This is not the time to run into Sydney. They were putrid during the early part of the season when they suffered injuries to key players and too many of their better players were below their best. Nonetheless, they have been slowly putting the band back together in recent games, important cogs such as Rampe, Jack, Rohan, Naismith and Heeney have been back for a while now and are running into form. Timing is everything.
The Tigers had a good win last up and media channels have been talking them up all week, setting them up to knock them down in that way they always do. Lose this one and the trolls will be out in force. Who cares? Richmond fans put up with more than their fair share of singularly-stupid trolls, stepping out from under their bridges at opportune times to make their sad little jokes. We are resilient.
It is a family day for us. My son is down from Sydney for the game, making it a somewhat special day. We have managed to secure seats on the Balcony again, some of us even have Long Room passes, necessitating the wearing of ties. My personal rule for this outdated piece of medieval attire is “only for weddings and funerals” but I will need to modify this rule to accommodate the Long Room from now on. A small price, I suppose. I consider wearing my Fred Flintstone number but finally settle on a demure Yellow and Black custard catcher.
We settle into our seats just in time for the game. My nerves are jangling, the hair on the back of my neck is standing on end. This is what I like about football, the expectation, the uncertainty, the emotional commitment, the connection with our tribal past.
The Tigers are on early. Quick goals, players swarming up and down the field and rapid-fire ball movement are the order of the day. I have been waiting for a breakout game from young Shai Bolton, he strikes me as someone who is born to play footy. It comes quickly, with the young man kicking two classy running goals in the first quarter. The lead at quarter time is comfortable. Well, comfortable for most teams anyway. Can they maintain this kamikaze pace?
Our defence is tight. Rance and Astbury lead a well-drilled group and we rebound strongly. Things start to look up when Franklin loses his equilibrium and starts sniping. When he runs hip-and-shoulder first into Tiger youngster Connor Menadue’s lowered head, an old-fashioned melee erupts. I become vocal, screaming at the umpire to report Buddy. Then I remember that Sydney play Essendon next week, so I respectfully retract that request.
Sam Reid kicks a goal just on the half-time siren to bring Sydney back within thirty points, a familiar and worrying development. Hearts sink, heads are lowered. We know what this means. The half-time break requires alcohol.
The second half follows the script. Richmond hold on manfully but struggle to score and the lead slowly erodes. This a bad team to try to hang on grimly against, Sydney are famous for their fighting wins and Richmond are well-known for their flakiness and inability to convert. I find myself wishing I was a neutral at this game because the football is high quality and good entertainment and I would like to enjoy it. Instead, that uneasy feeling grows.
Rance, as usual, is breathtakingly powerful in defence, repelling promising forays forward like he is swatting away flies. Some people like reading books, others like watching a good movie, Alex Rance likes taking on three forwards single-handedly and making them look silly.
His heroics are not enough and the Swans finally salute, Josh Kennedy leading them superbly in the final quarter and getting the job done. The win is well-deserved but Richmond would have been worthy winners too. This is a pattern that I see far too often. Close, but no cigar.
Richmond have played eight disputed games this year, won four and lost four. Much will be written about how they panic at the death but their problem is always what occurs earlier in the game. Typically, they fail to convert periods of dominance into an unassailable lead and pay the price when the piper stops playing. They are the footballing equivalent of the spendthrift who can’t handle a credit card and finds himself trying to cope with an unmanageable debt.
The Tigers turn their thoughts to next week. That seems to be the kind of season it is, one step forward and another back.
** Image courtesy of Joe's son, Alexander de Petro
Joe De Petro is a Financial Planner and life-long Tiger tragic who has raised his three adult children as diehard Tiger fans. In some circles, the last of these things is considered an act of cruelty.
RICHMOND 5.3 7.6 9.7 10.11 (71)
SYDNEY 0.4 3.5 7.6 12.8 (80)
Richmond: Riewoldt 2, Martin 2, Bolton 2, Cotchin, Castagna, Edwards, Lloyd
Sydney: Reid 2, Franklin, Hewett, Lloyd, Heeney, Parker, Hayward, Papley, Kennedy, K.Jack, Rohan
Richmond: Rance, Houli, Cotchin, B.Ellis, Astbury, Martin
Sydney: Lloyd, Newman, Heeney, Kennedy, Jones, Mills, Hannebery
Richmond: Grimes (lower leg)
Reports: Franklin (Sydney) for rough conduct on Menadue (Richmond) in the second quarter.
Umpires: O'Gorman, Nicholls, Williamson
Official crowd: 58,721 at the MCG