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Janet Linn reporting for AFANA from the MCG, Melbourne

When the legion of Richmond fans who packed the MCG for the first Elimination Final on Sunday saw the North Melbourne fan club banner – one side of which read “Tigers Don’t Win Finals” - they let out a ringing chorus of “boos”.
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They then no doubt dismissed the thought that Richmond could possibly be defeated in its third Elimination Final in a row and sat back in their seats ready for glory, so much better prepared were the Tigers this year, having finished fifth on the Ladder, only one game short of the Top Four. With one of the League’s top defenses and a skillful midfield brigade, Richmond was confident of being able to match a North Melbourne team which had been up and down all season and was definitely the underdog according to the majority of football experts. However, the game did not turn out as expected and it was a defiant Kangaroos’ side which took home the win and gained their entry ticket to the Semi-Final against Sydney in Week 2 of the Finals.

In the opening half of the first quarter it was all Tigers, with early goals to Chris Newman and Brett Deledio in a composed and measured start. A hard body collision between North’s Shaun Higgins and Richmond’s Dylan Grimes, both players 100% intent on the ball, signaled the high intensity of Finals’ football. The Kangaroos lifted their rating after wasting a couple of shots on goal and finally Jarrad Waite – traded to North from Carlton in the off season expressly to strengthen their scoring depth and deliver in Finals – hit the scoreboard with a goal. Richmond started to look static and North hit quarter time only three points behind and ahead in contested possession and clearances.

Again the Tigers started the second quarter strongly with a goal from full forward Jack Riewoldt after Anthony Miles kickstarted the attack with a terrific center clearance. Ty Vickery ran into an open goal after turning Ashley Hansen inside out on the boundary line. When Miles received a free kick and goaled, Richmond was out to a 21 point lead and they looked comfortable. North kept hard at the contest and Taylor Garner took a great pack mark right in front of goal, converting well to bring the margin back to 15 points. Riewoldt replied with his second goal after a terrific inbound pass from Kamdyn McIntosh. Waite was unstoppable and kicked his second followed by more goals from big forwards Ben Brown and Drew Petrie. The Roos were surging and the Richmond defense was barely able to stem the tide. A 50 meter penalty against Robbie Tarrant gave Shane Edwards an easy shot on goal and Newman followed up with a stunning goal over the heads of the North defenders running towards goal. Just when it looked like the Tigers had done enough to stave off the running Roos, 37 year old superstar Brett “Boomer” Harvey kicked a goal. A free kick and goal to Riewoldt just before half time gave Richmond an unconvincing 13 point buffer at half time.

North Melbourne came out firing in the third quarter kicking five goals to three. The Kangaroos were playing committed contested football and attacked non-stop, putting the Tigers’ defenders under immense pressure. Even the best of defensive units was not going to be able to withstand the power of North’s determination. A brain fade by Troy Chaplin - deciding to play on around ex-Tiger Robin Nahas who was quick to tackle and catch him “holding the ball” for a free kick right in front of the North Melbourne goal – was a symptom of the rot setting in for the Tigers and the pendulum swinging firmly the Kangaroos’ way. Although Richmond continued to try hard, North dominated the forward entries and the scores kept coming. A late goal to Vickery kept Richmond in the game and the Kangaroos went into three quarter time with a slim four point lead but with all the energy and momentum.

A crowd of over 90,000 fans watched the last quarter with bated breath and hearts in mouth. The first goal went to the Tigers as Riewoldt took an outstanding mark and kicked the goal to take a two point lead. Harvey replied quickly with a superb scoop from a forward ruck contest and now it was the Kangaroos in front. Richmond had a great chance to run through the middle and create a goal but Conca’s kick missed teammate Bachar Houli, the ball rebounded and North goaled through Higgins. It was a ten point margin for the Roos. Kane Lambert kicked a long goal for the Tigers and it was back to four points. Tiger hearts broke when the umpires missed an obvious free kick meters from Richmond’s goal. North ran the ball down to their forward zone, Waite took an inspirational mark and substitute Lindsay Thomas goaled. With six minutes to go, the Kangaroos had an 11 point break. Vickery had a chance to bring the Tigers back into the game but sprayed an easy shot on goal, missing a free teammate in the goal square. It was clear that this was not going to be the fairy tale the Tiger Army had expected and match winner Waite went on to score another goal to confirm the Kangaroos’ well-deserved victory.

While the Tigers have been savagely criticized in the week following the game, they were definitely still in the game with six minutes to go. While they have lost their past three Finals, their season can hardly be branded a failure. Over the off season, the club needs to find a few more players to increase its midfield and forward depth. It also needs to go into the 2016 season with a more resilient game plan.

North Melbourne has always proved a challenging match up for Richmond and the Round 23 decision by Coach Brad Scott to rest key players ahead of the Final may well have been a definitive factor in this hard fought victory. The Kangaroos will play Sydney at ANZ Stadium this weekend and Richmond players will be wondering what may have been. Such is Finals’ football!

Richmond:        2.3 (15) 9.3 (57) 12.3  (75) 14.4   (88)
North Melbourne: 1.6 (12) 6.8 (44) 11.13 (79) 15.15 (104)

Best Players
Richmond: Miles, Rance, Riewoldt, Grimes
North Melbourne: Waite, Harvey, Jacobs, Goldstein, Ziebell, Higgins

Article last changed on Thursday, September 17, 2015 - 10:20 AM EDT

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