Modern day AFL classic further fuels fire between Geelong and Richmond
Amidst all the sanctimonious slop, the slaps on the wrist, and the shock jock slanging matches, an actual round of football broke out. It was billed as Moving Weekend. It was supposed to be the round where the big boys made their run, and where the also-rans stood revealed. It pitted first against second, third against fifth, fourth against sixth and seventh against eighth. By Saturday afternoon, it had already re-established Melbourne as the top dogs, exposed the less than leonine Brisbane and added another half dozen pages to Essendon’s internal review.
As Richmond and Geelong warmed up at the MCG, the Dockers were trudging off at Marvel. They’d fluffed their lines against a Carlton side that somehow retains defensive integrity, despite most of their defenders being hospital cases. All four were in a scrum of teams seeking number one challenger status.
For a quarter and a half, Geelong looked to have snuffed out one of those title contenders. Their entire game revolves around control – controlling the ball, controlling the speed and shape of play. They were nearly six goals the better, and dominating every facet of the game.
But as the sun went down, Richmond sprung to life. Their prime ball mover had been escorted from the field (more on that shortly), but they finally got that wham bam game of theirs going. It was a textbook study in how different these two teams are. For 45 minutes, the ball movement had been mathematical, and the goals carefully crafted. Suddenly the footy was slingshotting from one end of the MCG to the other. A Liam Baker toe poke, a Dustin Martin needle thread, a Shai Bolton one-hander, and the story of the Chris Scott era was playing out again – chaos was beating control.
In an age of role players and automatons, players like Bolton are much needed outliers. “He does things on a football field I’ve never seen another person do,” one talent scout said before the Tigers took him at pick 29 in the 2016 draft. Brisbane and Gold Coast both had four chances to select him that November, but baulked. And he continues to confound on multiple fronts. First, he has a bit of swagger and cheek about him, which of course must be nipped in the bud as quickly as possible. Second, half the footy media still struggle to correctly pronounce his name. And third, he’s almost impossible to match up on. The Irishman Mark O’Connor is a fine tagger but up against the twinkle toed Bolton, he was moving like a Safeway trolley. Richmond had him one-out in the goal-square, 10 of the last 12 goals and all the momentum.
But Chris Scott teams are always dangerous when they’re three or four goals down, and the handbrake is released. There were shades of the Collingwood comeback from earlier in the year. The last few minutes were completely bonkers. But again and again, it was Tyson Stengle who kept his head. He was a significant figure in every one of their comeback goals. He’s trodden a troubled track and footballers like him are often put in the too hard basket. As his new coach said this week, “a good culture in an elite sporting environment doesn’t involve 100% of players who are straighty 180s. I reckon you need a few who push the boundaries. I would certainly favour supporting these types of people, as opposed to protecting the brand first and foremost.”
It was one of the great games of recent times. But in many ways it was overshadowed by Tom Stewart’s savage hit on Dion Prestia. It was the sort of incident you rarely see in football these days. Stewart is Geelong’s most important player. He was a figure of opprobrium all game, and still managed 17 intercepts. On a weekend where a player was fined $1,000 for tampering with a headband, you’d hope turning an opponent’s brain to mush would prompt a proportionate response. It gave, as Damien Hardwick later said, the media something to talk about other than Jordan De Goey. It also gave rise to talk of an automatic send-off rule, though the thought of an AFL umpire with red card responsibilities is cause for considerable concern.
More than anything, it added fuel to an already fierce rivalry. In cyberspace, in the terraces and in the post-match pressers, the niggle is palpable. The two clubs have a way, even when one or both of them is going dreadfully, of meeting in defining games. It was against Richmond in 2007 where Geelong’s golden era really started. It was against Geelong, 10 years later, where Richmond finally realised how good it was. By the end of that game, many Geelong players, and a great many supporters, resembled tourists who’d been rescued from the Bondi surf. Richmond went and won three premierships, all of them via Geelong. Richmond’s torrential game style was kryptonite to Geelong’s control and chloroform approach.
For the time being, everyone will take a deep breath. Stewart will cop his whack. Prestia will try and recover from his. Richmond, who were bumped from the eight by Collingwood, will reap the benefits of a fairly soft draw. There’s a sense of inevitability that these two sides will meet again – that Trent Cotchin, Kane Lambert and Prestia will be fit, conscious and available, and that the Tigers will stew, plot and write another chapter of one of modern footy’s most bitter rivalries.