RICHMOND 1.2 7.4 9.8 14.11 (95) ESSENDON 3.2 6.4 8.7 11.11 (77)
Goals: Richmond: B Deledio 2 J Riewoldt 2 N Gordon 2 S Edwards 2 B Ellis B Griffiths B Houli D Martin I Maric T Cotchin. Essendon: J Carlisle 2 J Melksham 2 P Chapman 2 B Goddard C Dell'Olio D Heppell J Winderlich Z Merrett.
BEST Richmond: Miles, Ellis, Cotchin, Edwards, Maric, Martin, Houli. Essendon: Heppell, Zaharakis, Goddard, Chapman, Myers, Colyer.
Umpires: Mathew Nicholls, Shane McInerney, Andrew Mitchell.
Official Crowd: 58,024 at MCG.
Richmond’s improbable dream of playing finals remains possible, if still unlikely, while Essendon’s top eight place has become more precarious. In besting the Bombers by 18 points, the Tigers won their sixth straight game and kept their quixotic run alive.
In an entertaining match between teams of similar capacity, the Tigers withstood a spirited Essendon challenge – the Tigers had led by 18 points mid-term and seemed assured of victory before an Essendon counter-offensive – and then finished stronger with the last two goals to claim their ninth win.
Unusually, the difference was Richmond’s slightly superior composure with the ball and forward potency. The Tigers botched fewer opportunities than the Dons.
The Bombers were heavily dependent upon their emerging superstar, Dyson Heppell, who was probably best afield and an omnipresent threat throughout.
Statistically, the Tigers can play finals, if various moons align and rivals lose – an extraordinary notion given that they were 3-10 six weeks ago. Regardless of what happens from here, they have given their vociferous fans hope, and a water cooler conversation for everyone else.
The Tigers had come from behind early in the match, owning the second quarter, and then the most important moments of the second half. Essendon’s inefficiency in attack – its weakness all season – was the story of its failure. It was this problem that prompted the shifting of Michael Hurley into the forward half late in the game.
This was a game of alternating surges. First Essendon, then Richmond – this was the yo-yo pattern that repeated throughout the match. The decisive surge was the first few minutes of the final quarter, when the Tigers slotted a pair of goals to forge a lead of beyond three goals.
Essendon’s concern, and ultimate undoing, was that it did not score as heavily from its periods of ascendancy. This was most evident during the third quarter, when the Bombers had far more ball and forward entries, yet were outscored by a point.
The Dons were most dangerous on the counter-attack, with a high wire act of overlapping handball. But many a thrust foundered in their forward 50-metre arc, where Joe Daniher was ineffectual and was unable to provide the necessary scoring alternative to Jake Carlisle. Paul Chapman was dangerous with the ball in hand.
The Tigers had been on the back foot in the third quarter, yet by containing damage during the Essendon surge, were able to restore their half-time lead. A brilliant curling snap from Dustin Martin, against the run of general play, enabled Richmond to hold a slightly improbable seven-point advantage at three-quarter-time.
Richmond had gained the momentum and lead in the second term, scoring six goals to three, reversing the pattern that Essendon had established. The Tigers’ surge was built upon the game’s most fundamental skill: winning the ball.
They had a decisive edge in the stoppages, where the club’s find of 2014, Anthony Miles, accumulated six clearances, among his 19 touches.
Brett Deledio sprinted into an open paddock for his second goal, while Shane Edward’s clever roving and evasion had enabled an easy Brandon Ellis conversion. Aside from a wonderful angle shot from just inside 50metres, Jack Riewoldt was quelled in the opening half by rangy Cale Hooker, but, in a most encouraging development for Damien Hardwick, Ben Griffiths – deputising for Tyrone Vickery – had a genuine impact as Richmond’s much needed and perennially absent second fiddle to Riewoldt, and by doing so, contained Essendon’s defensive trump, Hurley.
The Tigers had snatched the lead by mid second quarter, then lost it, before a holding free was paid to Trent Cotchin as the siren was set to sound for half-time to regain a one kick advantage. Carlisle - the sole forward threat in red and black - had mixed his aerial excellence with an astonishing act of stupidity, when he fingered Chris Newman in the throat for a second 50-metre penalty that gave Bachar Houli a gimme.
The Bombers had been much sharper, fiercer and cleaner with the ball – better really in most facets – during the opening quarter. Richmond was blessed to be within two goals at quarter time (3.2 to 1.2), given that the margin of superiority seemed greater than 12points.
Essendon had – in defiance of conventional wisdom – allowed Trent Cotchin to run largely unchecked, while placing a harder tag, in the person of Heath Hocking, on Deledio.
In the absence of Jobe Watson, Heppell has emerged as Essendon’s premier player over the course of this season. He and David Zaharakis were influential around the ball in this early period.
The Tigers were getting wiped in the contest, in the spread and had minimal impact from Cotchin, Martin and Riewoldt. Their only source of hope, at this stage, was the stoppages, where their mids held sway – statistically at least - in clearances, where Miles, contributed three among his largely invisible 14 first quarter touches.
The Tigers, though, had the upside. In what was the story of their season writ small, they regained their mojo and prevailed. It just remains to be seen whether this resurgence will be worthwhile.