There was much about this that was new. For starters, it was Richmond and Hawthorn, finally pitted against each other in a final, 93 years after the latter entered the competition. One of the features of MCG finals is the visual treat of alternating bays of colours. On this night, the contrast, by virtue of the combatants, was subtle, hard to discern from a distance.
Then there was the timeslot. Never before had the MCG hosted a Thursday night final.
Predictably, people had whinged. “Think of the children,” cried the serially outraged. Still more than 90,000 rocked up. Of course they did. The Tigers and Hawks would have packed the MCG had the game been held at 3am on a Tuesday.
There was Conor Nash, a fourth-gamer Irishman, making an impression in finals football. In the second quarter he outmarked Nathan Broad and slotted the Hawks’ third major.
But much of the new wasn’t good for the Hawks. Luke Breust, once a beacon of accuracy, missed gettable set shots in the first half. And while there was nothing new about seeing Shaun Burgoyne in the finals, it was highly unusual to see him butcher kicks so regularly.
The new for Richmond was much better. Kamdyn McIntosh was an unlikely first goalkicker, and didn’t stop there. By early in the third term he had three majors, a career high. And there was Jack Higgins. The kid too consumed by the game to bother with a frippery like school, turned up on a school night, and didn’t look at all out of place.
However there was plenty of old too. In weather for ducks, the Hawks played ducks and drakes. Daniel Howe, a midfielder, came in for Ryan Schoenmakers, a tall.
Officially Schoenmakers was troubled by achilles soreness. Isn’t it amazing that an expendable big man would experience such an ailment hours before a final on a wet day?
Other tired finals tropes reared their heads like September clockwork. The game, at least for a half, was hard, intense, low-scoring, tight. The tackle count was high. One first quarter passage was so ferocious that SEN commentator Nick Dal Santo – a man with a heap of finals experience – dubbed it one of the best 90-second stretches of football he’d seen all year.
But most tellingly, Richmond played their same old football. Not that old, mind you. Only as old as the side that has so decisively taken hold of the AFL over the past 18 months. There was the irrepressible pressure, the uncannily slick ball movement, the fact they were thrashed in the hit-outs and it didn’t matter an iota.
There was Trent Cotchin, crashing in, sometimes recklessly. We’d seen this before. And Dustin Martin. He was playing on the same field as Tom Mitchell – the man voted by his peers as the game’s most valuable player. That might be the case, but if they voted again this morning the story could be different.
Martin’s second term was spellbinding. Off-balance, and on the boundary line, he kicked a goal that one day will help demonstrate his genius to future generations.
Daniel Rioli, too, provided familiar mastery. His second term dribble from the pocket would have been the most memorable moment in just about any other quarter this season.
The pattern of the match was eerily reminiscent of all three of Richmond’s finals from last season. Yet again a relatively even first half turned out to be nothing more than a scene setter for a third-term yellow and black onslaught. There’s a reason they call it the premiership quarter.
For decades, Richmond fans had longed for a return to the Tigers of old. Last year they were the Tigers of new. This year, it is somewhere in between.
The reality of Richmond’s ascendancy is old enough that it isn’t a surprise, but new enough that the one-time long-suffering Tiger army won’t be getting bored of it any time soon.