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All week I have had an absurd feeling of confidence about this game. Expecting a big crowd, I get to the ground an hour before the start and find myself almost alone in M9. My brother, a Geelong supporter, is in the stands somewhere and we agree to catch up at half-time.
I like the look of our team. Naish is making his debut, Graham, Townsend and Rioli feel like big-gun premiership-winning inclusions, because they are. Ablett is playing for the Cats but shouldn’t be. Three strikes to the head for a one-week suspension looks weak to everyone who’s not a Cats supporter and many who are. And his last strike was to the face Anthony Miles, still dear to our Tiger hearts. But it doesn’t matter because whoever we play on Ablett will tag him out of the game.
The corporate music seems louder than ever. The pre-match build-up which once tingled the spine and curdled the blood is now just like being at a bad night club. I wonder, if Richmond go through another slump, will they keep any of their supporters? If we can’t chant and sing and be heard and if our team doesn’t win why would we go and watch them?
Mercifully, the game begins and Richmond are ferocious and Geelong totally fail to destroy us in the opening minutes. I think back fondly to the qualifying final in 2017. My relief then that we were still in it after two minutes. Richmond thwart an early Geelong attack, Baker wins a holding-the-ball free and passes to Lynch who marks kicks out on the full. Never mind, he’ll get the next one.
Mac passes beautifully to Martin who marks in the pocket and goals. From the centre bounce the ball is kicked to Lynch who misses again from 47 out. Not long after this Naish gathers in the pocket, scoots along and kicks his first goal in the big league on a bit of an angle and his mates swarm to pat him on the head. Surely he is in for a big night and the Tigers are looking good. Full of running and keeping the ball in their forward 50 where it belongs.
Caddy snaps and misses and at quarter time it’s 2.1.13 to 0.2.2.
The idea of keeping the Cats goal-less for the whole game is a very pleasing one. Still, for all our domination we’re not exactly miles in front and some easy chances were missed. But when Geelong have attacked, we’ve defended well and Soldo has been good in the ruck and around the ground.
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The second quarter starts badly when Ratugolea marks and goals from 45 out on a tough angle. Geelong are kicking to the Punt Road End now so this is right in front of me. But Richmond continue to defend frantically and what seems like another certain goal to Geelong becomes a rushed point. Then Gary Rohan – shouldn’t he still be at Sydney? I liked him there – marks 25 out and goals and we’re behind, 2.1 to 2.4.
Things get worse when Naish grabs the footy and charges out of the back-line, but not quickly enough. He’s run down, the Geelong crowd go nuts and they score from the free. Of course they do. The Cats are getting the footy easily and attacking at will. Our players are losing confidence and when they win the footy soon turn it over. Another Geelong attack leads to another snapped goal and it’s 2.1 to 4.4. We’re paying for our missed chances in the first.
I write in my notebook – which has become a shield against this unfolding horror show – “We need to stop this NOW.” As if by writing it down it will come to pass. Ratugolea has become a monster in the ruck and takes a huge mark on the wing. Where did Geelong get all these good players from?
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The Cats attack again, Hawkins can’t mark but Miers snaps and goals and Geelong are kicking everything that comes their way and are suddenly up by 21 points, the point at which a few more goals could end the contest. Higgins wins a free for a Geelong kick that went out on the full. His kick looks like a point and nobody even pretends it’s a goal. Still, a score review results and gives us false faint hope. Of course, it is only a point and now Stack appears to be hurt.
Dusty has a shot and misses. We’ve had the last two scores and are down by three goals. If we’d gotten one of them and gotten one or two more in the first…bad kicking is bad football. Stack appears to be better, but he turns over the footy and Hawkins marks 40 meters out, goes back and goals. Geelong’s set shot kicking is deadly. They’ve kicked six goals since quarter time and now lead by four. We really need the next goal but One-Week Gary and Danger combine and it’s half-time and we’re five goals down and I don’t want to catch up with my brother at the break.
I think about making excuses – stuck in the toilet queue? Under arrest for yelling at a Geelong supporter? – but I force myself up the stairs and we meet for a chat. He and his wife are very happy for some reason. God, I hate Geelong supporters, even the ones I love.
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I get back to M9 as the match re-starts. I’ve forsaken my prized spot against the steel barrier and I don’t care. Geelong supporters in front of me are being obnoxious with their stupid hooped jumpers and plastic bottles of coke which, I suspect, are spiked with something stronger.
One-Week Gary and Hawkins combine for an early goal to the Cats. Ratugolea takes a sliding mark and goals and it’s 2.5 to 9.4.
Another goal to them and they’ve kicked ten un-answered and we’re 47 points down and there’s no hope, a respectable loss is the best we can hope for and the third term has barely begun.
My notebook is saving me from stark, raving insanity. Why is life so unfair? Couldn’t we just kick the odd goal? We’re 57 points down and it’s men against boys, our defence is in tatters, our forward line hardly exists and we’re being killed in the middle. Apart from that we’re doing okay. Graham wins a hard ball and passes to Lynch who marks on a tough angle and goals. Our first since the first quarter. The Electronic Roar is more embarrassing than ever. Surely even the most ardent marketing enthusiast would consider it wise to turn it off when we’re getting thrashed? But wisdom and marketing go together not.
We attack a bit more while Geelong take a bit of a break. Lynch gets a free but misses. Geelong win a free after a blatant bit of head-ducking, go forward slickly and score. It’s 56 points and the game is of academic interest only. Another goal and it’s 62 points and Geelong are scoring at will. One-Week Gary kicks another and it’s 24 to 92 and I’m struggling to do the arithmetic.
The Geelong supporter in front of me yells out “You can fuck my girl-friend Gary!“ Geelong kick another after the siren and it’s 3.6.24 to 15.8.98 which is 74 points. I let the supporter know that he sickens me, in a way that doesn’t lead to a fist-fight, which is a little victory of sorts. But I’d prefer that we were winning.
I’m sickened by the scale of the loss and by the Revolting Cat in front of me. But as Tigers our hands and vocal cords are hardly clean. How many times have we sung – or let others sing in praise of Dusty – “I’ll let you shag my wife”?
How long has it been since we were 74 points down at the last break? The Revolting Cat says to me “I’m sorry, I did get permission from my girlfriend to say yell that out… inappropriate I guess.” I almost bring myself to nod. I gather that my notebook might be making people nervous and in the face of this devastation there’s some solace in being witness to it. I’ve got something to do, to document the pain as well as feel it.
More revolting music at the break, an embarrassment to our great club.
I just want the last quarter to go quickly. Couldn’t there be a mercy rule if you’re this far behind? Lynch marks early on but can’t even get a point. Rioli gets it to Dusty who gets it to George but nothing comes of it. Butler snaps and misses. Houli is still playing well and has been our best player all night, not for the first time.
We string together some excellent junk-time play and Butler goals. The Electronic Roar is only getting more embarrassing. Hawkins quickly goals to restore the 12-goal lead. Dangerfield takes a very strong, contested mark on the half-forward line. The fact is, he’s quite a handy player. Naish thwarts a Geelong attack with a mark on the back-line and passes to a team-mate with a torp. How often do we get to see that? The ball gets to Dusty but he loses it. He and our other stars, Cotch, Edwards and others, has not had a good night and has turned the ball over a lot.
The crowd is 65,214, which might be considered all right but for a club with 100,000 members, playing at home on a fine night against the top team, is a bit shite. But as I keep saying, why would you come if you thought we were going to lose? The RFC simply has to give their supporters some voice.
Castagna marks and goals and it’s 67 points and then the siren goes at the 25th minute of a mercifully short quarter. After quarter time Geelong have kicked 16 goals to three. That’s not very good by us.
On the way out I see Geoff Hogg who was the Coming Home Tiger in the pre-match. But I don’t have the heart to say hello and thanks for the memories. Too many of the Hogg-era memories were like tonight.
Geelong were very good, very efficient and made us play very badly. It’s a real worry how much we keep getting thrashed by. I’m nostalgic for those heart-breaking one-point losses we once specialised in.
Houli was our best player. I thought Grimes and Vlaustin were all right but it was hard to pick any others. Naish had a good first game and I hope his second is a boilover win in Adelaide tomorrow night.
As for the booing of One-Week Gary, I’m not into booing at all,
really. It’s always struck me as the lowest form of crowd participation and if everyone who booed actually sang and chanted and roared instead our game would have more atmosphere. But it seems to me that the boo-ers – didn’t we fight two wars against them? – are the least likely to sing or chant or do anything positive.
That said, as Chris Scott pointed out, the booing of Ablett is not remotely like the booing of Adam Goodes. Not remotely. The booing of Goodes was a disgrace.
Now on to Adelaide and happier things.
Houli 5, Grimes 4, Vlastuin 3, Naish 2, Prestia 1
Lynch, Stack 12
Cotchin, Nankervis 5
Broad, Lambert 3
Ross, Naish 2
Rioli, Castagna, Balta 1
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, 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
Castagna, McIntosh 37