What can I say as an introduction to this review?

How can I possibly do this Richmond team justice?

Hawthorn, Brisbane, Geelong… where do these blokes rate now that they’ve won their third flag in four years? Would you have them above Geelong’s three in five? I would. Equal with the Hawks and Lions’ three-peat teams? Hmmmm… close, but there is the chance they’re not done just yet!

Down by 15 points at half time, there was an eerie similarity to the 2019 Preliminary Final, and as the third quarter commenced, you just got the feeling that the Tigers were coming.

And they did. Riewoldt got the scoreboard ticking over and was quickly followed by Castagna. Gryan Miers managed to stem the flow momentarily before Kane Lambert drew the Tigers to within a kick.

And then it was Dusty.

Oh, Dusty… I am starting to sound a little too much like Bruce McAvaney, but the now-three-time Norm Smith Medallist made the difference in this game. It was his goal in the second quarter that gave the Tigers hope, and it was his second and third goals that buoyed the team as they powered toward an historic win.

Earlier in the day, I re-posted an old article asking where Dusty sat when it came to the greatest finals performers of all time. It was met with the expected derision, people claiming he is nowhere near other football luminaries, such as Leigh Matthews, Michael Voss or Andrew McLeod. Overrated, and so on.

You can have a read below if you like.

Greatest Finals Players – Where Does Dusty Rank?

Those same people that argued he was overrated are quieter tonight.

With his third Norm Smith Medal, Dustin Martin now sets himself apart. His four goals and 21 touches added to the legend he has constructed, and the scary thing is that he may have a fair bit left.

We’ll get to the game of Dustin Martin in-depth, but there is so much more to this Richmond team than just one man. There is so much more to this game than just what Dustin Martin contributed. Where was the game won? And where was the game lost? Who stood out? Who went missing? And what could have been done differently?

Let’s see what we can get through in The Mongrel’s Big Questions from the 2020 AFL Grand Final.

 

WHERE WAS THE GAME WON?

It was won on the back of hard work.

There is an argument that the previous two Richmond premierships were won by half time, with the Tigers getting to enjoy the second half as they were well in front.

Not this time – this time they were challenged and many questions were asked of them. Whilst they weren’t being pummelled by any stretch, Richmond were on the back foot through the first half, with the Cats missing several chances to land a telling blow, particularly early. If fairness, Geelong should have been a couple of goals up at quarter time, but wasted opportunities.

You simply cannot blow chances against this Richmond team, and with early shots from Hawkins and Dangerfield missing, the Tigers were able to establish an early lead and eventually go into quarter time just a point down.

Geelong turned the screws in the second, pinning the Tigers into their defensive half, with Tom Stewart a huge standout with his intercepting. A horrible miss from Gryan Miers, after taking an intercept mark 30 metres out, playing on and kicking round the corner will be a difficult memory to shake from his head in the coming days.

Geelong’s 15-point lead just did not seem like enough at half time. That’d probably be because it wasn’t.

It wasn’t enough to protect; nor was it enough to establish dominance over the Tigers, and when you leave the door open for Richmond Football Club, they don’t need an invitation to barge on in.

Many will say it was the third quarter that the Tigers won this game – the “premiership quarter”. And whilst they did make their move in the third. It was the goal from Dustin Martin prior to half time that changed the momentum. It was at that point that their superstar said “enough” and imposed his brilliance on the contest.

A half-fend on Kolodjashnij, an awkward ball drop and a controlled kick around the corner and suddenly there was life in the Tigers, and just a little bit of belief drained from the hearts of Geelong fans. If it wasn’t where the match was won, it was where the game turned.

It was Dusty. Again, it was Dusty.

 

WHERE WAS THE GAME LOST?

Chris Scott rolled the dice at the start of the third quarter. And he lost.

Patrick Dangerfield started out of the goal square and it was obviously hoped that he would be able to hit the scoreboard and make a difference.

He did neither.

Restricted to just one touch for the third term, Dangerfield was a non-factor and struggled to get into the game in the last quarter as well. After making a big physical impact on the game in the first quarter, taking Nick Vlastuin out of the game, Dangerfield retreated into the shadows as Dustin Martin shined like the star he is.

And in that third quarter, any lingering questions about the Dusty v Danger careers were answered emphatically. One stood up and the other stepped down.

You already had Tom Hawkins up forward being starved of opportunity and you throw your best player into the area where the ball isn’t as well? It’s borderline lunacy.

So, I reckon the Tigers could send a bit of a thank you note to Chris Scott. They may have won anyway, but he sure as hell didn’t make it as difficult as he could have.

 

WAS THIS A REPLICATION OF THE 2019 PRELIM FINAL?

It was very similar, wasn’t it? The Cats get the jump, set up a lead and probably should have led by more. But the Tigers were just within striking distance.

In 2019, it was the first bounce of the third quarter that set the tone for the rest of the game – Chris Scott started Tim Kelly on the half-forward flank; one of his best ball-winners didn’t start in the middle.

And in this one, it wasn’t too far removed. I touched on Dangerfield’s starting position, which I have no doubt had a negative influence on the Cats.

I don’t know whether Chris Scott gets a little too ahead of himself, plays games and strategizes to the point where he confuses himself, but I simply cannot believe they built a lead and allowed the same thing to happen.

Patrick Dangerfield is a star. He is one of the best mids in the game. In the second half of the most important game of his life, he had four touches.

Unacceptable.

They knew the Tigers would come. They had to know, yet the Cats wilted when the heat came on. Just like last year. The more things change…

 

HOW BIG WAS THE NICK VLASTUIN INJURY?

It was huge.

Vlastuin was a popular pick for the Norm Smith Medal by a few people in our little Mongrel world, and seeing him crash to the turf after copping an errant Dangerfield elbow was something that would have struck a bit of fear into the hearts of Richmond supporters.

Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, and as Vlastuin was stretchered off, the Tiger defence reshuffled in the hopes of covering his absence.

What did that mean for the back six? Well, it meant that the role of interceptor had to be shared by Jayden Short and Liam Baker, who are both no slouches by any stretch, but nor are they Vlastuin’s calibre in terms of aerial ability.

It also placed an increased demand on Dylan Grimes to stick tight to Gary Rohan and not freelance across to aid Noah Balta on Tom Hawkins. Without Vlastuin to drift into the hole, both Grimes and Balta had to contend with their own men without the help defence Vlastuin would normally provide.

It took until after half time for the Richmond defence to find their rhythm and start to work the ball from defence a little more freely, with Kamdyn McIntosh starting to play more of a defensive wingman role behind the footy alleviating some of the pressure.

As always seems to be the case, once the dust settled, the Richmond defence adapted to life without Vlastuin, but it would definitely not be something they’d want to do on a regular basis.

 

HAS THIS BEEN A CAREER-YEAR FOR JAYDEN SHORT?

Just prior to Martin snagging his third goal, one of the Mongrel writers asked the question as to who was best on ground. At this stage, it was starting to become clear that the Tigers were going to be very hard to beat.

To me, it came down to Dusty, Shane Edwards and Jayden Short. Of course, the next 15 or so minutes would see the scoreboard impact of Martin sway the voting heavily in his favour, but that should not diminish the value Short provided the Tigers in this game – he has been providing it all season.

Short gained a mammoth 771 metres for the Tigers in this game, by far his season-high, and had 25 touches at 72% efficiency. At a point early in the game, it looked as though Short may fall into the “self-preservation” trap of throwing the ball on your boot and hoping for the best, but as the game progressed, you could see him slicing through the Geelong set up with precise kicks to teammates in better positions.

Short added six score involvements from half back to his eight intercepts and was the number one rebounder for the Tigers, with seven for the game. He also had a game-high seven inside fifty deliveries as well, running away from his opponents effortlessly at times.

He has had slightly better years, statistically, but in terms of impact, this has been the season Short has made his mark at this club, and at just 24 years of age, we may see the best of the running defender in the years to come.

 

IS THERE A RETIREE WE SHOULD NOT FORGET?

I know this is a celebratory Tiger review, and rightfully so, but amid the Dusty adulation and the commiserations for the retiring Gary Ablett, there was another walking off the Gabba who was probably playing his last game, and he played a pretty effective role for the Cats too.

Harry Taylor was excellent against Tom Lynch, holding the power forward to just one touch in the first half. Taylor used all the tricks his years in the game taught him as he out-bodied Lynch and worked his man out of the contest on several occasions.

There was a guard of honour for Gaz as he left the ground but I found it strange that Taylor was not afforded much in the way of a farewell. Unlike Ablett, who is an undoubted legend of the game, Taylor stayed with Geelong through thick and thin. He has as many flags with the Cats as Ablett and didn’t run off to Gold Coast in the middle of his career for seven years.

I just reckon he could have been given a nice send-off as well.

 

IS THIS WHAT GUTS LOOKS LIKE?

We could point to a few incidents where players showed extreme courage despite injuries incurred during the game, but there is one that got virtually no air time during the broadcast at all.

We saw Gary Ablett battle on despite shoulder pain. We saw Nathan Broad cop a high one and continue on, and then we saw the devastating blows to both Vlastuin and Sam Simpson that sent them from the field, not to return, but not many people were aware that Bachar Houli played the game out with a torn calf muscle after injuring it in the first quarter.

It may not sound like much, but as a calf-tearing veteran, I have no idea how he was able to run the game out, let alone play a role in the victory. Houli finished with 11 touches and though there was no conjecture regarding him and the possibility of a Norm Smith Medal, his performance should be one that is highlighted by Richmond fans as to what it means to play in this guernsey.

It wasn’t about him – it was about what he could still contribute, despite being injured. It wasn’t about his injury – it was about the greater good. Though nowhere near dominant, it is the little acts like this from Houli that make this Richmond team so special.

Yes, we’ll hear about the courage of plenty in this game, but if someone leaves the name of Bachar Houli out of the conversation, make sure you add it for me, okay?

 

WHO WERE THE STANDOUTS?

We know about Dusty, and I won’t mention any of the others that get their own section here, but there are a few that deserve to be recognised for what they brought to the table in the 2020 AFL Grand Final.

 

TRENT COTCHIN – As someone who loves the great leaders our game produces, I can only admire Cotchin and the way he leads this team by example. He was a beast in the clinches again in this game, extracting six clearances as burrowed in and under.

And it wasn’t just the disposals – his work at stifling the clearances of Geelong was excellent; whether it was just a hand to strip the ball away or some physical pressure, Trent Cotchin leads Richmond like his life depends on every single action he performs. You will flat out never see him shirk an issue.

Ever.

 

TOM STEWART – Was quite brilliant for Geelong, playing the defensive sweeper role with the kind of ease that has been a trademark of his career to this point. Whether he was running back with the flight to make spoils, or positioning himself perfectly to alleviate the pressure on the Cats’ defence, Stewart was close to the best player on the park at half time.

He topped all players with ten intercepts, and added ten rebound fifties to his 624 metres gained. In a game where quite a few Cats stepped down, Stewart stepped up to enhance his already strong reputation with a very good Grand Final performance.

 

MARLION PICKETT – This is one that really could have gone the other way given what we’ve seen from him in recent weeks, but I felt as though he found some form in the second half of the Prelim Final. Although he won’t feature in anyone’s votes or have too many highlights, Pickett’s willingness to both take physical contact and initiate it were a real positive for Richmond.

I’m not sure if he’ll be at Richmond next season, but this baby-making machine (four of them went to the podium with him!) more than earned his spot in the team in this game with some great tackling and good physical presence around the contest.

 

SHANE EDWARDS – It’s funny; I don’t really think of Edwards as one of the experienced heads at Richmond. I kind of feel like he has only really matured into a genuine talent over the last few years, but at 32 years old, he has once again demonstrated just why Tiger fans love him so much.

He led the game in clearances, his skill in collecting the footy and dishing to a player in better position making those around him better. He had the most disposals on the park as he worked tirelessly to give the Tigers first use of the footy. Whilst any will gravitate toward the brilliance of Martin, and whilst I gravitated to the run and carry of Short, the work of Edwards was just as vital to Richmond’s surge in the second half. With an even spread of his touches over the entire contest, Edwards was one of the few players that could state that he undoubtedly played a four-quarter game.

 

WHO WENT MISSING?

There are a few… and I will try to be as fair as possible.

 

DANIEL RIOLI – Looked fumbly and uncertain whenever he went near the footy. Took until the last quarter of the game to register his first kick, and really lacked the clean hands that had been on display for the majority of the finals series.

Rioli is now a three-time premiership player, but he was a passenger in this one, and should feel lucky to have been part of this group.

 

BRANDAN PARFITT – I am such a big fan of this bloke and think he has made considerable strides this season, particularly on the defensive side of his game. Sadly, he only had the defensive side of his game on display in this one, registering as many tackles as he did disposals (seven) as he seemed hampered by a thumb injury suffered early in the game.

The Cats really needed someone to stand up in the clinches, take possession and not have the footy jarred out of their hands as soon as tackling pressure came. Parfitt has been one that has been able to provide that, but he was unable to generate any kind of potent offence in this game.

Maybe the talk of a possible trade got to him during the week, even if the Cats flat out denied he was on the table?

 

GARY ROHAN – Managed to keep Dylan Grimes’influence to a minimum, but I want to throw Rohan’s Grand Final stats at you. Not just this game – his averages across three Grand Finals.

5.66 disposals, 2.00 marks and 0.33 goals per game.

Here’s a tip – if the Cats make the Grand Final next season, don’t play Gary Rohan. He just chokes in the last game of the season.

 

WHO WAS THE MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER OF THE GAME?

I’d like to say it was Rohan, but given my expectations on him were not huge, I really cannot say I was too disappointed. The same goes for Daniel Rioli – when someone makes a habit out of going missing, you cannot be disappointed if they do exactly what has become the expectation of them.

I was hoping for more impact from Tom Lynch, who was well-held for the most part by Harry Taylor, and the injuries to both Ablett and Houli stifled their output as well.

But 12 possessions and a goal from Patrick Dangerfield is just not good enough on the biggest stage in footy. This is where he was has aspired to get for so long and to see him cough up a result of 12 touches and a solitary goal… it was THE disappointing aspect of the game. Yeah, it was him flattening Vlastuin and yeah, that action had an impact, but that is about where his impact ended.

We all got sucked into it in some way, didn’t we? Danger v Dusty; the battle of the superstars? Well, only one played like a superstar this evening, and will be remembered as the player who had an impact when it mattered most.

And Dangerfield will be remembered as a really good, if not excellent home and away player. No disgrace, but tonight was his chance to stamp his authority on the biggest game of his life.

And he didn’t.

 

DID AN INJURED GARY ABLETT BECOME A LIABILITY?

Inspirational? Yes.

Effective? Hmmmm, not so much.

It was kind of painful to watch the ‘Little Master’ wince in pain every time he was either tackled to ground or went to ground in a contest. Personally, I was a little torn about it all.

Do you leave him out there because he is Gaz, or do you take him off and admit that his shoulder was giving him so much trouble that he was doing as much harm as he was good?

For what it’s worth, I dig the courage to come back on and loved that we got one little highlight from the Ablett trick bag; that little reflex handball to the running Selwood was a thing of beauty, but this was not how we were supposed to see the great one go out.

Running around with his arm limp at his side, or being cradled to protect it, it was such a horrible way for such a great player to go out. Gaz deserved a bit better, and so did we.

Enjoy retirement.

 

AND SO… DUSTY.

There are no amount of superlatives that you can lavish upon Dustin Martin that do him justice. The best big game player in the AFL? The greatest Grand Final performer in the history of the game? A future Legend of the AFL Hall of Fame?

These are no longer a stretch when you’re talking about the man who lifted this side back into the game and then capped things off with a snap from the boundary that even made two non-football supporters engage in the “ooohs” and “ahhhs” as the ball sailed through from the boundary.

Looking at that last goal in particular, Martin had no right to be in that contest. He had no right to win the footy against two players with the ball. He had no right to slot it from where he did.

But Dusty doesn’t give a rat’s arse about whether he has the right. He has the ability, the desire and a level of mongrel in him that elevates him above all others on the park. No right to be in the contest? Then he imposes himself on the contest. No right to beat two players? He just read the predictable handball from the clumsy Stanley to Dangerfield and picked it off. He then shrugged the Dangerfield tackle like he was dismissing a child grabbing at him in a shopping centre. He had no right to slot the goal around the corner? But to miss it at that stage may have opened the door for someone to challenge him for the best on ground votes.

Make no mistake – no one was challenging him tonight.

In the past, there has been some conjecture about his Norm Smith wins. Those looking for a reason to undermine his obvious footballing brilliance will find it – I like forward to their reasoning for how his third Norm Smith Medal was a blatant AFL scheme to reward him… like the league owes him anything.

This medal was the most deserved of the three. He scored three votes from every judge and won himself his third Gary Ayres Medal in the process as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, I am happy to say I witnessed history tonight. I witnessed a team establish themselves as one of the best of the modern era. I witnessed a team come from behind to topple a Geelong side that looked primed and ready to lift the cut. And I witnessed a man named Dustin Martin confirm that he is THE MAN in the AFL.

Forget the All-Australian count. Forget the Brownlow. Forget any of the awards that reward players for playing well before the real pressure starts. When the temperature is at its hottest, Dustin Martin thrives.

Three Norm Smith Medals is a feat that may never be equalled, and you and I – we got to witness it tonight. And he might not be finished just yet, either.

 

A TOUCH OF CLASS

I loved the gesture of the Tigers postponing their celebration to form a guard of honour for the retiring Gary Ablett.

Yeah, I know that most clubs would have done this, but right after winning a flag, and right after the presentation of the cup, the Richmond players go from getting ready for some celebrating to lining up and seeing one of the game’s greatest ever players off the field with a guard of honour?

That, my friends, is class. And that, my friends, is culture.

 

THE FAMILY CLUB

I’m a Hawthorn supporter. For years we prided ourselves on being the ‘family club’.

I think that torch has either been passed, or snatched away from my Hawks. Watching Richmond celebrate, the feeling of family was something that you could not miss. How easily the children of players went to teammates when they needed someone to take them – this is not something kids just do. This is not something adults can fake with kids. These players, and their wives and children… this is one big family.

Watching Cotchin, Riewoldt, Houli, Pickett and all these little kids running around as happy as Larry to be out there with these massive blokes… it is something they’re used to. They are like one big family.

My Hawks were called the family club. It was a nice slogan. I get the feeling it is a little more at Tigerland. I have a feeling it is a way of life.

Richmond – The Family Club.

 

A FEW QUICKIES

Mitch Duncan was the metaphor for the Cats. 16 first half disposals and a goal. Nine second half disposals and no impact.

Jack Henry looked all at sea a couple of times. Mark Blicavs as well. Correct me if I am wrong, but both of these guys are former athletes who converted to Aussie Rules, right? I just reckon these sorts of blokes sometimes get a little rattled under pressure and whether it was a coincidence or not, we saw the evidence of that tonight.

You’d be feeling pretty vindicated if you were Brendan Gale this evening, wouldn’t you? Nothing as good as stating what you’re going to do and then actually doing it.

Nine mispronunciations of “Menegola” from Brian Taylor during this broadcast. Bloody embarrassing stuff.

If anyone has info on what the two idiots who ran onto the ground were protesting against, please let me know as I would like to support whatever industry they were protesting against. Wankers…

Liked the first half of Gryan Miers. Thought he looked like the most dangerous option of the Geelong mid-size forwards. Five touches after half time tells the story of Geelong’s night as well.

Serviceable game from Shai Bolton. Looked to get knocked off the contest a little easily in this one, but did a bit of the hard stuff as well at points. Really liked his shepherd to get McIntosh off and running late in the second quarter.

Finally, I noticed that Martin had the Norm Smith put away somewhere after the ceremony. Just one of the boys, celebrating as an equal. Again… culture.

 

And that’ll do me. A few standalone Tiger articles and maybe a Cats one to round out the season coming in the next 48 hours, and then… the release of our Annual Premiers E-Book featuring everything I’ve produced for the Tigers this season, including all members articles. Keep an eye out for it.

 

EBOOK: RICHMOND TIGERS YEAR IN REVIEW 2020

 

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