Sport AFL AFL Grand Final: How Richmond defied the odds – and history – to claim premiership glory

AFL Grand Final: How Richmond defied the odds – and history – to claim premiership glory

Richmond Tigers Grand Final
Richmond players celebrate at the final siren. Photo: Getty
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Melbourne buzzes with a special type of electricity when Richmond are involved in the business end of an AFL season.

And even though the 2017 season is complete, the Tiger faithful – loyal, loud and a little unhinged – are sure to energise the sporting capital for a few more days yet.

It will be a celebration befitting a truly remarkable victory, an against-the-odds triumph that ended a 37-year hoodoo, one of football’s longest droughts.

Coming into this season, the Tigers had won just two finals since 1982.

They have now won three in less than a month.

It is not just the scarcity of success that makes Richmond’s eight-goal grand final win over Adelaide so special; it is where they came from in just 12 months.

The Tigers finished 13th last year, nowhere near the finals, and ended a disappointing season with a 113-point thrashing in Sydney, a result that only intensified the heat on coach Damien Hardwick.

A rebel group, dubbed ‘Focus on Footy’, called for a spill of the club board, declaring “the Richmond Football Club is in crisis” and insisting “a mantra of stability” was ruining the Tigers.

They ultimately failed and, as the Tigers ensured on Saturday, the rest is history.

Hardwick deserves much credit for ripping up his game plan and starting afresh.

Things were clearly getting stale at Tigerland, and a side once prone to slow, predictable and mistake-riddled football took the game on in 2017, playing a fast and exciting brand aided by manic pressure.

And that pressure was a key factor in Richmond’s drought-breaking premiership.

Adelaide, usually so clean with the ball, particularly off the half-back line, could not deal with the harassment, fumbling and turning the ball over at regular intervals.

Usually composed players like Richard Douglas and Rory Sloane were the worst offenders, but they had plenty of company, as Richmond’s ‘mosquito fleet’ of small forwards got to work.

For much of the season, the Tigers battled to find a second key forward to support spearhead Jack Riewoldt, following the departure of Tyrone Vickery.

Ben Griffiths and Todd Elton were tried, but both suffered injuries and battled form, too.

Jason Castagna Richmond
Castagna had 10 disposals and kicked one goal. Photo: Getty

Many pundits were insistent the Tigers could not win the flag with just one key forward, but in the end, it worked out just fine.

Josh Caddy and Jacob Townsend played ‘tall’ when required and a more nimble, fleet-footed forward line allowed the Tigers to suffocate their opponents with pressure.

For that reason, Townsend, Dan Butler, Jason Castagna and Jack Graham – barely known when the 2017 season started – are now Richmond heroes, while Daniel Rioli, who mixes pressure with the freakish skill his surname is associated with, is the leader of that pack.

Of course, pressure alone doesn’t win premierships.

In Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin, the Tigers have two midfield superstars, both who have enhanced their reputation significantly over the past month.

Martin, who added the Norm Smith Medal to his Brownlow Medal and swag of other awards collected this year, played a different sort of match on Saturday.

He did not run with the ball as often as he usually does, nor did he break too many lines.

But he competed with such ferocity that 22 of his 29 disposals were contested, a figure put into context when you read just one other player (Adelaide’s Brad Crouch, with 17) won more than 13.

Martin won six clearances and added two goals, and while Cotchin was a little more subdued, Dion Prestia, Shane Edwards and Kane Lambert stepped up.

As ever, the Tigers backline was superbly marshalled by Alex Rance, who is surely the best key defender of the last 20 years.

Rance seemed on his way to winning a Norm Smith Medal at the main break and the only reason he slipped out of contention was that the Crows stopped getting it forward.

Riewoldt, who like Cotchin, plays a far more team-oriented style of football than he once did, kicked two goals and could have had many more.

Richmond Tigers Song
Just some of the massive circle that gathered to sing the Richmond song. Photo: Getty

Few players wear their heart on their sleeve like Riewoldt does and it was impossible not to be happy for him, be it after the siren or on stage with The Killers, given what he has been through with the club.

A consistent theme coming from Tigerland this year is the love and respect the players have for each other.

It was evident in two moments after the final siren, firstly when suited-up non-players were mobbed by teammates like they had indeed played, and then, in the Richmond rooms, when the players gathered for the their first rendition of the club song.

It wasn’t just the 22 who played linking arms, though, it was the whole list – from the most senior of veterans to the youngest rookie.

Martin was supposedly the instigator and the image sent a powerful message.

For once, Richmond are completely united.

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