It wasn’t meant to end like this for the Richmond Football Club.
The Tigers entered the finals as the form team of the second half of the regular season, on the back of nine straight victories following a poor first half which returned a record of just three wins against 10 losses.
Their finals hopes appeared dashed. But suddenly, the team came from nowhere to surge into the eight to secure a place in the finals.
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That meant they would travel to the Adelaide Oval, where they had beaten the Crows in Round 21, to take on Port Adelaide in a sudden-death elimination final on Sunday.
But all the hard work they had put into the second half of the season fell apart in a brutal first quarter as the Power kicked the first seven goals to all but bring the Tigers’ resurgence to a shuddering halt.
The same could be said last year when they capitulated in the second half to lose to Carlton.
Tigers captain Trent Cotchin will be left to regret kicking into the breeze in the first quarter after winning the coin toss. His decision would not only backfire, but also be criticised by retired Brisbane Lions forward Jonathan Brown.
“Captaincy 101. You should always kick with the wind when you win the toss,” Brown tweeted.
Whether that fateful decision led to the Tigers eventually losing by 57 points is debatable, but in the end it was a shattering end to what had been a fairytale run.
While the Tigers ponder the September that could have been, the Power live to fight another day and will travel to Perth for a third time this season to face Fremantle on Saturday night. The Dockers must now take the hard road if they are to return to the grand final this year after their 24-point loss to the Sydney Swans at ANZ Stadium sent their season into sudden death mode.
To say the least, however, Ross Lyon’s men were far from disgraced, kicking the first goal of the game and only trailing by five points at half-time. Only a final quarter exhibition from Lance Franklin really sunk the Dockers in the end.
The Swans’ victory, as well as that of the Hawks’, who defeated Geelong by 36 points to kick off the finals series, means both teams will get to rest and watch as their preliminary final opponents are known.
The Swans will face the winner of this Friday night’s battle of the twin brothers when Chris Scott’s Cats face Brad Scott’s Kangaroos, who came from 33 points down in the third quarter to end Essendon’s season, and possibly the coaching career of Mark Thompson, with a 12-point victory.
The Roos had appeared dead for all money when they failed to kick a goal in the second quarter, but an impressive second half saw them run on top of the Bombers to score their first finals victory since 2007.
Meanwhile, the Hawks, who broke free in the second half to defeat the Cats for the second time in three weeks, will await the winner of the match between Fremantle and Port Adelaide in the other preliminary final. All will be on the line when this clash takes place on Saturday night.
If recent finals history is anything to go by, then it will be the Swans and Hawks who meet in the grand final in just under three weeks’ time.
In the last seven years, the teams that won their qualifying finals have gone on to reach the decider. The last time that any team had to reach the grand final the hard way was the West Coast Eagles in 2006, who lost a qualifying final to the Swans by a point before getting them back by the same margin in the decider.
And so, four matches down, and five to go. We are now in sudden-death mode. Can the Cats and Dockers bounce back from their qualifying final losses this weekend? Or will their seasons end at the hands of the underdog?