Tigers to shine without pressure of finals

The Richmond Football Club is pleased to announce that they are out of the running for the 2016 AFL finals series.

Coach Damien Hardwick noted that the club “doesn’t handle expectation well” and with the pressure of finals out of the equation, believes that the club will now be able to put its best foot forward on the field.

“As a group we never like to go into a game as favourites, and we particularly dislike ‘must win’ games. We find the pressure really plays on our minds and distracts us from the playing the kind of football we want to play.” Hardwick believes that the “shackles will be released” now that the pressure of finals has been removed. “It’s just what the club needed” he said with a wry grin.

“I believe in drawing on past successes and as a group, we’ve been inspired by the club’s ‘Unleash the Geisch’ period in 1997. The pressure was right off the club in terms of finals and that really allowed the playing group of the day to focus on playing great football. We’re certainly looking to replicate that.”

Club captain Trent Cotchin said that Richmond now has a great opportunity to “shape the final eight.”

“Now that we’re out of contention I have great belief in this group’s ability to put pressure on those clubs fighting for top four and top eight positions. I mean, we beat Sydney, so without worrying about the finals now, we should be able to worry teams like Footscray and Hawthorn. There’s no more satisfaction in football than when you’re having an impact. Our season starts now.”

Cotchin continued, “The past three elimination final defeats have severely dented the playing group’s confidence entering the following season, so without the heartbreak of finals we will be able to enter season 2017 with renewed confidence. This is a positive step for the club.”

Hardwick said that while the club had entered 2016 hoping to make the finals, it’s hard for clubs these days to maintain successful periods such as Richmond’s three-peat of 2013-15. “Look it’s worked out really well for the club. We’re excited with where we’re headed as a group. I’ve met with the board and we’re all confident that this is our ‘Geelong of 2006’ year. I think that’s pretty clear.”

When questioned on where the Tigers would finish this year, Hardwick pondered for a moment, and quipped “I think we can still push for ninth. With the pressure off, we can really get back to playing the Richmond way.”

“I’m sure our loyal supporters will be rapt with how things have turned out this year. They won’t have to cancel September holidays as they have the past few years, and the last few finals series haven’t been good for their mental health. Look, at the end of the day, it’s all about the fans.”

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Happy Tiger fans reveling in the club’s failure to make the finals in season 2016. The ‘lid is off.’

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Tigers Don’t Win Finals

This was penned on the night of Richmond’s elimination final loss:

‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

It’s all I can cling to during the despair in which the Richmond Football Club has left me. It hurts so meaningfully because of the love. But it’s surely better to actually feel something in this life. About five minutes after the siren, as my daughter Molly and I trudged out of the MCG, I was overcome with emotion for a fleeting moment. I felt silly of course, it’s just a football match. But it’s more than that. I choose it to be. Footy and Richmond makes me feel something and I like that, even though it’s often pain of some sort.

Richmond town (2)

Happier yet still terribly anxious times; prematch in Richmond and Yarra Park

As a means of self-preservation I often sarcastically yearn for the days where Richmond were hapless. I understand how to deal with that sort of failure. But this new failure is prickly, it pierces and it leaves you blind with pulsating disappointment. They’re laughing at us again.

I grew up with Richmond being simply dismal. Ablett, Dunstall, Lockett and Modra kicked a billion goals against our flimsy backlines of the late 80s and early 90s. We were a laughing stock.

Now my own daughter Molly is growing up with a reasonable team, stars on each line, many more wins than losses. Surely it’s better for her to grow up with three successive finals campaigns? The lows however, such as today at the MCG, are far more disappointment than I ever had to process as a child, far more.

They’re still laughing.

Firstly, when I was a kid they laughed because we were just shit.

Then they laughed because we finished 9th more often than is statistically probable.

Now they’re laughing because we’re finals chokers. We’re still the same old Richmond. And I’m not sure which is worse. When we defeated Hawthorn during the season, a few Poos and Wees fans left early, earning the usual ‘see you later’ from the Tiger ferals. But I won’t forget get one woman who stopped, turned and yelled “Yeah, well we’ll see you in September!” I knew in my guts she had a point. And she was right, we weren’t up to it. The North banner said it all.

Banner

My Molly really felt that loss in her guts today. In fact her optimism took a battering. All year she’s said “dad, they’ll by alright, they’re a good team” to counter my negativity. And she’s been right. But after today she reflected that “you were right, dad” with all the resignation of a long time Richmond supporter. Her spirit was broken.

MCG pano

I was too anxious to enjoy this moment.

The monkey sitting on our backs now is of gargantuan proportion. SHOULD we make the finals in 2016, we’ve not only an opposition we’ll need to defeat, we’ll have ourselves to overcome. The only positive I can grasp is that we’re slowly getting better, but I fear for the mental wounds caused to our players. As well as you may play in the home and away season, many players must now have serious doubt about their ability under intense pressure.

I’ll name them. Cotchin. Grigg. Chaplin. Is Maric all that we thought he could be? Titch Edwards. Conca. Ellis. There’s probably more but that’ll do for now. Should we make another final, the pressure on these gents to perform will be high. And as we’ve seen in the first week of finals the past few years, handling pressure ain’t a strong point. At least Cotchin won the toss and didn’t choose to kick into a 14 goal gale! Small steps.

I knew today’s result would happen. All week I’ve had Tigers and neutrals telling me to be positive, ‘come on, Richmond’s different this year’ is one I’ve heard on numerous occasions. But the recipe was there for utter disaster and I believe that football is often played out in the dramatic sphere rather than stats, figures and ladder placements.

Pre Match G

Pre-match at the G. Richmond fans do finals well.

The perfect recipe for a Tiger disaster was there. Robbie Nahas. Of course he was going to be fired up and play well against his old team. A lot of people felt he was let go a little easily after one poor season at Tigerland. As the North fans started singing the old Tiger grog squad song ‘Robbie Nahas, Robbie Nahas, Yeah-eah-eah’ Mol turned to me and said “that’s not fair, that’s our song.” All is fair in love and war dear child.

Then there’s Jarrad Waite. If anything can haunt Richmond it’s this fella. The 2013 final saw Waite kick 4. Today the same. He loves playing against Richmond in finals. His old man didn’t mind either, I’m told.

Finally there’s the mental games that North played with their selection in round 23. Where better to toy with Richmond than in our minds! Nine stars missing, allowing Richmond to win, knowing they’d play each other the following week.

tiger despairThe downtrodden. Tears were shed, young and old alike.

North is just a team that unsettles Richmond. Always have been. It was the game against North in Hobart when I decided that Richmond wouldn’t make the finals and we could have a family holiday in the September school holidays. Tasmania was our choice. So of course as soon as that was planned, we get our act together and I start worrying about finals and holidays! However again it was North who paved the way for me to get away and not be consumed by Richmond. It’s terrible for my mental health this finals business.

The Richmond footy club may actually be mortally wounded. We were SO bad for SO long and this ship is oh so hard to turn around. We’ve got it half turned, but there’s a stack more waves coming at us. We may never win a final, or play in a grand final, or, dare I say it, win a flag. It seems to be our lot.

North jubilation final 2

(Click to enlarge) I was devastated yet thought it important to document what winning a final looked like. The guy bottom right was on the phone to a mate and was just squatting up and down madly. 

As we slowly meandered through Richmond for some dinner, Molly, who’d begun to cheer up slightly suddenly blurted out “What was Chaplin thinking dad!?” I explained that he’s become a solid home and away player however confused his abilities with his ambition. What a dreadful moment, one that Mol, myself, Troy and the rest of you Tigers are sure to be haunted by.

Now just for one moment, I’m going to close my eyes and allow myself to feel and hear that Tiger roar. The colour, movement and noise in the streets of Richmond before the match, the Tiger fans marching to the MCG in full voice. When we win I feel as though I’m part of the collective, in some way connected to every other Tiger fan out there. When we lose it is though my own personal football team who plays solely for me has let ME down and I’m the only person feeling it!

And all I can hear are all those other clubs laughing.

Footy Smells

As I cut the grass in our backyard a few weeks back with our op-shopped, $10 push mower, the smell of cut grass, combined with the gradual pinch of warmth in the air made me think of one thing. Finals.

Though finals games at AFL level are more likely to be under lights than the sun these days, it’s still the notion of the sun coming out in spring, playing finals on grounds where the centre wicket has crusted over to become something akin to concrete, the smell of the afore mentioned freshly cut grass and many other wonders which excites this football writer.

And as such things do, it got me thinking about the different aromas I associate with football, the good, the bad and the downright stinky.

So I compiled a bit of a list and then asked my twitter followers for theirs. There were some popular ones such as the already mentioned (twice) ‘freshly cut grass’ to the more conceptual smells of ‘anticipation and excitement’ (@Shaebee22) and ‘the indefinable smells of hope, desperation and disappointment.’ (@Bulldog_Tragician)

First on my list was cigarette smoke. Now I’m not a smoker but the smell of a freshly lit cigarette, be it in the street, at the park, wherever, generally takes me straight to the football. Local footy still has it, and if you congregate near the exits at an AFL venue a cloud sits nicely over those ducking out for a Billy Rag during the breaks. But I do miss the smell at the MCG, so much a part of my formative footy experiences.

Robbie

My twit follower @justin1flynn added that he ‘Will never forget the smell of men smoking pipes in the outer when I was a kid in the 70’s’ and @Footy_Maths made mention of some ‘whacky tobaccy’ being consumed down the old scoreboard end at the Carlton ground.

Next I had the stench of stale beer on a punters breath. Yep it’s all class, cigarettes, stale beer and drunks! In the ‘real world’ this would repulse me, but get me into the unnatural surrounds of a footy ground and it’s somewhat of a comfort. Mixing this with the smell of wet duffel coats (@Bulldog_tragician) and damp cardboard, (@bob_ely) we have a footy feast for the nose.

There are the smells that individual footy grounds possess due to their location; the old soap factory smell at Port Melbourne, the poo farm out Werribee way and that fresh seaside smell at Williamstown. There’s the doughnut van smell outside the MCG and hot chips in the outer, which @BrotherAmos so elegantly describes as ‘the smell of fried oil permeating the air.’ There’s the ‘food from home’ smells as remembered by @bob_ely of international roast coffee in the thermos and footy franks, skins blistered and smothered in sauce. And of course there’s the magnificent smell of snags sizzling away at the local footy.

Anyone who’s played a game or two of football would know that smell in the middle of the ground where the cricket pitch lays dormant, the Merri creek mud whiff. It’s a thing of beauty, yet still worth washing off yourself should you be lucky enough to roll around it in the name of winning the pigskin. Or as @dugaldjellie puts it, the smell of ‘damp earth.’ And at three quarter time, as you’re sitting on that earth, the traditional smell of oranges (nominated by @watotiger) mixed with mud activates both smell and taste as you suck a few down, a tradition which many primary schools still maintain!

John mud

To the footy changerooms and there’s that wonderful smell of linament! As @MiltMonster remembers ‘I loved that smell of liniment you’d get as you walked to your seat past the Richmond rooms in the old Northern Stand.’ We still get to see our heroes each week at the ground, but the notion of actually smelling the stars has most definitely gone by the wayside, until someone can develop smellevision into something workable.

Still in the changerooms and @AndrewJohnEgan nominated the smell of Goanna oil, @BrotherAmos and @watotiger deep heat, and @dgunsberg and @dugaldjellie both drew upon the inspiration that is ‘stale sweat,’ a smell which much like beer, is sweet with victory, and bitter with a loss. And speaking of stale sweat, @coynejp mentioned the forgotten footy bag, that’s right, the smell of unwashed jumpers and boots from last weeks match. That stench can put hair on your shoulders.

And I loved this nomination from @ASpeedingCar, and I’ve experienced this, it’s the smell of ‘ciggies in the shower from blokes having a quick nerve settler before the team runs out.’ That in itself is an institution.

Moving from the changerooms we now come to the horror of the old suburban ground toilets. Stale piss, inexcusable body oder and drunks once filled these dank, unventilated pits. It’s a little better at today’s modern facilities, but it’s still a reminder to days gone by.

Vic Park loos

@Bulldog_tragician remembers the enormously whiffy loos at the Western Oval, and in particular when there was a dead rat in the ladies as being particularly memorable. And the less said about the Vic Park loos the better, so I’m told!

Turning to country footy and @Suburbia3121 loves the smell of ‘Woodsmoke from a fire in a 44 gallon drum…particularly at Romsey.’ I haven’t watched a game in such conditions and consider myself the poorer for not having done so. It’s on my list, a magnificent way to keep warm at the footy mid-winter no doubt and a far cry from the sterile Docklands television studio.

Finally, I’m glad that @BrotherAmos brought this up because it was one of the most important ‘footy smells’ to me whilst growing up, yet I’d foolishly overlooked it. It’s the smell of leather Sherrins, or any footy for that matter. I can still close my eyes and smell the magic that was my first leather football (Rossy Faulkner!) Sweet, almost edible, and just so darn new! As the footy aged, and mine aged rapidly due to excessive use, the smell changed. It became less intense, but no less comforting.

And the @Coodabeens take on all of this? That it sounds like a season of scratch and sniff from ‘Outside Football’ (their mock Inside Football magazine)! Make of that what you will, but it’s certainly profound!

In closing, there are some footy smells I’d like to know about. What does the MCC area smell like during a game? When your nose is rubbed into the turf at Docklands does it smell ‘earthy?’ Does Sam Mitchell’s shit actually stink, as I’m sure he thinks it doesn’t? And finally what is that elusive smell of success?

Please let me know what footy means to your nose. What are your footy smells?

Richmond v’s Carlton

Mention the football clubs Richmond and Carlton and you’ll get the usual response: halcyon days, the late 60’s and 70’s, Balme and Southby, Walls and Sheedy, Doull and Hart, fierce suburban rivals, Percy Jones and TJ…Helen D’amico.

BOURKE

The halcyon days

That is all well and good, but I’ve only ever read about those ‘good old days’ in books. The ‘Richmond v Carlton’ rivalry has been less glamourous yet no less intense in my years of following the yellow and black.

Being aged just one and blissfully ignorant as the Blues knocked off the Tiges in the 1982 grand final, my first memory of the two clubs is from 1988. Richmond by this stage was a basket case, while Carlton were the reigning premiers. The stage was a Friday night at the MCG, and I stayed up to watch the first half (on delay) at my nana and pa’s house. We moseyed home around the corner at half time, and as I had ‘footy clinic’ in the morning, I had to go to bed. I awoke to find a magical note on the end of my bed. My dad’s capital lettered print simply said;

‘Tigers by 17.’

 I remember that vividly and it still puts a smile on my face. We would often beat Brisbane, St.Kilda and sometimes North, but Carlton?

1988 TIGERS

Michael Laffy gets his handball away in the Tigers upset win in 1988

This ‘win against the odds’ has been the very basis upon which I’ve watched Richmond play the Blues over the years. Two years after the Friday night match, and with another wooden spoon in the bank, we piled into the old Kingswood and headed into the MCG to watch Richmond play the Blues in David Cloke’s 300th match. I distinctly remember my dad, as we wound through the back streets of Richmond, saying words to the effect of “Now John, you know we’re not a very good chance today, don’t you” as if to say ‘don’t get your hopes up son, don’t leave yourself open to being hurt.’

MICHAEL MITCHELL!!

Michael Mitchell gives ‘full back of the century’ a full body ‘don’t argue!’ (1990)

I remember the game well. It was in what I remember as Richmond’s best ‘era’ under Bartlett. Wins against the previous years grand finalist Geelong at Geelong, Sydney and Fitzroy in a 5 week period was unheralded, and the win against Carlton was a ‘back-to-back’ victory. Rare as hens teeth back then. We followed it up with ‘loss, win, loss, win’ pattern to make it 6 wins in 10 weeks. This form was on the back of a young group coming through in Knights, Lambert, Free, Nicholls, Barry Young and the Ryan brothers, ably supported by stalwarts in Flea Weightman, the General, Cloke and Michael Pickering. The nucleus of a promising group which sadly never eventuate as the club’s attentions soon became focussed on keeping itself alive.

Key to our survival was another Richmond v Carlton match, this time a ‘legends match’ fundraiser played at Windy Hill. Just on 20,000 filled the ground, and as I reflect back as an adult I am tickled pink that I was able to see Hart, Barrott, Bourke, Clay, KB and co run around, albeit a little slower and with a little less hair. Except for KB of course. Interestingly, David Cloke played in that match having retired at the end of 1990. He came out of retirement for season 1991 and is possibly the only player to have played in a legends match before the end of his career. His final game in 1991 saw him kick 8 goals and collect the three Brownlow votes in another upset win against, who else, Carlton.

Legends Match 1990

‘Not-so-Bustling’ Billy Barrot chases a loose ball whilst KB and Jon Ronaldson share a joke at ‘training.’

When 1992 rolled around the Tiges again had the pleasure of upsetting the fancied Carlton, sending them from the final 6 with a 3 point win at Waverley Park. Carlton went on to miss the finals by percentage only! Strangely, this was the only occasion our family went to an Essendon game instead of the Richmond, with mum happy to swap her red sash for a yellow one, another closet Richmond fan. I remember a lady with a little radio sitting next to us keeping my updated with the scores once she realised I was a little Richmond devotee. I was at the MCG physically but mentally I was in Mulgrave.

But it’s not just a one-way street of upset. The year 1994 saw Richmond enjoy their best season in years, certainly the first year I could remember us being competitive in a meaningful way. We even won six games on the trot! However, sitting 5th with just two matches to play, Richmond headed to Carlton for what was billed as an old-style suburban battle with the old foe. What unfolded was a 113 point drubbing at the hands of the old Navy Blues. And so began the ‘Ninthmond’ era, with the Tigers missing out on the finals by 6%; the same 6% we lost in that match against the Carlton or as my uncle refers to them, “the forces of evil.”

The following year, 1995, saw both teams improve to such a point where they met mid-season in a top of the table clash. Just two years prior a paltry 6,000 fans attended a Richmond v West Coast match at Princes Park. So the crowd of 84,000 blew this young teens mind, a throwback to ‘the glory days!’ In an enthralling tussle the Blues pulled away late as they steamrolled their way to the premiership. For Richmond, 1995 brought with it a long awaited finals appearance which should have been a foundation for future success. This sadly never eventuated, the club it’s own worst enemy once more as coach Northey left in acrimonious circumstances at season’s end.

The Gieschan years were far from glorious, however when he replaced ‘Carlton man’ Robert Walls as the Tigers caretaker coach in 1997, he propelled us to a series of late season wins, amongst them one of my favourite matches of all time.

In keeping with the theme, this time it was Carlton who simply had to defeat Richmond on their home turf to advance through to the finals. In the last truly ‘suburban battle,’ 35,000 fans crammed into the old ground to see Carlton jump out to a 40 plus point lead. I still pull the old video out every now and then and force myself to watch the first half. It makes watching the second half all the more enjoyable, especially as the commentators turn to talking about Carlton’s finals opponent the next week.

What ensued was a last man standing, nail-biting comeback in which former Blue Ben Harrison kicked the winning goal! Tiges by 2 points with the loudest ‘away cheer’ you’re likely to hear upon the final siren. Whilst we finished a lowly 13th, dragging Carlton down with us at the death presented great satisfaction.

Fast forward to the final match of 1999 and the Giesh had been well and truly unleashed (let go) by Richmond and would soon surface as coach of the umpires! The Blues were grand final bound whilst the Tigers were enduring another mediocre season, but in the spirit of this rivalry as I’ve followed it in my lifetime, the underdogs got up, although the game will forever be remembered as the ‘scoreboard fire’ match!

MCG fire

The final round of 1997 was soon evened up by the Blues, as in 2000 they thwarted Richmond’s attempt at a finals birth, again in the final home and away match of the season. The Tigers needed to beat Carlton to make it, with little percentage separating the Tiges from 8th place Hawthorn. The Tiges lost. The Tiges finished 9th. Again.

It took only a year for Richmond to exact revenge and this time in a footy match with meaning. Just as the teams will compete tomorrow, Richmond versed Carlton in a tough and scrappy 2nd semi-final in front of 83,000 fans. It was a sweet victory, the only finals win that Matthew Richardson and Joel Bowden would enjoy, whilst David Bourke was lucky enough to play also in the 1995 semi-final win against Essendon. Their fathers won 7 Tiger premierships between them.

Rory Hilton

Rory Hilton gets his big bum off the ground in his most important game for Richmond! Kicked the sealer!

However 2001 proved to be false dawn for a number of teams, and the two old ricals plummeted down the ladder to finish in the bottom 3. Both clubs have been slowly trying to claw back ever since. Richmond landed a large blow in 2005 under new coach Wallace, handing Carlton a near 100 point thumping in a false dawn of grand proportions. Then Nathan Brown broke his leg and Plough’s tenure headed steadily south.

A brutal blow was handed by Carlton to Richmond in the much-hyped ‘Ben Cousins’ match, where Richmond fans displayed how desperate they were for anything that could be claimed as a success. Pitted in front of a full MCG it was billed as the biggest build up to a non-finals match the game had seen. Carlton smashed the Tiges in demoralising fashion and I clearly remember a Carlton supporter behind me bellowing “Time for another 5 year plan Richmond!” It hurt because I knew it was true. That’s why I’m not looking forward to Sunday.

The two most recent blows handed to Richmond have actually come from the club formerly know as the Preston Bullants. Not once, but twice in the past 12 months a severely undermanned Carlton have beaten the more fancied Tigers, who in both instances had the match seemingly in their keeping. The fragility of Richmond on display for all to see. While last years loss, compounded with a loss against the Suns from another ‘unlosable’ position, saw us again miss out on finals action, this year’s loss to an undermanned Carlton fortunately was not enough to knock us out of finals contention. However the Blues still get their chance on Sunday, as do the Tigers for redemption.

I haven’t enjoyed this week to be honest. A loss to ‘ninth’ placed Carlton would be the ultimate insult and irony given the wretched run with ‘ninth’ Carlton inflicted upon Richmond way back in 1994. It’s also ironic that when we finally did make the finals, the 9th team also qualified due to Essendon’s disqualification.

Anyway, I’ll be anxiously watching on from level two of the Olympic stand with my keen six year old daughter beside me, the same spot my dad stood to watch the Tigers beat the Blues in 1969. Here’s to shaking off the shackles of failure, but my lid is still firm shut.

Carn’ the Tiges!