The class of Daniel Rioli and industry of Dustin Martin rose above mere mortals as Richmond maintained its AFL flag favouritism with a 31-point win over Hawthorn at the MCG on Thursday night.
On a night in which persistent rain and strong wind meant pressure, containment and turnovers were the order of the day, Richmond’s leading lights maintained their composure when most needed to take their chances in the first qualifying final.
In contrast, the Hawks’ most reliable performers, including Shaun Burgoyne and Luke Breust, were guilty of missing easy set shots from 15 metres in front.
These moments exemplified the fine line between success and despair, underlining the importance of clinical finishing to create momentum.
After a first quarter in which the two sides matched one another for desperation, Hawthorn took the ascendancy with two late goals for a one-point lead at quarter-time.
Then Rioli, 21, stepped up to create something out of nothing five minutes after the break. Gifted an errant kick from first-year Hawk Harry Morrison in his forward 50, the silken small forward caressed the ball through the sticks from a tight angle.
— AFL (@AFL) September 6, 2018
The 2017 Brownlow Medal winner Martin had led the way with his distribution by foot and tireless running in the first term, so it was only a matter of time before he featured on the highlights reel.
Determined to have his hard work rewarded on the scoreboard, Martin upstaged his teammate with a thrilling major that could well have featured in Goal of the Year calculations had he scored a few weeks earlier in the home-and-away season.
The reaction from the Tiger faithful was understandably jubilant, quickly earning comparisons with the 2005 wonder goal of Jason Akermanis against Geelong.
GET OUT OF HERE DUSTY!
— AFL (@AFL) September 6, 2018
In between, Irish recruit Conor Nash provided his own highlight for Hawks fans in the 91,446-strong crowd with an inspiring mark and goal in only his fourth AFL game.
But it was inevitable that the cream would rise to the top again.
With Martin continuing to be influential as best afield, Rioli’s poise again came to the fore as he set up a goal for Kamdyn McIntosh with an ingenious underground handball.
Despite the mounting pressure and numerous indications the Tigers machine was finally breaking free of the shackles, Hawthorn somehow stayed in touch to trail by only 14 points at half-time.
But as is often the case in 2018, the floodgates opened in the premiership quarter when Richmond’s relentless attack on the ball engineered a 35-point lead by the final break.
The final quarter was largely inconsequential, with the Hawks outscoring their opponents, as the Tigers cruised to a week’s rest before their preliminary final.
Star full-back Alex Rance may need it after injuring his ankle.
But as Kane Lambert explained post-match on ABC radio, the performance lived up to Richmond’s goal of being “Hard to beat and fun to watch.”
Hawthorn, minus Ben Stratton (hamstring), will be back up to play either Melbourne or Geelong.
Final score: Richmond 13.17.95 d Hawthorn 9.10.64