The Richmond Tigers have pulled off a stunning Grand Final victory over the Adelaide Crows at the MCG, smashing the premiership favorites by a whopping 48 points in front of a raucous crowd of 100,021. The Tigers put any controversy about wearing their yellow “clash” strip away with a stellar performance, wiping away 37 years of pain for their massive band of loyal supporters.
The theme of the game was almost a carbon copy of the previous two wins for the Tigers, with manic pressure on the opposition the formula that once again forced them to crack. With finals victories over Geelong, Greater Western Sydney and now Adelaide, the unfancied Tigers showed that a small forward line could hit the scoreboard often enough to deny a better credentialed opponent.
It is amazing to think that just a year ago, Richmond Coach Damien Hardwick was under pressure to retain his job after a horror season that saw the Tigers slump to 13th on the ladder. West Virginian born President Peggy O’Neal, the only female president in the AFL, refused to bow to public and internal pressure, signing Hardwick to a contract extension with the backing of club CEO Brendon Gale. O’Neal and Gale were convinced that Hardwick was the right man to take the Tigers forward, backing him while also conducting a club review that saw the introduction of ex-Tiger now football manager Neil Balme, plus a swag of fresh assistant coaches including Blake Caracella and departed Brisbane coach Justin Leppitsch.
Along with coaching changes came additions in player personnel. Josh Caddy came in via trade from Geelong, Dion Prestia was acquired from the Gold Coast Suns and Toby Nankervis was brought in from the Sydney Swans after the ruckman was frustrated by a lack of opportunity in Sydney. All of these players played key roles not only in the Tigers revival throughout the season, but also when it really counted – on Saturday afternoon in the biggest game on the AFL calendar.
The 2017 Tigers also got lucky in the 2016 AFL draft. A young South Australian by the name of Jack Graham, expected to be drafted around pick 20-25 was overlooked by other teams, lasting until pick 53 – the Tiger’s second pick in the draft – and they pounced. Graham, a big bodied midfielder was considered not athletic enough by recruiters who instead selected pacy, more dynamic players. In Graham, what Richmond got is a kid who knows football, is a born leader and is driven to succeed. In Saturday’s Grand Final, Graham, the only teenager on the field, kicked three goals and blanketed Adelaide’s number one midfielder in Rory Sloane. It was a magnificent performance by a 19 year old in just his 5th AFL game – all Tiger victories – putting an exclamation mark on a magnificent season on and off the field for Richmond.
Five minutes into the first quarter it was looking like being all Adelaide Crows, with a Rory Sloane goal followed by an uncharacteristic Nick Vlastuin fumble that led to another goal from Eddie Betts. With an early 12 point lead, the Crows settled best and were well on top early. Richmond was getting some forward entries but three misses to Jack Riewoldt had Tiger fans nervous. At the twenty minute mark Josh Caddy relieved some of the tension for Tiger fans with their first goal of the game, but after a superb Bachar Houli goal for the Tigers reduced the margin to two points, the Crows hit back. Late goals to Sloane and Hugh Greenwood had the Adelaide Crows out to an 11 point quarter time lead.
The second quarter was greeted with some light drizzle that made conditions a little tougher to handle. A four minute deadlock was broken when the Crows inexplicably left the goal line unattended, allowing Riewoldt to bring the Tigers to within seven points after a snap from 40 meters out. An arm wrestle ensued in the slippery conditions with neither team able to get a run on. At the 18 minute mark, a tussle between Jacob Townsend and Jake Lever resulted in a free to Townsend as he was held illegally by Lever. Townsend converted and the Tiger army of fans was getting loud. Richmond started to take control of the game through brute aggression at the contest, just as they had against GWS and Geelong in their previous finals. Jack Graham’s first goal was followed by another to the competitions’ best player in Dustin Martin, and at half time it was Richmond leading by 10 points. For those that had witnessed the Tiger’s previous month of football, the signs were good.
The traditional half-time sprint was won by Richmond’s Connor Menadue, further sending the pro-Tiger crowd into a frenzy before the second half was underway.
Just three minutes into the third quarter, an ugly tackle by Sloane on Jack Graham – who was now employed on a tagging role of sorts on the former – led to a free kick which the teenager duly converted for his second goal. Richmond was starting to win the lion’s share of the contested possessions, and the Crows looked panicked. Shaun Grigg goaled at the nine minute mark before Kayne Lambert joined the party a minute later, sending the Tigers to a 28 point lead. Taylor Walker, quiet to date, kicked a goal against the flow to keep the Crows alive, but this seemed to inspire the Tigers even further. Relentless tackling pressure caused turnover after turnover and it was Graham’s third goal that sent the Tiger crowd alight. The diminutive Jason Castagna added another Tiger goal and with just a quarter to play, Richmond had one hand on the premiership cup with a 33 point lead.
Adelaide simply had to score first to stay in the game, but a sensational pack mark and goal to Jack Riewoldt had the Tigers out to a 40 point lead as Tiger fans went berserk. At the six minute mark Dion Prestia goaled after receiving a handball from Lambert and the lead was out to 45 points. As if on cue, the Crows kicked two goals from free kicks plus a 50 meter penalty, bringing Adelaide back to within 33 points and making long time Tiger fans a little nervous. Richmond would not be denied, and ten minutes of relentless pressure football finally led to another Crow error, resulting in a goal to Townsend. Three minutes later Dan Butler threaded one through and it was delirium at the MCG. Richmond CEO Brendon Gale could be seen in tears as the realization hit him, as it did for thousands of loyal Tiger fans that the game, and the premiership, was finally theirs. The teams picked up a goal each before the final siren sounded; one that almost brought the MCG stands down such was the roar when Dustin Martin – judged best afield as the recipient of the Norm Smith medal – snapped a goal from 25 meters out.
The 48 point win handed the Tigers their first premiership since 1980 and their 11th since being in the VFL/AFL competition. The players celebrated on the ground as the fans high-fived and hugged complete strangers, incredulous that their boys had finally broken the drought, against all odds. Such was the respect for the Richmond supporters that the players stayed out on the ground for over an hour, sharing the premiership cup and the excitement with their legion of fans.
For Peggy O’Neal, Brendon Gale, Damien Hardwick and the Richmond hierarchy, it was a victory for solidarity, for stability, and for being strong and bold – as is the Tiger’s mantra. Players openly admitted the closeness of the group, as friends on and off the field, committed to winning. For the Adelaide Crows, it was a dismal day for the players and their multitude of fans that made their way across the border with such high hopes. The Crows, like Greater Western Sydney and Geelong had before them, simply could not deal with the Richmond relentless pressure in the contest. It is something the Crows will struggle to understand, given they were the class of the competition all season, including accounting for the Tigers back in round six by 76 points.
If ever there had been a game that exemplified a champion team beating a team of champions, this was it. The Tigers stuck to their plan and would not be broken. In winning its three finals at the MCG, Richmond outscored its opponents 30.20 to 11.18 in the second half. That massive second half discrepancy puts a stamp on their dominance when each game was on the line.
Scoreboard: Adelaide Crows 4.1 4.7 5.10 8.12 (60) Richmond Tigers 2.3 6.4 11.8 16.12 (108) Best Players: Adelaide: M. Crouch, Jacobs, B. Crouch, Sloane, Laird Richmond: Martin, Rance, Houli, Astbury, Prestia, Edwards, Graham, Grimes
Article last changed on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 - 1:44 AM EDT