AFL Round 1, Richmond v Carlton
Carlton coach Brett Ratten with Chris Judd at quarter time. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
THIS was a splendidly frenetic opening to the Melbourne football season. Carlton affirmed that it is a contender for this year's premiership, and Richmond - using a little feverish imagination - that it can win one in the life of a theoretical five-year plan. But on the night, the difference might have been as little as a divine moment of Chris Yarran inspiration.
It was 10 minutes into the last quarter. The Tigers, through their own initiative and by exploiting Carlton's profligate goal-shooting, had forced their way back into a game that looked to have slipped away in the third quarter. Kane Lucas had just kicked a goal to steady the Blues, but momentum still was with the Tigers. The MCG was alive with possibility and Richmond-ness.
On the MCC members' wing, the ball looked about to go dead. Yarran ghosted into play, his feet in the boundary line chalk, with only optimism going for him. Other players readied themselves for a stoppage. Big Ivan Maric lunged, but somehow Yarran squeezed by, like a man forcing his way through fast closing doors of a commuter train. Next, first-gamer Steven Morris came at him, surely to bundle him over the line. Again, Yarran slithered past. Now his plan was clear: he did not mean merely to catch this train, but to escape through the further doors, as in a chase scene in a movie. Maric and Morris exchanged a look that asked: ''Where did he go?''
Snap out of the Blue: Carlton's Chris Yarran celebrates kicking an early contender for goal of the year in last night's runaway win against Richmond. Photo: Pat Scala
Now for the coup de grace. Yarran allowed his momentum to carry him two further steps, then eased a metre inside the boundary line. Coolly, he sized up the goal and coolly, kicked it. Houdini had gotten clean away.
Carlton's fandom roared in ecstasy, Richmond's despite themselves. Though the match was neither won nor lost yet, Yarran high-fived his way back down the ground, and the acclaim followed him. It was a rare moment in modern football in which the individual momentarily was bigger than the game. Frantically, a runner waved him to the bench. There, another round of applause awaited.
Buoyed, Carlton ran away with the game, kicking seven goals, broken only by one from Jack Riewoldt. At last, the 2012 season had a shape. It had taken a while. Initially, footy came back in such a headlong rush that for a little while, grave fears were held about Carlton and Richmond lasting out the night, let alone the season.
Down: Richmond coach Damien Hardwick. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Within a second of the first bounce, Dustin Martin had a kick. Within 10, Brad Miller had taken a pack-busting mark at centre half-forward. Truthfully, this was a misleading portent. The Tigers would struggle for forward physical presence. Carlton would find it unexpectedly in the person of Shaun Hampson. Within two minutes, Jarrad Waite was on report, a familiar place for him.
Two gauntlets had been thrown down. Carlton, a premiership fancy, could not afford to start with a defeat. Richmond, at the start of its sixth five-year plan, could not afford to be meek. The play was frantic, and the ground shook beneath the contest. The I-phoney war of the pre-season was forgotten instantly.
For omen-hunters, there was this. Richmond won the clearance count in the first quarter, redressing a chronic weakness last year. Carlton had more tackles. Sometimes, this says that a team is going in hard. Sometimes, it means that the other team is going in harder. In the early skirmishes, that was true of Richmond.
But when at last the game settled, Carlton's class told. Seven goals to one in the middle of the match generated a 32-point lead. From there, the likeliest result was that Richmond would be overwhelmed; it had happened before. The Tigers needed to up the ante, and did. Cotchin and Martin were silky, but Richmond now was epitomised by Morris, who threw himself across the boot of Kade Simpson as the Blue zeroed in on goal, stalling play. Seconds later, Cotchin goaled at the other end, and that roar erupted.
Carlton was guilty of strings of misses, five in a row at the start of the second quarter, five more before and after around three-quarter time. It is the sort of failing that can make waste paper of best-laid plans. Riewoldt's opportunist goal at the start of the last quarter narrowed the margin to seven points, and Martin missed a chance to make it one. It would take either inspiration or desperation to win now. And then came Yarran.