RICHMOND 4.3 5.7 11.11 15.13 (103)
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 3.3 5.6 6.10 9.13 (67)
Goals: Richmond: D Rioli 4 D Martin 3 D Butler 2 J Caddy J Castagna J Riewoldt J Townsend K Lambert S Edwards. Greater Western Sydney: H Himmelberg 4 C Ward 3 J Kelly J Patton
BEST: Richmond: Rioli, Cotchin, Martin, Rance, Lambert, Nankervis. GWS: Ward, Davis, Scully, Kelly, Patton, Himmelberg
Umpires: Shaun Ryan, Simon Meredith, Mathew Nicholls
Official Crowd: 94,258 at MCG
The fairy tale lives on. Richmond’s preliminary final victory has set up a premiership decider between the two teams who came into this season with the longest AFL grand final droughts. The Tigers will return to the game’s biggest stage for the first time since 1982, and will meet an Adelaide team that last played off in 1998.
Thirty five years ago it was a young Maurice Rioli, wearing the famous No.17 jumper, who lit up the MCG, winning the Norm Smith Medal as best afield in a losing grand final. Fittingly the catalyst for Richmond’s win on this evening was his great nephew, Daniel, who produced several moments of individual brilliance to, at first, keep the Tigers in the contest during the first half, and secondly spark a Tigers charge that split open the game in the third quarter.
In the first quarter Rioli kicked a goal against the flow to level the scores, in the second he kicked truly on the run from 50 metres to get the Tigers back to within one point, and in the third quarter he snapped two opportunist goals to bring the crowd of 94,258 to life.
Rioli finished the match with four goals, but his forward pressure was equally impressive and included six tackles. Some of his deft taps to advantage were reminiscent of another Rioli who has played in four premierships in recent years
The third quarter was the defining stretch of this final and there were several moments that told the tale of the two teams. Apart from Rioli, Richmond got two goals out of Dustin Martin when coach Damien Hardwick pushed him deep to the goal square, one-out against Heath Shaw. Martin sealed the result with a trademark baulk and banana kick one minute into the final quarter.
At the other end of the MCG the Giants blazed away into their forward line in the third quarter, where key forward Jonathon Patton was outnumbered in aerial contests and had no support at ground level. It meant any opportunities for the quarter were as precious as gold. Two of them fell to Steve Johnson, who squandered them in morale-sapping fashion. Firstly, Johnson declined a set shot from 45 metres and instead handballed to Nathan Wilson, who blasted wide under pressure. A minute later Johnson won a free kick on the 50-metre line near the boundary. He opted for a smart-alec look-away hook kick that landed straight in the arms of Shaun Grigg and took the wind out of the Giants’ sails.
Richmond were brilliantly led by senior players Trent Cotchin and Alex Rance. The skipper was the dominant midfielder on the ground, but will have an anxious wait to see how the match review panel assesses a high bump on Dylan Shiell in the first quarter. Shiell played out the opening quarter but missed the rest of the match with concussion.
Rance led a backline that looked slightly shaky early but became dominant as the match wore on. He backed himself at every opportunity and was prepared to play on and move the ball quickly after grabbing intercept marks.
The match began with Richmond exploding out of the blocks. Cotchin won a free kick at the opening bounce and kicked long to a pack split by Jack Riewoldt. Martin did not break stride as he exquisitely crumbed the spilled Sherrin and his handball to Kane Lambert in the goalsquare had the Tigers a goal up after just 21 seconds. Martin again was integral as Richmond had another two shots to be 13 points up within four minutes. But the Giants bounced back to take command in the next 20 minutes of the opening term, sweeping forward in waves to set up goals to Harrison Himmelberg (two) and Callan Ward.
The second quarter was an arm wrestle, with the Giants dominating possession but failing to press home their ascendency on the scoreboard.
By half-time the Giants had 48more disposals, but Richmond kept themselves in the match with their tackling – particularly in the forward 50 – and some flashes on individual brilliance.
But Richmond blew the game open in the third quarter. It was at half-time of the 1975 prelim that Richmond premiership coach Tom Hafey told his charges that time had come to “fight like hell”. “There’s nothin’ more Tigerish than a bloody Tiger, a wounded Tiger,” he roared.
And so it proved with the class of 2017. They booted six goals to one in the 33 minutes after half-time and with each one the crows became louder. Both fed of each other and stoked each other’s belief.
Several Richmond players who had struggled to have an impact began to have an influence as the Tigers gained momentum nearing the finish line.
The Giants had few players who contributed for the entire match. Ward battled away in typical hard-nosed fashion, while Phil Davis was solid in the key defensive post.
But all of the attention should and will go to Richmond. The fairytale lives on. The media hype will go into overdrive. The supporters will be even more frenzied, and postcode 3121 will be swinging for at least another week.