Year of the tiger?

Second last weekend of the footy season coming up. There’s always much hype and anticipation around this time of year, but this time around there’s an extra vibe because of Richmond.

I was a kid during an era in which the Tigers were a force, but in the 30 odd years since they’ve been a disappointment. Here and there along the way they might get some momentum, and their huge army of supporters would rouse – only for it to come to nothing. They always found a way to fall short of expectations, to the point they became famous for finishing just out of the finals year after year. Ninthmond we would call them, mockingly.

Throughout Richmond supporters – who are a different breed – remained committed, hopeful, but almost always resigned to ultimate catastrophe. For the rest of us they became a club easy to disparage for their enduring mediocrity, and propensity for stage fright.

It’s different this year. Richmond are in the last four, and just a win away from the grand final. Far from being resigned to catastrophe, every Richmond supporter seems convinced that this is their year. There’s good reason for their optimism. For a start the Tigers are playing with a steel entirely absent since the early eighties. They’re the hardest tackling team in the comp, and have changed their style altogether to something much more sustainable in finals type pressure. They’ve been impressive, and their coaching staff have to take a lot of credit.

On the back of this the hype is like nothing I can recall. There’s a huge supporter base who for years have been starved of success, and now drunk with the possibility. It’s the very definition of over the top.

As an outsider I view it with bemusement. As someone whose team has been there multiple times since Richmond were last I study it curiously. But as someone who has watched AFL footy I wonder if Richmond are guilty of just about the worst sin in footy – getting ahead of themselves.

To be fair the club itself seems pretty sensible in its approach to these big games. It’s the supporters and the media who have gone crazy. Every supporter seems convinced that their destiny is a flag. Ex-Richmond in the media are proclaiming this week’s result a sure thing, and there’s already controversy about whether Richmond should have to wear a clash strip for the grand final. My advice – get there first, then worry about it.

A week ago I was pretty confident they would make the grand final (and lose). I tipped them to beat Geelong, which they did handsomely. They opened up to them the easier side of the drawer. More than likely they would play GWS in the preliminary final, who are very talented, but crippled by injuries and frequently disappointing.

That’s the match-up this week, but on the back of an impressive GWS win in the semi-final, and all the clamour and noise about Richmond, I’m now tipping GWS.

Richmond aren’t a great side. They’ve been structured and coached to a style of game that is effective, and which is basically greater than the sum of its parts. Interestingly, you could say GWS is the opposite. They’re a richly talented team who play too often as individuals (I believe poorly coached). Even then they’re dangerous, but when they click as a unit they’re very formidable. If that happens Saturday they should win.

Richmond dominated against Geelong and should have had a match winning lead at half time – instead, Geelong drew level in the third quarter. Richmond would ultimately go on to record a dominant win, but the game highlighted both their strengths and their flaws. They have not been a big scoring team this year, and have an undersized forward line (which has often been a positive). They don’t convert enough chances. Their efficiency too often breaks down going forward. Against Geelong it took a great player like Dustin Martin to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

I don’t think they can get away with the same inefficiency against a quality team in form.

That’s the question – GWS are a quality outfit, but will they be in form? They’ve been erratic in general, and this week must play on a ground in front of 100,000, of which just fifteen hundred are GWS supporters. The crowd will be overwhelmingly yellow and black, and noisier than you can imagine.

There’s a lot of ifs and buts in this game. GWS have the quality edge. Richmond will have the crowd on their side. Question is how they turn up on the day. I think we’ll know pretty early, but I’m inclined to GWS because all the hype for Richmond is unhealthy.

It will be an interesting vibe if GWS get up. The crowd will become silent, and there could be riots in the streets after, depending on how it plays out. I’m not sure if they can go this far next year.

In the other game I’m tipping Adelaide to beat Geelong at home.

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