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RoCo’s Wrap: Two great grand final stories, two great teams

We’ve got the power: Dustin Martin and the long-suffering Richmond faithful celebrate a first grand final appearance in 35 years. Photo: AFL MEDIA

RoCo’s Wrap: Two great grand final stories, two great teams

Rohan Connolly    

Whatever happens in Saturday’s grand final, we should at least rest assured that we’ve seen the two best teams of 2017 fight it out for what would be an amazing premiership in either case.

Adelaide has been the pacesetter for the entire season, getting off to a great start with six straight wins, surviving a minor mid-season wobble, and finishing strongly.

The Crows sat on top of the AFL ladder after 18 of 23 home and away rounds. They were clearly the highest-scoring team, the only one of 18 sides to average more than 100 points per game (109.7) and nearly two goals per game more than the next best. They also ranked fourth defensively.

Richmond finished the regular season third, but only half-a-game behind the top two teams. The Tigers were badly beaten just twice, the aggregate of their other five losses during the season only 33 points, or an average 6.6 points.

They ranked only eighth offensively, but were third for defence, conceding just 76.5 points per game. They generated more inside 50 entries than all bar two teams, and out-tackled most of their opponents, ranked fourth on the differentials.

Of the finalists, only Geelong could argue a case for equal status, and the Tigers, after losing narrowly to the Cats on their own patch, smacked them down when it mattered most in a qualifying final.

They have, right now, in Dustin Martin, the biggest star in the game, one expected to stroll to a Brownlow Medal win on Monday evening. And, as Saturday’s preliminary final win over GWS demonstrated, they have an emotional tidal wave behind them, worth perhaps a few goals.

Richmond and Adelaide will both have a great premiership story to tell on Saturday evening in the advent of victory.

We all know those numbers about the Tigers, 37 years since their last premiership, 35 since their last grand final appearance, the last of 16 clubs prior to the admission of Gold Coast and GWS to make it to a premiership playoff.

But Adelaide, too, has waited a long time, nearly two decades. The Crows in recent years have lost a steady stream of stars to rival clubs, the likes of Jack Gunston, Nathan Bock, Phil Davis, Kurt Tippett and then the biggest of the lot, Patrick Dangerfield.

Of course, they’ve also survived real tragedy, the death of assistant coach Dean Bailey, then the almost unfathomable killing of senior coach Phil Walsh only a bit over two years ago. The Crows are a remarkably resilient club, and after four preliminary final defeats, finally get another chance at the biggest prize.

What will be the keys to the result? Not the crowd so much this week, Adelaide with plenty of support and Richmond not as much as at the “people’s grand final” against the Giants. The ground? It’s a plus for the Tigers all right, now with 11 wins from 13 at the MCG this year.

It’s hardly a graveyard for the Crows, though. Adelaide has won two and drawn the other of its three MCG appearances this season, and has lost only two out of 10 games there since mid-2014.

For Richmond, victory will be about one word. Pressure. The Tigers applied it brilliantly to the Giants, and will need all that and then some to go one better in the grand final.

Adelaide’s ball movement is the best in the competition, and cut Geelong to ribbons last Friday night. It did similarly to Richmond back in round six when the Tigers, after fighting fire with fire in a first term which produced 11 goals, were put to the sword thereafter as the Crows piled on another 16, their 140 points the most Richmond conceded all season.

What the Tigers brought to the table against GWS on Saturday was on another level altogether. The Giants had 60 more disposals, won more clearances and contested possession and enjoyed more forward entries, but were never allowed room to breathe, let alone exploit an acknowledged edge in skill.

Richmond’s army of smaller players have become a dual weapon, their speed combined with defensive work ethic keeping opponents on their toes, then proving lethal when in possession.

No one sets a better example in that regard than skipper Trent Cotchin, whose loss via the MRP would be shattering blow for the Tigers and arguably one of the costliest penalties the game has seen.

Not only was the captain Richmond’s biggest ball-winner against the Giants, he won more clearances and laid more tackles than any teammate, and 17 of those 26 possessions were contested. You wouldn’t call the grand final result were Cotchin rubbed out, but it’s indisputable it would make the Tigers’ task much, much more difficult.

Adelaide’s explosive start to its preliminary final win is the sort of football that would go a long way towards the Crows’ third AFL premiership.

The Crows more than hold their own in the tough stuff, ranked high for contested ball and clearances. And given the slightest room to execute their precision with the ball, as against the Cats, they’re lethal.

Potential match winners are everywhere. Rory Sloane. The Crouch brothers. Rory Laird off half-back. A dominant ruckman in Sam Jacobs. And superb, mobile tall linkman in Tom Lynch. And a forward line chock full of goalkickers, Taylor Walker, Josh Jenkins, Eddie Betts and Charlie Cameron.

If Adelaide gets the space it desires, it will win. To prevent that, Richmond needs the game played on its terms, not necessarily a scrap, but a battle in which every possession is hard-won, turnovers forced then capitalised upon.

Both of these sides do that brilliantly. Both are high on confidence and momentum. Both have huge bandwagons of goodwill behind them. But this grand final won’t just be about two teams on a roll. It’s about two teams who no one can dispute have well and truly earned the right to be there.

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