I watched a lot of NBA growing up. Let’s face it – it had just about the best highlight packages in sports through the nineties… and I remember Rudy Tomjanovich, coach of the Houston Rockets after he and Hakeem Olajuwon led them to a second NBA title.

He took the microphone and uttered the phrase “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.”

He believed in his team. He believed in his players. And he believed that when push came to shove, they would get the job done.

And we saw it ring true in this game.

It was a first half played under Murphy’s Law for Richmond – everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and the reigning champions limped into the half time break with just two goals to their name. The premiers looked as though they were about to become victim number seven for the Western Bulldogs in 2021.

Did you doubt their heart?

Did you hang your head?

Did you fail to realise that this is a team that has more switches to flip than they have fingers?

The third quarter saw the Tigers at their suffocating, brutal best as they tightened the screws on a shell-shocked Dogs to set up the win.

“Oh, the Tigers could be 3-4…”

“Oh, the Tigers don’t have Dusty…”

“Oh, the Tigers are playing the best team in the land…”

You forgot who Richmond were. You forgot who they are! And against the Western Bulldogs on Friday night footy, it took one quarter of power football to remind you. Never underestimate the heart of a champion.

Here’s The Mongrel’s Good, Bad and Ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

THE EMPHATIC ANSWER

Tom Lynch got put through the ringer this week, didn’t he?

Matthew Lloyd had a whack, every Johnny-Know-Nothing had their two cents worth on whether he was earning his pay packet with the Tigers, and you get the feeling that Lynch may have heard a few of what came trickling through the airwaves, newspaper and websites.

He responded in the manner a dual premiership player should.

Though his kicking let him down early in the game, Lynch gave Zaine Cordy a complete and utter hiding in their duel. Taking seven marks in the first quarter alone, Lynch had the capacity to single-handedly keep the Tigers in the game. Sure, he cocked up his shots for goal, but if we jump to the third quarter… and this review will be third quarter-heavy, Lynch once again proved his worth and gave a big, fat F-U to those who questioned him during the week.

With three third goals, Lynch drove a knife into the hearts of the Dogs supporters everywhere, and gave it a couple of twists as well. He flew at the footy, stood under it when it was his turn to do so, and it was only fitting, that with time ticking down and the game still in the balance, it was him in his secondary role of forward half ruck, taking the footy from the contest and feeding Shai Bolton for the goal.

Last season, Lynch came under fire for several incidents that people deemed unsavory. He literally rubbed a guy’s nose in as he was getting up after a contest at one stage, and become notorious for a little shot in the ribs here and there. Under scrutiny, he put the black hat on and gladly played the role of villain to absorb the hate from opposition supporters.

I reckon he may have absorbed some of the negativity during the week and thrown it back in the faces of those spewing it out this week.

Lynch played like the star he is and put people back in their box with a dominant forward performance. If he kicks straight, we would be discussing how this was one of the best forward performances in the last couple of years. As it stands, he didn’t, so it just remains a very good game in which he destroyed his direct opponent.

Still, I suppose that is the way you answer your critics; with results.

 

THE PREMIERSHIP QUARTER

Some of my earliest memories were listening to Lou Richards, Peter Landy and a few others on the Saturday night footy replay. Often they’d air the third quarter of games (no full games on TV in those days, amazingly) and you’d hear Lou the Lip utter the phrase the “premiership quarter” when a good side took control of the game.

One side showed up in the premiership quarter this week, and the other gave an indication that premierships aren’t won in April. Or March.

Yes, the Bulldogs started this season like they’d been fired out of a canon, but the thing about doing that – eventually, you come back to earth with a thud. That thud was audible in this one.

Richmond have made a habit out of doing this in important games. They hit the ground running in the third, they dial up the pressure and when the moment comes, they step on the throat on their opponents and end things.

They didn’t quite end things in the third quarter, but what they did do was swing the momentum back into their favour so wildly, that even a blind man could see what was going on. They forced errors, they sowed the seeds of panic in their opponents and they created pressure, pressure, pressure until something had to give.

That something was the resolve of the Western Bulldogs.

Their attack was relentless. Their defence was nigh-on impenetrable and their belief in those around them gave them an air of confidence that would make any opponent think twice about their own place in the game.

It was in stark contrast to the first half, when a slick Bulldogs unit took on the Tigers with the forward handball, and did it well enough to establish a handy led. Not a great lead – just a handy one.

But handy leads don’t cut it against this team.

This team takes handy leads, cuts them down to manageable ones and then beats you over the head until you submit.

While the Tigers were not great in the first half, they weren’t terrible. They had things that were working, and it was their finishing that needed improving. In the second half, they kicked 9.3 to reverse the horrid first half display of goalkicking. And once that facet of the game kicked in, the Dogs started to sweat.

The players who lifted were many. Bolton, Houli, Short, Nankervis… but there was one who stood above all others…

 

THE PREMIERSHIP CAPTAIN

Trent Cotchin sat out the last few minutes of the game after what he described as a “bit of a grab in the hamstring” but his influence on this game was enormous, and the bulk of it took place when his team needed him the most.

This is not the first time the Tigers have been inspired by their courageous and brutally combative captain. You would vividly remember the opening moments of third quarter of the 2019 Preliminary FInal. Down to the Cats, it was Cotchin who set the tone with a drag down tackle on Rhys Stanley in the opening seconds. From that moment, he implored his team to follow him, and they did.

When there was a game to be won, both then and now, Trent Cotchin puts his hand up, and his head over the footy at every possible instance.

People forget that captaincy did not sit well with him initially, and there were more than a few people who questioned whether he was the right man to lead Richmond as they struggled through the 2016 season.

How many of them hold the same opinion now?

Trent Cotchin is a man who leads by example. He is as hard at the contest as any player in the league and has very few peers in terms of leadership. He definitely led the way in this one, racking up nine disposals in the third quarter alone as the Tigers mounted their comeback and hauled the Dogs in.

He finished with 24 touches, seven clearances and five inside fifties, but you know what? He could have finished with half of those numbers and been the most important player on the park on sheer effort alone. Make no mistake, whilst we can talk about structure, tactics and execution all we like, this game was won on heart, and when you’re talking heart at the Richmond Football Club, there are none with a bigger one than Trent Cotchin.

A fantastic captain’s game.

 

THE TANK

So, the stat sheet tells me that Toby Nankervis laid four tackles in this game. It felt like more.

I am willing to bet that every single one of them hurt the opposition… and I love it.

Nank is a throwback player to a time where you tackled hard and you tackled to hurt. He is not content with standing there and holding a player up – if you get caught by Toby Nankervis, you’re going to be introduced to the turf.

I loved his crunching tackle on Bailey Dale. You could tell it was one of those borderline tackles where the Bulldogs players thought about seriously remonstrating, saw it was Nank and thought…. hmmm, maybe I won’t.

It would not have been pretty for them if they tried.

His defensive work in this one was great. Whether it was his part in the defensive wall in the third quarter, the chase on Adam Treloar that drew a free kick when the Dog ran too far, or a timely hand in to break up a potential opposition scoring opportunity – Nank was “on” in this game.

On Thursday, Frank Nguyen posted his most recent Ruckman of the Year column on our site, and picking up a vote for the fortnight was Nankervis. I know it’s early days here, but let’s nominate him for another one this fortnight – he smashed a tired and old-looking Stef Martin around the ground, and with his hard work and absolute mongrel tendencies, was one of the Tigers’ best.

 

THE MOST UNSUNG DEFENDER IN THE CAPER

I want to take a moment to single out a bloke that may or may not get a wrap in the papers, or on TV over the course of the weekend – really, I couldn’t give a rat’s arse if they do recognise his efforts or not. I recognise what he brings to the table and it was on full display in this one.

I had Nathan Broad in my top five players on the ground – and he didn’t just sneak in at fifth spot, either.

Over the past several years, he has been this constant, hard-nosed, reliable defender in the Tiger set up that has completely flown under the radar. There were rumours all last season that he might fly off to Gold Coast, but both he and Marlion Pickett (also rumoured at times to be leaving) both re-upped with the Tigers, and you can see why.

He was a beast in this game, picking up 25 touches, including ten intercepts as he continually placed himself in the right spot, even when the Tigers were under siege early in the game.

This bloke will not get headlines (well, not since… you know…) but he goes out, knuckles down and does a fantastic stopping job each and every week for the yellow and black. With Nick Vlastuin out, more has been asked of him, and this week, he demonstrated why the Tigers were so eager to keep him and why it was so important to their 2021 campaign that he hung around.

 

THE LONE HAND

I felt for Alex Keath in this one. He was forced to hold together a Bulldogs defence that looked as though it was not just going to break down, but crumble to the point it turned to dust.

He has been superb this season, and can add another fine outing to his 2021 tally. He had seven spoils and seven intercepts, matched up mainly on Jack Riewoldt, but was forced to come over and lend a hand on Tom Lynch whenever he could. He was also charged with dropping into the hole when Riewoldt was not the target, which led to the Tiger goal kicker attacking basically everything in the air to keep him occupied.

Keath is another defender away from being one of the elite interceptors in the game. In this one, with Zaine Cordy being exposed by Lynch and Hayden Crozier not quite the player he was a year or so ago, Keath wore the bulk of the responsibility, and despite the result, handled his direct match-up very well.

 

A QUICK NOTE

I am sure there’ll be people who read this and state that it is too Richmond-heavy and that there were a heap of Dogs players that could be added to the “good” section.

I understand your points.

However, I cannot have players in here who were part of the third quarter vanishing act. Yes, Caleb Daniel got a heap of the footy. Yes, Bailey Dale ran the ball beautifully in the first half. Yes, Marcus Bontempelli was potent early in the game.

Where were they in the third quarter when the heat was on?

The only bloke I’ll give a pass to from that Bulldogs midfield is Bailey Smith, and as you’ll read below, even he got sucked into the panicky, reactionary style of play that hurt the Dogs so much.

So, if you’re wondering why there is a dearth of Dogs in this section, the answer is simple – I don’t praise those who are absent when the going gets tough. Which leads me to…

 

THE BAD

 

DISAPPEARANCE

You ever watch one of the old cartoons and when things get a little scary, the protagonist looks back at his group of friends for support, only to find them aaaaallll gone? It’d happen in Scooby-Doo a lot, from memory.

I swear I don’t watch it anymore… though I did like when the Harlem Globetrotters would somehow become involved in their shows. Or Batman and Robin. How did they keep running into those guys?

Anyway, the third quarter was like a scene from Scooby-Doo, with the Dogs looking for someone to save them and no one putting his hand up.

We all hear about how great Caleb Daniel is, right? He had 34 touches for the night – three came in the third quarter.

How about ball-magnet, Jack Macrae? He notched his standard 30 touches in the loss… two touches in the third quarter. He wasn’t being tagged – don’t give him an out on this one – he was just outworked and out-hustled.

Got any more you want to give a swift kick in the arse to, Mongrel?

Why yes… yes, I do.

Lachie Hunter – one touch in the third quarter! ONE!!!

Bailey Dale – two touches despite playing in the area the ball was the whole damn quarter!

Even Libba, who I absolutely love, and who racked up ten clearances, couldn’t get his hands on the pill… ahem… so to speak.

They were consistently beaten by Cotchin, Bolton and Baker when the ball was there to be won. I know this may come across as Jonathon Brown-like, but the Tigers just wanted it more and were a lot more willing to put their head over the footy. The Dogs had questions asked of them.

And too many of their ball-winners didn’t answer.

 

EVERYBODY PANIC!!!

So, what kind of kicks does the Richmond defensive set-up thrive on?

  1. Precision passes down the wing?
  2. B)Hitting targets on the lead?
  3. Hack kicks without looking?

If you answered A or B, you’re an idiot. If you answered C, you’re an astute student of the game who has had the pleasure of watching this Richmond outfit turn the screws on teams for a few years in a row, now. And you have seen the result. Sometimes they get lucky. Sometimes, they throw the ball on the boot, hope for the best, and it lands in the arms of a teammate. They win a chance to move the footy past the centre of the ground and then they only have to contend with Dylan Grimes, Nathan Broad, Noah Balta and David Astbury.

However, more often than not, it lands with a player around the middle of the ground and comes back inside 50 with interest.

And the Dogs could not pay that interest in this game.

The wall that Richmond built in the third quarter was unassailable, even when the disposals were well thought out and delivered well. The Dogs had no chance, with Bailey Smith throwing the ball on his boot and kicking it as far as he could like it had some sort of disease attached to it and he wanted it as far away from him as possible.

He had a lot of mates, plenty of which displayed zero composure in the face of the relentless Richmond pressure. Bont, Adam Treloar, even Caleb Daniel turned the ball over with the walls closing in on them in moments they’d all like to have back as Richmond dialled things up again and again.

Players like Grimes, Broad, Astbury and Balta simply moved up the ground to cut off any attempted fast break into the Dogs’ attacking half and sealed the game off in their own forward line. Time and time again the Dogs tried to get out and get a bit of run, only to be cut off at the knees by a disciplined Tigers defence.

It got to the point where you almost started to feel sorry for Aaron Naughton, because, let’s face it, he is was the only one capable of doing something close to making a difference. Josh Bruce and Josh Schache… well, they were both soundly beaten, and though Dogs fans may point to the delivery in the third quarter as the reason, they didn’t exactly set the world on fire in the first half, either.

 

THE UGLY

 

LUKE BEVERIDGE’S CHRIS SCOTT MOMENT

I want you to cast your mind back, if you will, to the 2020 Preliminary Final for a moment. For Tiger fans, it wont be a stretch. For Dogs fans, it might be a bit more difficult.

Nonetheless, we saw almost the exact same pattern emerge in this game after half time, with the Tigers leaving no question they were up for the fight, and the Dogs wilting when the pressure came.

To make matters worse, we had another scenario that was eerily familiar to the Geelong capitulation to the Tigers last year – the superstar and potential match-winner was sitting inside forward fifty.

Where the ball wasn’t.

We would have all heard BT yelling into the microphone about the Dogs not having a touch in their forward half for the term, right? Then why would Luke Beveridge opt to put Marcus Bontempelli down there for a good ten minutes in the quarter, robbing the Dogs of their best player where the action was and putting him in a spot that the action definitely was not?

I’m sure you will have your arguments for it – he was trying to generate some offence, right? I get that, but did he not learn from the mistakes of others? It was only six or so months ago that Patrick Dangerfield was sitting inside 50, wasting away while the Tigers rampaged back into the game against Geelong. Can someone get the bloke a tape of it?

You tell me – where would you rather the Dogs star? Running through the middle of the ground with the footy tucked under his arm, or plonked inside 50 with the team unable to generate any meaningful offence toward him?

Luke Beveridge took a risk by moving his best on-baller out of the action and into the forward 50 to make something happen. The gamble did not pay off – nothing happened.

Let’s hope the lesson is filed away under things not to do again. Let Chris Scott do that dumb crap.

 

A GOOD VFL PLAYER

Is that how we’ll remember Josh Schache?

As he lined up for goal in the last quarter to give the Dogs some hope, our resident Bulldog, Alex Docherty stated the next ten minutes would make or break his career.

At the time I thought it may have been a little harsh, but I quickly warmed to the thought – maybe this would be the moment he finally stood up, grasped his opportunity with both hands and made the statement we’ve been waiting for.

He’d get one more touch for the quarter after kicking truly, and managed to kick it so poorly that it took an unbelievable shank from his fellow forward, Aaron Naughton, a few minutes later to make us forget.

Josh Schache had a chance to do something in this one. He had a chance, after a long wait, to put his hand up and say “I belong at this level”.

Six disposals, one goal and three marks for the game tells me plenty about where he belongs.

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

IS JASON JOHANISSEN COOKED?

 

He’s 28 years old, should be in the peak of his career and he is producing… whatever that game was. Five disposals as he made a habit out of being where the footy was not as much as humanly possible.

I cannot believe I am writing this about a Norm Smith Medallist, but he absolutely stunk! Remember a couple of weeks ago when Luke Beveridge wanted to make shake things up even after a win? He made five changes to the line up and didn’t hesitate to swing the axe. If it is swinging again, JJ deserves to cop it in the neck – an insipid performance.

 

IS BACHAR HOULI BACK?

It seems so.

After a bit of an ordinary return a few weeks back, Houli hit the ground running in this one, and racked up the lazy 31 touches and 665 metres gained in this one. His run through the middle was incredibly important in the third quarter and the Dogs failed to make him do the thing he does not excel in – defend.

Do you remember a couple of years back, some bozo wrote an article that tried to condemn Houli for not playing on anyone in racking up huge numbers… like it wasn’t part of Richmond’s gameplan to free him up, and he was just acting like a loose canon or something – it made me laugh.

Of course he wasn’t playing on someone – Richmond didn’t want him to, damn it!

And so, the Dogs allowed him to roam free in this one as well. He and Jayden Short combined for over 1.3 kilometres gamed for the Tigers. That is some serious distance for two half backs. In contrast, Bailey Dale had close to 500 metres gained at half time and ended up with 636 metres in total.

I wonder what happened there?

 

DID JOSH BRUCE LEAP BACK TO 2020 FORM?

That mark he completely missed in the last quarter… oh man, he’d love to have that over again.

You know, players cop a lot of crap for moments like that. Bruce looked to be preparing for contact, and might have thought he was going to draw the free kick… kids, if you ever want to see what NOT to do in a marking contest, watch Bruce in that one. Way too concerned with what his opponent might or might not do and completely forgot to make the ball his primary objective.

 

IS LIAM BAKER THE PRESSURE FORWARD THE TIGERS NEED?

His tackling was fantastic in this game, and his pressure inside 50 helped create the chaotic nature of the manic Richmond game plan.

Cards on the table – I am a Baker fan and think he can make the jump into the middle one day. Right now, however, if he can craft a little place for himself zipping in and out of that fifty metre arc, it adds another string to the pressurised bow of the Tigers’ front half.

 

HOW MUCH X-FACTOR DOES SHAI BOLTON HAVE?

It oozes out of him…

I could make so many disgusting comments, but I won’t. When Bolton goes near the footy, great things happen for the Tigers. He is a creator, a garbage man (collects that which others leave behind and puts it to use) and he is a highlight machine.

I’ve heard some Richmond fans say they feel comfortable when Bolton has the footy. I can definitely see why.

 

OTHER BITS

 

Who makes a bigger difference to their respective side? Josh Dunkley? Tim English? Or Dustin Martin?

It’s hard to go past Dusty, but just watching the replay back as I write (multi-tasking!), I cannot help but feel the absence of English was a crucial factor for the Dogs. With Bruce and Schache looking lost, a mark or two inside fifty may have alleviated some of the pressure on the Dogs. As it stood, it was Aaron Naughton or bust – English would have aided them immensely.

The Dogs should not be panicked about this. They have the Blues next week and will go in as heavy favourites, Depending on what occurs this weekend, they could go in facing a Carlton team either crying for change, or one with a renewed sense of hope. Either way, a contender will whack the Blues.

Is this the game to kickstart the Tiger season? Nope… that’s next week against the Cats. The Tigers have had a big, three-course meal. First the Dees as a pretty hearty entree, then the Dogs as the main, and now, to cap things off, a bit of Geelong. Maybe they’ll devour the Dangerfield-less Cats and all of a sudden, the slow start of the Richmond Football Club will be a footnote in the history of the 2021 season.

And so, we come to the end of another Good, Bad Ugly, and what did we learn?

The Dogs don’t like intense pressure.

The Tigers aren’t back – they never went anywhere.

And you never underestimate the heart of a champion.

Write that one down the next time someone starts writing off the Tigers.

 

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