Richmond ran over the top of Geelong, kicking nine goals to two after halftime, to run out 31-point winners in the AFL Grand Final, on Saturday night at the Gabba in Brisbane.
In the 12.9 (81) to 7.8 (50) win, the Tigers stormed back from a 15-point halftime deficit when a number of players lifted.
While Dustin Martin was a force throughout the entire match with four goals, 21 possessions and four clearances, both key forwards Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch kicked key goals after the main break, and Shane Edwards (27 possessions) and captain Trent Cochin (21 possessions) managed a majority of their ball-winning moments after a second quarter where Geelong looked like stamping their values and control on the match.
“We had a resilience that I knew we had in us. I am so proud of the boys, we showed great character,” said Cochin, now a triple-premiership captain.
“To finish off like we have, is simply outstanding,” he added.
And Martin – in staking his claim as perhaps the finest finals player in VFL/AFL history with his third Norm Smith Medal as best-on-ground in a grand final – hailed his teammates’ resiliency in sealing the deal as back-to-back premierships and winning three flags in the last four years.
“We were just told to stick to our project,” Martin said.
“We just needed to keep stuffing them defensively, and things would go our way,” he added.
“They are an incredible side. With what we have been able to do this year, and the circumstances in which we had to do it in, and to arrive on the biggest stage and perform in the way that we have, it’s been a big tick to our organisation,” said Tigers coach Damien Hardwick.
In a calamitous opening term which saw multiple casualties between the two sides, Geelong somehow got to the first change leading by a single point.
After Tom Hawkins and Patrick Dangerfield each missed makeable set shots in the game’s first attempts at goal, Martin’s probing kicks helped his teammates set up Dion Prestia and Kamdyn McIntosh to give the Tigers their initial advantage.
But once Cam Guthrie nailed a set shot from Brandan Parfitt’s incisive chip, Mitch Duncan – one of four Cats remaining from the club’s last premiership in 2011 – converted a set shot of his own in the final minute of the term to put Geelong up by one point.
The goals were exactly what not only the Cats deserved but also Duncan and Guthrie as well, as top possession-getters in the opening term.
Dangerfield made amends for his earlier set-shot miss with a ripping kick after receiving a free to extend the Cats’ lead to seven points in the second quarter’s opening minutes.
And as if Duncan’s application of pressure to gain possessions inside the Cats’ attacking half wasn’t enough, Geelong – via the tactics from the strategic mind of defensive coach Matthew Scarlett – brought defenders Tom Stewart, Jed Bews and Lachie Henderson forward to reinforce advantages in contested footy and marking.
The combined brainchild thinking of Scott and Scarlett paid dividends with Sam Menegola and Hawkins kicking consecutive goals, to see the Cats lead by as many as 22 points after four goals on the trot, and simultaneously keeping denying the Tigers’ gamebreakers the ball in the process.
Martin pinched a goal from a stoppage with 75 seconds to go until the long break to reduce the Cats’ lead to 15 points – and in truth, the Martin goal flattered the Tigers, as Geelong controlled the second term.
Yet at the same time, as innocuous as the goal seemed, it may have been the turning point for the Tigers, riding their good fortune that the Cats could have led by a lot more.
“The last five minutes of that second quarter, we started to catch our grip, and then rode our momentum into the second half,” said Martin.
At the start of the third term, Richmond came out with a renewed energy with a dedication to play on more quickly and recreate their trademark of chaotic footy.
Riewoldt – after a quiet first half – nailed a set shot just inside 50 after being gifted a free kick from a Henderson holding call, to narrow the arrears to single digits. And upon forcing a Jake Kolodjashnij turnover in the Cats’ back half, Jason Castagna marked well and kicked truly to bring the Tigers to within three points.
Gryan Miers, courtesy of Ablett’s hard running and creative vision down the corridor, cancelled out Castagna’s goal with a clinical finish on the run to give the Cats a bit of breathing room – a sense of security quickly reversed when Richmond kicked the next goal through Kane Lambert.
And the Tigers’ pressure paid dividends when Martin picked up the crumbs just outside 50 to kick his second goal of the match with the outside of his right boot to put Richmond in front by three points.
The Tigers may have kicked four goals to one in the time-honoured “premiership quarter”, but as Geelong kept the scoreboard pressure on, Edwards missed a gilt-edged chance to put the Tigers further in front as his kick off the ground missed to the right, and the match would hang in the balance going into the final term with Richmond up by a mere two points.
But the Tigers, true to their championship pedigree, ran the game out in the final quarter.
Prestia kicked his second goal within the final term’s opening minute to give Richmond the all-important first say, extending the Tigers’ lead to eight points, a lead inevitably lengthened to 22 points when Lynch – kept deafeningly quiet for three terms – marked over Kolodjashnij in the goal square to kick his first goal, and Martin kicked his third in cleaning up the crumbs outside 50.
But while Geelong would not go away quietly, evidenced with Menegola opening up the angle on the eventual free kick to boot his second to bring Geelong within 16 points with less than five minutes to go, Riewoldt and Martin clinched the match, and the Tigers’ third flag since 2017, with goals as Geelong ran out of time to continue momentum towards a comeback.
“You don’t judge yourself when things are going well, you’re better to judge yourselves when things aren’t going your way. This premiership is a great credit to our leadership, and to our players, staff and our families,” said Hardwick.