If Richmond entered this match as the more seasoned side, the Blues carried the greater burden: That of the not-so-quiet desperation of a proud club that has spent too long in the cellar and not in the premiership conversation.
Richmond were the club with more to lose if you consider the demographics of the teams. The Tigers fielded a side with seven players aged 30 or more and three of those – Jack Riewoldt, Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin – are totemic figures in the club’s storied history. A fourth, Dylan Grimes, is not far behind the trinity in terms of stature for the faithful and at, this moment, is more crucial to the team structure as nearly anyone.
Further, the Tigers have doubled down on the here and now by spending draft capital – and seven year contracts – on ex-Giants Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper; of that pair, Taranto was the more productive, especially in a fierce but scrappy first half.
Emotions flow: The post-siren atmosphere.Credit:Justin McManus
But the Tigers have three flags in the trophy cabinet since 2017 and, if they’ve punted on staying in the race, they’re also playing with house money; if their gamble on Hopper and Taranto – and the continuation of Riewoldt and Cotchin’s careers – doesn’t pay off, they’ll still have those flags.
Carlton, thus, were – and are – the club with more riding on this season.
At the end, neither club lost anything and the 88,000 were left with that strange feeling that always accompanies the draw; if there are those who dislike the lack of a winner, a draw – in a home and away game – is still a result.
Certainly, with 50 seconds left – before Tom Lynch’s colossal pack mark – the Tigers would have settled for two premiership points.
It felt more like a defeat for the Blues, in the sense that – after Charlie Curnow’s toe-poke goal – they had a lead of seven points and seemed a fair chance to hang on.
Carlton’s major gamble wasn’t in the post-season recruiting, like the Tigers, but in selection for this first game. The Blues selected a pair of first gamers, Luke Cowan and Ollie Hollands. It is difficult to win a finely balanced game such as this one – which went right down to the wire – with a pair of debutants, albeit the Blues did sub Cowan out, replacing him with a six-year “veteran” in Lachie O’Brien.
The tale of the match swung on the boots of each team’s respective key forwards.
Harry McKay had threatened to tear the game apart – he had Noah Balta’s measure in the one-on-ones and played in front. But McKay’s usually trustworthy boot failed him in telling moments, such as in the third quarter, when he missed a pair of shots that a Coleman medallist (2021) should nail.
Tom Lynch, too, had loomed as a potential match-winner in that third quarter and, unlike his counterpart McKay, Lynch found the sticks and enabled the Tigers to snatch the lead, just when the Blues had appeared well-positioned.
Riewoldt, meanwhile, had been utterly eclipsed by the unsung and former Bulldog Lewis Young, who had a startling eight intercepts in the first half, repelled numerous attacks and beat Jack pointless in one-one-outs. Riewoldt booted one telling goal; otherwise, he was pretty much absent.
But the game swung most violently on the boot of its most mercurial forward, Carlton’s astonishingly gifted Charlie Curnow, who has a ceiling higher than the other three key forwards, simply because of his athletic talents.
Curnow, like Riewoldt, had been completely smothered and missing the first half, Grimes having covered him superbly. Curnow then booted a pair of goals after half-time to give the Blues a buffer and, in the final term, his third goal shaped as the decider.
The Blues, though, lost some composure. A dropped mark here, a fumble or two, a decision that could have been more conservative with the ball when they had the lead (to find an open player).
The older heads – Lynch at the end – found a way to square the scores, when Carlton had been ready to announce another step.
There would be no winner, other than the game. A game that had been scrappy and uneventful, became a memorable event and one that will be remembered for the fact that, like Anzac Day 1995 between Collingwood and Essendon, the game itself was the winner.
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