Richmond was never going to do a final easily. The game was as tortured as Richmond’s path to it.
Well for three quarters it was. In the last quarter, in a manner befitting the fretful apprehension they (or rather their fans) carried into another finals appearance, once the realisation dawned that they were home the relief was like an outpouring. It verily rained goals. They kicked six goals for three quarters and seven in the last.
The Tigers are in a preliminary final. The last time they were in a prelim final, Danny Frawley was coach.
Richmond had lost the past 13 times to Geelong. They had not beaten them at the MCG this millennium. The last time they won, in 1999, the CEO was the centre half-forward.
Yet this felt different from the outset. Never before had the MCG sounded so hostile to a “home” team as when Geelong ran out to the ground. Of the 95,028 there, it sounded as though 90,000 were Richmond.
This was a game in which it seemed the logic was with Geelong winning, sentiment was with Richmond. The romantic was a Tiger.
Richmond fought and scrounged and worked harder than Geelong. They hunted and gathered and bullied and bustled but for most of the match could never get clear. Geelong was left teasingly in reach on the scoreboard.
It took until the last quarter for Richmond to find the margin befitting their superiority in the contest. It was Dustin Martin who helped them fend Geelong off – he does that – and to show his side how to score. It took Trent Cotchin’s attritional battle with Geelong’s star pair to finally prevail. In the end it became a romp. Geelong was wounded and beaten, Cam Guthrie and Mark Blicavs were injured other reputations were wounded.
In the first 10 minutes of the last quarter, when there was still a sense despite Richmond’s largely superior play that Geelong could still get into the game, Martin truly outmuscled them.
There was a moment early in that last quarter when, head-to-head, Cotchin beat Joel Selwood in a contest in the middle and ferreted the ball out. It went wide to a flank and Martin fended off pursuers. He ran wider, right to the boundary, and kicked across his body from 60 metres. He had seen Shaun Grigg heading to the goal square and sent the ball to meet him. Few players would hit that kick.
Richmond should have been six goals up at half-time but weren’t. Geelong was two minutes from completing a half of football without kicking a goal. They’d hit the post twice but they weren’t unlucky in front of goal.
Then, with only two minutes to go, they kicked one goal almost by surprise, then with only a minute left in the half and the ball in Richmond’s forward line Cam Guthrie kicked a torpedo. It was a kick for hope and territory not artful design. Richmond gathered but in clearing the defence, they found Joel Selwood.
Selwood had spent the half posing the question of whether he was fit enough to be out there or unfit enough not to be out there. He had had few touches yet here he was marking a ball and quickly handballing to Dangerfield who had also been quiet but now kicked a goal.
Dangerfield had been head to head with Cotchin when he was on the ball and the Richmond captain was best on ground in the first term and good in the second.
In the absence of an ability to kick a goal, and with Harry Taylor on Alex Rance lacking its surprise impact this time, Selwood and Dangerfield had both been tried at full-forward.
At half-time, Richmond had an unsatisfying nine-point lead. They were partly culpable for this, for in greasy, high-pressure conditions they hacked the ball forward. When they did it went to contests where Lachie Henderson and Tom Lonergan were able to intercept and out-number Jack Riewoldt, rather than to space where small forwards could hunt it.
Later, they found space. Later, Martin found the ball and he made the space and made his team better.