Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Football Round 2 Richmond V Carlton

I put a few things that are important to me here, so football was probably always going to find it's way here. This isn't a standard game review and I doubt I'll talk about every game in the season. I already missed the opening round, but that's got a lot to do with it's very odd scheduling and the fact that the entire thing (split over 2 weeks) seemed be more of an extension of the pre season competition rather than the opening round of the home and away season.

Before getting into the post and the game itself I need to explain a few things. Firstly when I say football I don't mean the round ball code (that's usually called soccer down here), and I don't mean either code of rugby, either union or league. In Victoria when we say football, or footy, we mean Australian Rules Football. The game has been going for well over 100 years and regularly draws crowds in excess of 70,000 to big matches. Last year's elimination final between Richmond (my team) and Carlton had over 95,000 people in attendance, and I was one of them.

The origins of the game are lost in the mists of time. Some say it's a hybrid of soccer, rugby and gaelic football. Others believe that the man credited with being the founder of the game: Tom Wills, adapted a game of keepings off that he saw the local indigenous people playing with a possum skin, they called it marngrook. I think it may have incorporated elements of all of these sports.

Victoria was the most populous state that played the game (NSW, especially the Sydney area never really took to the game and preferred rugby, still do really) and became the headquarters. The first governing body was known as the VFA (Victorian Football Association), some of it's more powerful clubs broke away and formed the VFL (Victorian Football League). The VFL became a bigger deal than the VFA and the VFA became a secondary competition. Somewhere that people who weren't ready for the VFL honed their skills, and a place that guys who didn't cut it anymore at VFL level played their days out. In recent years it's changed it's name to the VFL and is a feeder competition for the AFL.

The AFL (Australian Football League) grew out of the former VFL when the decision was made to make the game national rather than have their separate state leagues. This happened when founding member South Melbourne moved to Sydney and the West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Bears were introduced into the competition. Since then 5 more clubs have come into the competition (Adelaide Crows, Fremantle Dockers, Port Adelaide Power, Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney Giants) and one of the VFL's founding members: Fitzroy, ceased to exist and gave their lion emblem, colours, theme tune and a few players to the struggling Brisbane Bears, turning them into the Brisbane Lions.

Now onto Richmond and Carlton.

I'm a Richmond supporter. There are many reasons why someone follows a particular club. In my case I was born into it. Both parents followed the Tigers and I was unlikely to ever follow anyone else.

One of the Richmond Tigers greatest rivals are the Carlton Blues. Carlton were a founding member of the VFL. Richmond didn't enter the competition until 1908 with the now defunct University. Carlton, Collingwood Magpies and Essendon Bombers became great rivals of Richmond and the drawing power of the 4, especially during the late 60's, 70's and early 80's, saw them referred to as the Big 4.

The Tigers have always hated the Magpies, but Collingwood are like that, you either barrack for them or you hate them. I once tried to support the Pies in a Grand Final when they played Brisbane once. I lasted for about a quarter before I really wanted them to lose the game. It's just hard coded into me.

I think the Carlton thing (we really do hate them. They're often referred to as the Scum or the Blue Filth by supporters) started in 1967 when their ruck man John Nicholls took a dive in a final and claimed that Richmond ruck man and captain Neville Crowe hit him. They didn't have video technology back then. If they had they would have seen that Crowe did attempt to hit Nicholls, but didn't connect and the Carlton big man gave a performance deserving of an Academy award. Years later he admitted this. Poor old Neville Crowe was suspended, missed the Grand Final (which Richmond won) and retired at the end of that season.

The rivalry flared again in 1969, when Richmond beat Carlton to claim their second Premiership in 3 years and 7th overall. In 1972 the Blues took out the big game, with Richmond kicking what was then a record losing score. The rematch in 1973 was a vicious affair. Richmond's Laurie Fowler took out John Nicholls early in the game (it's never been worked out if this was a deliberate tactic or just an accident that happened to work out in Richmond's favour). Tigers ruck man Neil Balme launched an extraordinary attack on Carlton defender Geoff Southby. Players who played in the game still speak about the bad blood between the two sides. They didn't meet in a Grand Final again until 1982, which Carlton won, and the game tends to be more memorable for an appearance by a female streaker than anything that actually happened in play. However the stage had been set and Richmond and Carlton would forever be bitter enemies every time they stepped onto the field of play.

This was probably high in the minds of the AFL in 2007 when they scheduled the two teams to meet in the opening round and decided to make it a regular thing. That year the opening round was the Easter round and because they don't play on Good Friday the opening game of the round is played on the Thursday night. It drew a good crowd, so they always had it on a Thursday night regardless of whether or not there was a public holiday the following day.

They always seemed to have something to promote the game. Chris Judd's first game for Carlton in 2008, Ben Cousin's first game for Richmond in 2009, Damian Hardwick's first game as Richmond coach in 2010. Mick Malthouse's first game as Carlton coach in 2013.

Carlton have a huge advantage in terms of games won. They seem to have a strange hold on Richmond. It's not just the opening round, either. Up until last Thursday Carlton had won 11 out of the past 12 games against the Tigers.

Richmond played Carlton 3 times in 2013. They won the opening round clash narrowly, after leading comfortably, then freezing like a deer in the headlights, really only being saved by a last minute tackle from Richmond defender turned forward Luke McGuane. They blew what could have been match winning leads in a late season match up, and again most painfully in the elimination final.

This game was meant to be redemption for that final. Neither side had started the season well. Carlton came out of the blocks firing against Port Adelaide in the first round, but faded badly and went down by 33 points. The Tigers went north to play Gold Coast, were disappointing and lost by 3 goals. They were never out of it and if Dustin Martin had been paid a free late in the final quarter and reduced the margin to 6 points with not a lot of time on the clock, who knows what may have happened.

As usual Richmond V Carlton was hyped up. I'm still not sure why it was held on a Thursday night. The sense of that particular decision eludes me, but then again I don't understand the rationale behind the uninspiring opening round match ups at all. Fortunately disappointing crowds for that will probably ensure that the AFL don't do it again.

As they had in the past 3 engagements the Tigers came out ready to hammer the Blues. To help with this particular endeavour Carlton were awful early. They were 23 points down at the end of the first quarter and 31 in arrears at half time.

We all knew it was going to come. Richmond supporters have been conditioned by years of failure to hardly ever relax during a game. It's said we're the only people who can still get nervous when their team is leading by 10 goals at half time. It's even more true with Carlton in recent times.

They always seem to find a way to come back against us. They were without Chris Judd, the architect of the elimination final come back. Another of the Tigers villains was Brock McClean and he was a shadow of what he had been in 2013 and 2012 and was benched by three quarter time. Richmond young gun Brandon Ellis had held Blues playmaker Bryce Gibbs. Robbie Warnock was having his colours lowered by his old team mate, Richmond's off season signing Shaun Hampson (best known at this stage for being the partner of super model Megan Gale). The Blues had been awful, coach Mick Malthouse was throwing things at the window in the coaches box in a vitriolic rage. Yet we knew that they weren't done.

It started in the third quarter. Richmond kicked badly and the Blues were more accurate, generally goaling through one of Chris Yarran, Jeff Garlett or Jarrad Waite. They'd cut the margin and looked full of running.

We always thought it was going to be a tense final quarter and so it proved. Carlton now had belief. They're a confidence side, always have been, give them a sniff and they'll roll right over you. The Tigers were once again rattled, they got tight and they got ultra defensive. Rather than try to extend their lead or answer Carlton's forward thrusts they tried to protect what they had. I'm not at all sure why teams do this. It's a dangerous tactic and rarely ever bears fruit. It's not just footy either. I've seen cricket teams lose when trying to protect a lead rather than go for it and do what got them on top in the first place.

There's been a lot said about the Tigers fade out and people have attributed it to a lack of fitness. I don't actually believe that. Mental weakness and old demons come back to haunt them, yes, but not fitness. I can't believe that after shooting out to a lead against Port Adelaide and then losing in the second half the Blues brains trust said let's let the Tigers in early and then run over the top of them.

I haven't had many tenser final quarters. Thank God the Blues can't kick straight. They kept cutting the lead and their umpteenth miss had them level the scores with a few minutes left. I'd almost left the ground on a few occasions and I kept telling myself if they got ahead I was gone, because we wouldn't come back from it.

Then it happened. Ben Griffiths stood up and took a huge mark in defence, this was after hobbling by a tackle which never should have been laid in the first place. Then he unloaded one of his trademark big kicks up the line. We eventually scrambled that up forward. After a comedy of errors which included Shane Edwards taking a fresh air kick and falling over, Carlton tried to clear the ball, it fell into the hands of Ty Vickery and TV kicked a goal. Richmond hit the lead again!

I don't know how much time was left. Probably enough for Carlton to level, but maybe not to win. Enter Dustin Martin. The ball went towards Richmond goal. The mercurial Dusty fought off Carlton defender Zac Tuohy using his superior strength, surged towards the ball and the goals and kicked a major! 12 points up. 3 seconds on the clock.

Dodged a bullet. Lose this one to Carlton and we're rubbish and the successes of 2013 are just a distant memory. A lot of people say that we were lucky. I don't believe in luck when it comes to football. Yes, Carlton missed a lot of gettable shots, but bad kicking is bad football. If Richmond had kicked more of their own goals the game would have been over earlier. The final score was 14.12 to the Tigers and 12.12 to Carlton. Same number of behinds. It's also Carlton. They have some weird hold over us. Besides any win against them is good. As the bloke who sits in front of me said when we high fived at the end of the game: "We beat those Blue bastards!'

That little statement pretty neatly sums up the relationship between the two sides.

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