Tiger versus Crow

I’ve got the TV on in the background tuned to one of the footy stations taking in the pre-game. It’s Grand Final day, a big day in Melbourne, and this is just the start of it. I’ll be out later to suck on a beer or two and watch it with some friends. In the meantime, I’m happy to soak up the growing vibe in bayside Hampton, and I’ll be particularly interested in watching some of the TAC stars go round – tomorrow’s champions.

I’m tipping Adelaide today in the big one, and though it’s only by a slim margin, I hope they win too.

Adelaide should be a clearer favourite, but like many I’m wary of what Richmond can do. If the final was decided over best of three then I reckon the Crows would take it 2-1. When it’s just a single match anything can happen.

Adelaide have been the best team all year. At one stage I had some minor queries about them, thinking they were possibly frontrunners. They’d been in few close matches and lost them. Like a lot of South Australian teams of the past, they were free-flowing, fast and skilfull, but I wondered if they had the resilience to respond when challenged. Then they came back from being 50 points down against Collingwood to draw. It was a great effort, but didn’t completely answer the question – when you’re down that much you’ve left with no option but to go for it, which is very different from scrapping out a narrow victory. I still wonder a little bit, and favour Richmond if it becomes an arm wrestle, but overall think Adelaide are too good to let it become that.

The Crows gave us our biggest pasting of the year in Adelaide, but it was the return match in Melbourne that left me convinced they were the best team in it. We surged and surged again in that game, but each time Adelaide pulled away with slick and efficient footy. That’s the word that best describes them for me. They can play some dynamic, exciting footy, but above all they are efficient. With the forward line they have, that efficiency is generally sufficient to convert into a good win.

There’s no gainsaying the Tigers, though. They improved throughout the year. They’ve got probably the two best players on the field, but they don’t bat nearly as deep as the Crows. As I wrote last week their success is a testament to a playing style that capitalises on team strengths. They are ferocious around the ball and quick with ball in hand. They play disciplined footy, but I suspect their comparative inefficiency to cost them.

In everyone’s books, they’re a great story. For most of the year, I’ve sat across from a hard-core Richmond fan, and each Monday been made to endure his stories of how the Tiges have changed, and how well they’re doing. Early on he spoke with hope but lacked conviction. Then, as Richmond passed most tests, his belief grew in accord with the respect the football world slowly gave them. For so many years a joke and a disappointment, Richmond was finally being respected.

For me, their coach has to take much of the credit. I’ve always thought Hardwick underrated. He’s a raw sort of character who wears his heart on his sleeve, often with a rueful smile. He’s been there through the ups and downs and copped some blame for that – much of which he accepts. I’ve always been of the view that it’s been the recruiters who let Richmond down, not the coach. He took teams to finals who weren’t good enough to win them, but in truth weren’t really good enough to make it there in the first place. He took what he was given and moulded it into a unit better than its individual parts.

The mistake he made was dropping his original game style and trying to adopt the style so successfully played by Hawthorn. He didn’t have the players to do it though, and Richmond became a stultified team without energy. It’s only now that he has radically changed styles again that the team has leapt forward. He’s embraced the shortcomings of the list and made something unique out of it – even now, today, I would suggest that for talent Richmond is in the 5-7 range, the difference has been coaching.

If Richmond is to win then I’d be happy for Dimma. He was a great defender for my team and premiership player twice over. He was one of my favourite players back in the day because he was such an uncompromising – and occasionally brutal – footballer. He seems like an affable character off-field that it’s easy to forget he was one of the toughest in a very tough team. I’m happy for him.

I certainly don’t count Richmond out today. They’ve got momentum, and momentum counts for so much in sport. There’s a whiff of the fairy-tale to their rise, much like last year with the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs were perennially unsuccessful, whereas Richmond is royalty fallen on hard times. Once they roared and were mighty, only to become mangy and mediocre. This is their rise again, and don’t the tiger fans love it.

I concede that a victory for Richmond today would have some poetry to it, but it’s only occasionally that the sporting gods allow poetry to affect the result. I’m wary of what happens if they win. It will be mayhem and jubilation and, just quietly, Richmond fans will be even more insufferable – if that’s at all possible.

I don’t mind if they win, but I think the Crows will, and hope it too – they deserve it, they’ve been the best team all year. And Adelaide is – for me – one of the less offensive sides. They’re reasonable and respectable and, as an Essendon man, one of the clubs that treated us with respect through our dark days. Besides, they’re Cheeseboy’s team, and he wouldn’t allow me to do anything else.

Adelaide by 19 points

(I hoped to write about Dustin Martin today as well, but time and space have got away from me – suffice to say he is a mighty player and an interesting character. I have a lot of time for him because I reckon there’s a gentle heart that beats inside of him. And he’s a great story.)

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