A beautiful Melbourne afternoon greeted fans of Collingwood and Richmond as they headed in droves towards the mecca of Australian sport, the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Under enormous pressure after three losses in a row and with a tough draw ahead, Richmond coach Damien Hardwick was in desperate need of a win to avoid another week of speculation about his tenure at the helm of the Tigers. The late withdrawal of small forward Shane Edwards, arguably the Tigers' best player of the season to date, was a cruel blow to Hardwick and Tiger fans prior to game time. Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley would have been feeling confident of victory with the Magpies holding a winning streak against the Tigers that went back as far as Round 19 in 2007.
On a warm, blustery Adelaide Sunday afternoon, footy fans descended on Adelaide Oval hoping to witness a tantalising contest. The visitors, Richmond, were on a roll, having won nine games in a row to somehow steal a spot in the Final Eight. An incredible number of Richmond fans had made the journey from Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and even as far as Europe. There must have been 10,000 rabid Tiger fans in full voice prior to the game. They would be quickly silenced once the game was underway. Port Adelaide, having stumbled somewhat after an incredible start to the season that saw them top of the table, had regained their mojo. More importantly, they had regained their two key back men in Alipate Carlisle and Jackson Trengove.
Richmond players faced St Kilda at the MCG in the final game of Round 22, knowing their fate was well and truly in their own hands. Riding the wave of an incredible seven game winning streak that included on the road wins against the West Coast Eagles and Adelaide Crows, the Tigers had to beat the Saints to keep their slim Finals' chances alive. After Round 14, Richmond held a 3-10 win-loss record, placing them 16th on the AFL premiership ladder. Fast forward to Sunday, and as the Tigers ran out onto the hallowed turf of the MCG, a win would send them to 11-10 and into the Top Eight with one round to play.
Richmond headed home to the MCG to take on the Greater Western Sydney Giants with a four game winning streak at stake. A win against the Giants would keep the Tigers’ slim Finals' chance alive, while any slip up would end their season with regard to post-season action. The Giants came into the game showing improved form, narrowly failing to beat premiership contenders Geelong in the previous round. Richmond coach Damien Hardwick would have been looking for a fast start, knowing that the wet conditions from the West Coast game may produce some weary Tigers as the game wore on. His opposite number Leon Cameron would have been looking for quick delivery into young GWS “twin towers” Jonathon Patton and Tom Boyd, hoping to use the height advantage of the young forwards.
Round Ten's clash at Spotless Stadium between the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants and the Richmond Tigers would have been a major talking point in AFL media circles no matter the result. Richmond, struggling with a 2-6 record, found itself under massive media scrutiny all week, not only due to its ongoing poor form but also because key forward Jack Riewoldt had questioned Coach Damien Hardwick’s game plan in a press interview during the week. GWS players had been under pressure of their own, putting together a six game losing streak highlighted by a 111-point belting at the hands of the West Coast Eagles in Round Nine. To say both of these teams needed to win would be a massive understatement.
Geelong went into the Round 7 clash with Richmond holding an imposing record. The Cats had beaten up the Tigers in the last ten clashes between the two combatants with an average winning margin of 65 points. To find the last Richmond victory against Geelong you have to flick the pages of AFL history book back to Round 9, 2006 - a sobering thought for a Richmond team already struggling to regain any of the solid form it displayed in 2013. Complacency would not be an issue for the Cats who tasted defeat for the first time this season at the hands of an impressive Port Adelaide in the previous round.
Richmond headed north to take on the Gold Coast Suns at a steamy Metricon Stadium in a tough game to predict. The Tigers had enjoyed a solid campaign in 2013 making the Top Eight, while the Suns are a team on the march, full of excellent young talent and led by the competition’s best player in Gary Ablett junior. The Tigers were without their usual Ablett “minder” in Daniel Jackson who remains out of action with a hamstring complaint, while young gun Harley Bennell sat out for the Suns. With a 2-1 edge in wins over Richmond to date, the Suns were confident of getting the season off to a solid start on their home turf.
Brook “Boris” Kilpatrick reporting for AFANA
This is what footy is all about. An Elimination Final between traditional rivals Carlton and Richmond on a beautiful sunny day in front of over 95,000 rabid footy fans. For the Tigers, it was about being back where they so desperately wanted to be after 12 years in the football wilderness. For Carlton, it was a chance - due to an unprecedented slice of luck when Essendon were stripped of their premiership points to vacate a spot in the Finals for the Blues - to restore lost faith under a new regime.
by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago
Chris Newman and Brett Deledio (RICH) will play their first finals match in the first week of Finals. Newman has played 232 games without a Finals appearance while Deledio has had to wait 194 games. This puts them fifth and eighth respectively as the longest wait for a Finals appearance.