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Match of the Day: A grand old time for Tiger faithful

Get your grand final tickets, folks: Dustin Martin roars in triumph after hammering another nail in the GWS coffin. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Match of the Day: A grand old time for Tiger faithful

Rohan Connolly    

Richmond was already getting on top of Greater Western Sydney midway through the third quarter of the second preliminary final, but with a lead of only 13 points, any result was still possible.

Not for long, though. To withstand the tidal wave of emotion roaring the Tigers on to their first grand final appearance in 35 years, the Giants needed a moment of inspiration quickly.

Instead, they got the reverse. A couple of times over, in fact. And from the unlikeliest of sources.

Josh Kelly, who’d been by some distance GWS’s best player early on, found the ball yet again, and hit Steve Johnson, conspicuous by his lack of presence, on the chest, 45 metres out.

This was Johnson’s moment. He didn’t take it, choosing instead to dish off to a teammate, the skewiff kick tumbling out of bounds. Moments later, Stevie J had another chance with a free kick on 50. This time he centred it. Straight to a clutch of Richmond players, the ball rebounding out of the danger zone.

Johnson has been a wonderful player, and will be remembered for some terrific football in the big moments. But this symbolised a passing of the baton of sorts. Stevie J is now officially retired. There are new prospective stars in town. And they wear yellow and black.

Aidan Corr was the next Giant to pull a clanger, going inboard to a 1-3 contest, turning it over to a grateful clutch of Tigers, who flipped it around until Shane Edwards’ goal made it 20 points the difference.

There was still well over a quarter to play, but you knew this game was over. The Tigers had 95 per cent of a near 95,000-strong MCG crowd roaring them home. They had a hunger for success by now turned a ravenous appetite. And they had the Giants beaten in mind as well as body,

Edwards’ goal would be the start of a triumphant Tiger march, one which really occupied most of the second half, in which they added 10 goals to just four by GWS for an emphatic 36-point win.

It wasn’t necessarily flashy. But like all the football Richmond has played in 2017, it was incredibly effective. A finals type brand, one in which the opponent is made to sweat every time they touch the ball, the physical pressure both real and inferred.

And like a lot of opponents, the Giants didn’t cope with it that well.

GWS had its moments, particularly in the first half. Indeed, the Giants went for lengthy spells early on looking the more accomplished and skilful team. Until it came to the crunch, that meaning, until the ball got near goal.

There, they panicked, picked the wrong option, tried to be too cute, refused to play the percentages. All those things Richmond did, and has done all season. Even big-occasion nerves were kept at bay.

Starts the like of Richmond’s are generally the stuff of fantasy. The Tigers had their first goal on the board in just 23 seconds. A free kick from the first bounce, a clearance from Trent Cotchin and a Dustin Martin handball put Kane Lambert into an open goal.

Two goals in less than two minutes after a Josh Caddy mark and lovely snap from the tightest of angles. Were the Giants freezing on the biggest stage?

No, was the answer, and delivered quickly. It was they who would dominate the next 20 minutes of play, Kelly and Tom Scully the sources of their drive, but the converter of those opportunities, Harrison Himmelberg, perhaps more of a surprise.

The hard-working forward got GWS going with a gutsy mark running with the flight, collected late enough by Dylan Grimes to have earned a 50-metre penalty. That wasn’t forthcoming, but from a tight angle Himmelberg split the middle anyway.

Two minutes later, he repeated the dose, marking in front and the Giants were not only level in scoreboard terms, but well ahead in general play, doubling Richmond for possession and contested ball, their outside run looking particularly ominous.

When Callan Ward capped off a lovely chain of clean hands, GWS had hit the front. The Giants by now had had eight of the last nine inside 50s, and continued to make most of the play. Not for the first time, though, they couldn’t make it count where it mattered most, leaving the door ajar.

And also not for the first time, the Tigers were only too happy to smash through the opening.

Deep in time-on, Daniel Rioli converted a careless free kick conceded by GWS defender Nick Haynes. Then Rory Lobb dropped an easy mark for the Giants, and Martin, Caddy and Jason Castagna combined to put Richmond back in front.

The Giants’ capacity to eschew the simply in favour of the pretty at times was summed up perfectly, and in the costliest manner when, with seconds remaining, Jonathon Patton marked close to goal.

The handball to an unmarked Toby Greene was on, too, but in the time it took the ball to float into Greene’s grasp, the siren rang, and a near-certain goal was botched.

The second quarter was made of more dour stuff, but essentially, the pattern was repeated, GWS looking more dangerous, but occasionally a little too anxious, occasionally a little too hapless with the possession it enjoyed, the outcome that field advantage didn’t become scoreboard advantage.

Kelly, playing an outstanding game, brought his side back within a point early in the second term, but even he was guilty of rushing things, later on playing on from a mark just 40 metres out straight in front, and hitting the post.

Ward posted his second goal, but that was it, and again Richmond, goalless until well into time-on, struck late, Rioli with the best moment of the first half, a biting run and booming kick from right on the 50.

In as big a game as the Tigers have played in more than three decades, the still 20-year-old was all class, four goals and some huge moments with his run and dare the game-breaking difference.

Richmond owned the big moments, and the players who executed them best. On top of a now typical Cotchin game, a late burst from Martin, and tremendous defence from Alex Rance and Dylan Grimes, it was too much heat for GWS, whose display was appropriately symbolic of their entire season.

There was untimely injury, to Dylan Shiel this time, there was sporadic brilliance, but just not delivered consistently enough.

Richmond has delivered consistently in 2017. That’s why, after so long, it’s once again in a grand final. And it’s why the Tigers have a pretty good chance of winning it, too.

RICHMOND 4.3 5.7 11.11 15.13 (103)
GWS 3.3 5.6 6.10 9.13 (67)

GOALS – RICHMOND: Rioli 4, Martin 3, Butler 2, Lambert, Caddy, Castagna, Townsend, Edwards, Riewoldt. GWS: Himmelberg 4, Ward 3, Kelly, Patton.

BEST – RICHMOND: Rioli, Cotchin, Rance, Martin, Grimes, Lambert, Prestia. GWS: Ward, Kelly, Scully, Davis, Tomlinson, Himmelberg

UMPRIES: Nicholls, Meredith, Ryan

CROWD: 94,258 at the MCG

  1. Don’t forget the rub of the green

  2. This was a team with less talent but with an organized defence, a clear and simple game plan, and players committed to the cause, versus a very talented team with a coach who seems to think that’s enough to win a flag. Once again Leon Cameron botched selection (4 tall defenders in Haynes, Corr, Davis, and Tomlinson to play against Riewoldt alone?), which he had to amend by playing Tomlinson off a wing, a role which could have been filled by a winger in Devon Smith. Once again when a team stifles the Giants run from defence, there is no plan B from Cameron. The Giants just start bombing up the line in the hope of a freak contested mark. Time and again they kicked to the “decoy” forward playing on Rance, allowing Rance to spoil and chop out. Cameron Ling on 7 said part way into the 3rd that the only way for the Giants to score was to play perfect footy. If that is your game plan, then you aren’t winning flags. The Giants extended Leon Cameron’s contract mid-year, but they need to be fierce and tear that up, and get a proper AFL-standard coach in there or one of the most talented lists in AFL history will be squandered.

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