Until those glorious weeks of September 2017, all my generation had ever known was pain. Born in the 1980s, our first memories are generally of the bankrupt club languishing on the bottom of the ladder. We’d go through alternating cycles of mediocrity and irrelevance, with only Richo to brighten our spirits every week. Finals seemed to be the domain of other more competent clubs. But it did not stop me from imagining, from dreaming, from hoping, that one day, the premiers might well be Richmond.
Then it happened, so suddenly, so beautifully. Everything I’d ever dreamed of arrived from nowhere. It took me almost a day to hit me, sitting on the wing of Punt Road Oval, watching the replay, with tears streaming down my cheeks. We’d done it and Richmond were premiers!
As I reflected on the journey of a lifetime, supporting this wonderful club, suddenly a fear struck me. Now that we had reached the promised land, would any of this feel the same again?
Fast forward eighteen months, and a season that had started with plenty of promise had seemingly collapsed in the blink of an eye through a combination of injury, poor form and suspension. Port’s midfield is actually pretty stacked, I begin to prepare myself for a ten goal plus loss. Wines, Powell-Pepper, Rockliff, Boak. With Ryder and Lycett going in tandem against Nank all afternoon, feeding them. This is going to get messy. Or so I thought.
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I love that we asked Sheds to captain. It’s been such a joy to watch him grow as a person, as a leader, ever since he arrived at Punt Road all those years ago. It took him 13 games before he played in a winning side, and an eye watering 205 before playing in a winning final. Now he’s a premiership player, an All-Australian and forever will now be a captain of the Richmond Football Club.
He wins the toss. Reassuringly for me, watching far away on television, he kicks to the opposite end of the ground to what Cotch did all those years ago. It’s a good omen, I say to myself, trying to reassure myself, even if I have no idea what way the wind might be blowing.
We bravely throw eighteen-year-old debutant Jack Ross into the centre square for the first bounce of the game. We’re rewarded when he wins the first clearance, leading to a mark to Lynch inside 50. He misses, but we look up for this most difficult of challenges. Frustratingly though, Port goal through Brad Ebert on their first foray forward.
The remainder of the first quarter plays out as I expect. Port are on top, although their lead is a modest 8 points. Our effort was commendable, but Port were able to control the ball for most of the quarter and caught us on the counter a couple of times. The highlight of the quarter is unquestionably Noah Balta’s intercept and run through the middle of the ground setting up Josh Caddy’s second goal.
In the second quarter, we look the Tigers of Old – that is the Tigers of late 2017. Our pressure across the ground is fantastic, and we move the ball quickly and aren’t afraid to smash the ball forward. It feels like a glimpse into our future as well, as Jack Ross dominates the quarter, and has 15 touches to half time. Bolton shows all of his considerable talent. My favourite moment is Ross winning a tough clearance, dishing the ball out Balta, whose 70-metre kick ends up with Bolton in the pocket, who snapped the goal. I certainly hope the three of them play plenty of footy together, we’re all in for a lot of fun over the next few years if that is the case.
The siren rings out to signal half time. I’m proud, every bit as proud as I was during September 2017. We may be behind but the effort has been phenomenal. It had been an impressive half from a young team. I tweet out two words “I believe.” I do. But deep down, I think about all those young Tiger legs out there. Surely, eventually, they will start to fade.
Port make the initial running in the 3rd quarter, but both Ryder and Ebert miss opportunities to make us pay. Ryder does however nail a shot from outside 50 to extend the margin somewhat. But then, the momentum swings, suddenly and decisively. Thanks to some good work in tight by Higgins and Stack, Rioli is able kick long to Lynch alone inside 50. Lynch runs into an open goal, and is foolishly pushed after he had kicked – a double goal and from nowhere we are in front.
Sydney Stack is next to bob up, getting a skilful crumb and the ball out to Baker, who snapped truly. Just one minute later we’re on the board again through Lynch, snapping a goal after a Higgins shot fell short. Our midfield is suddenly on top and our forward is functioning beautifully.
I can scarcely believe it. We’re dominating the play. We’re 15 points up. I begin to truly believe.
Then it happens.
Kamdyn McIntosh had been good. Under no pressure at half back, he decides to uncharacteristically pass it backwards inside defensive 50. The kick falls short and puts Broad under tremendous pressure, eventually bouncing between his legs. Sam Gray swoops on it and kicks an easily yet undeserved goal. It feels like a significant moment.
Poor Kamdyn. Within 60 seconds, he would again be under pressure, punching a ball out of bounds. He was pinged for delibrate. Another goal ensures. In a blink of an eye, all the work is undone; momentum is back with the Power. I expect them to overrun us now.
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Toby would step up. It’s amazing to think he has only played 51 games in the yellow and black and 63 overall. He already feels to me to be one of the leaders of the club. We need a goal. After a free from a ruck infringement, he goes back. I back him in and he delivers. We have a chance.
Port pull one back just before three quarter time. I still fear for our Tiger cubs’ young legs. But I’m bursting with pride as the players run to the huddle.
Rioli opened the scoring in the final quarter, following a sensational kick from Menadue. But his gettable set shot missed. A small buffer would be built up after Lynch drew a 50 on the wing and converted his shot from just inside the 50.
Momentum would soon swing again. Balta tackled Drew hard close to the Port goal and was most unfortunate that the ball slipped out just a little to early, and Port were back within a kick. Stack, who’d backed up his sensational debut well, kicked out on the full without any pressure allowing Port a forward 50 entry which they were able to turn into a Wines goal. Port were back in front. It appeared that our brave fight was about to come to an end.
Digging deep, we’re able to snatch the lead back. Some slick hands from Bolton released Lambert who kicks long to Caddy and Lynch. Caddy brought it to ground, Lynch held it up long enough for Caddy to go for a long range soccer effort, it bounced, and bounced and bounced through for a goal! Eight minutes to go and we are ahead.
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Grimes, who had played a quarter for the ages, finally made an error. After yet another spectacular intercept mark, his clearing kick could only find Dan Houston still inside our defensive fifty. Under considerable pressure, he put Port back in front. It’s now going to hurt more, I think to myself, that we got this close.
Almost immediately, hope is restored. We win the clearance; Lynch created the contest and brought the ball to ground. Castagna’s handball finds McIntosh. He’s on the wrong foot. It doesn’t matter. The snap is ugly yet perfect and bounces through the middle. Oh boy, redemption is sweet! Tiges back in front!
There are four minutes to be played out. Agonisingly, the majority of time would be played out in Port’s forward fifty. Fourth gamer Xavier Duursma, who has the chance to break Port out of jail. No doubt with heavy legs, he shoots from not far out, but on an angle. The kick only scrapes through for a behind. We dodge a bullet.
Our lead is just a single point. There is no margin for error. Sheds takes it upon himself to take the kick out. With Vlastuin’s assistance, we get the ball outside 50. But it comes it comes back in once more. Grimes marks. Again. In the last quarter, when the clearances and the inside 50s started to go against us, it was Grimes who held the dam wall up. It had been effort every bit as good as Rance’s against the Swans in 2014. One hundred seconds was all now that separated us from an equally unlikely triumph. I start to count them off in my head.
Jack Ross’s debut had been as impressive as any I’ve seen. He still had a couple of decisive interventions to play. He won the contested ball on half back. His handpass finds Caddy, who belts the ball forward, finding Baker out the back. Lynch had run hard, and was able to mark inside 50. The shot was no certainty, and in fact, all but a mirror image of his shot in the first minute of the game. But Tiger fans across the country would soon rise as one as our new champion slotted his sixth. We were almost home.
40 seconds to go. We just needed to win a clearance and get a clean possession.
Prestia won the clearance, but puts the ball out of bounds. “Deliberate” cries the crowd. The umpire agrees. 32 seconds. Port kick long down the line. Jack Ross brings down a contested mark. We’ll win it now. I’m hit with a wave of adrenaline. We’ve gone to Adelaide, against a pretty good team, without our four best players and without our two best half backs and we’ve done it! After the start to the season we’ve had, it’s bloody sweet. Certainly one of the greatest home and away wins of the Hardwick era.
The siren sounds and a couple of tears roll down my cheeks. It had meant a lot. I’d missed this feeling, of winning against the odds. My heart is full of pride and love. Most importantly, I realise my worries were unfounded. I realise that all those feeling for the club that I love are still there, and will be with me as long as I live.
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5- Dylan Grimes – Was a colossus in defence, holding Grey and Westhoff and playing the Rance role taking plenty of intercept marks. One for the ages.
4- Shane Edwards – Took to the captaincy like a duck to water, continuing his excellent form. Was simply brilliant off half back.
3- Tom Lynch – Six goals. Worked hard. Kicked straight. Took his opportunities. Got us over the line with five goals in the 2nd half.
2- Jack Ross – Twenty-five possessions, winning the ball on the inside and using it well on outside. Another gem we’ve discovered.
1- Toby Nankervis – I could have given this final vote to about 12 different players, but I chose Nank for his lionhearted effort against two quality rucks.
Grimes, Lynch 12
Cotchin, Broad, Stack 3
Lambert, Martin, Ross, Nankervis 2
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)
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
Jack Graham 21
Dion Prestia 19
Toby Nankervis 16
Kamdyn McIntosh 15
Kane Lambert 11