues players also took good marks. They have no shortage of good players, despite everyone running them down. I tried to learn their names and numbers but we were so high up in the Southern that we could only read the numbers when play was on our wing, which it often wasn’t.
I don’t know if the rules changes mattered that much. It chokes me to say it, but it did look nice and symmetrical to see everyone lined up, almost like the old days, at the centre bounces. I miss the dinky little kick-to-himself that the full-back had to do to play on. One of those little quirks that the AFL despises and so it had to go.
It looked a lot like the 2017 Richmond – often messy, often scrappy, but from one contest to another the ball herded between the big sticks.
Next week a sickening clash awaits – Book Club to discuss Brideshead Revisited or Richmond v Collingwood?
5 Grimes – as always, was great. Never beaten, always there, always contesting.
4 Vlaustin – was good too. The way the defence stood up after Rance left will be written about for years to come.
3 Cotchin – played a classic good Cotchin game, with a memorable highlight being his mark over his opposing skipper Cripps.
2 Martin – was an important player for us too, even if he was caught a few times.
1 Lynch – great to see the new players get goals in Lynch, Weller and Balta.
Blair Hartley Appreciation Award:for players who have joined Richmond from another club
(Eligible 2018: 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)
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
Dan Butler 7
Dion Prestia 6
Jack Graham 6
Dylan Grimes 4
Kamdyn McIntosh 4
Shane Edwards 4
Bachar Houli 4
Trent Cotchin 4