Richmond coach Damien Hardwick expects Dustin Martin to play in the preliminary final against Collingwood, despite suffering a serious cork that affected his training this week – but says he will not be a soft target.
One week down and spring football is in full bloom. Here’s the first instalment of my AFL finals diary.
Week 1, your entrées are served: Black and Gold brand in vogue
Born in the early 1980s, there have been a number of sporting constants in my life.
Not least has been the Tigers being a dumpster fire of gross mismanagement, bloodletting and perennial on-field disappointment.
Of course, I understand things change.
But nearly 12-months on from Richmond’s epic flag triumph, there is still something shocking about it all.
Not ‘bad’ shocking – after all, I have always liked the Tigers, well apart from when they drove a dagger through my 14-year old heart during that 1995 semi-final comeback against the Bombers – more ‘football reality-altering’ shocking.
Which I guess is really just ‘good’ shocking.
The premiership was one thing, perhaps even normalised in part by the Bulldogs’ unlikely 2016 Cinderella story that preceded it.
But that didn’t prepare us for what was on such obvious display during last Thursday’s finals masterclass against the Hawks.
The Tigers are smack bang in footballing dreamland.
Having dodged the customary hangover, injury and old age bullets, Richmond remains snugly cloaked in ‘reigning premier invincibility’ as spring breaks.
Hard, fast and skilful, the Tigers now with a route back to the promised land without having to set foot outside their beloved MCG.
Tom Lynch’s expected off-season arrival – the AFL’s take on Kevin Durant’s Golden State Warriors defection – the cherry on top of the yellow and black cake.
Punt Road is now soaked in greed-inducing goodness as Richmond fans do their best to forget what was offered up in last year’s desperate one-premiership deals with the devil.
Karma aside, it will take a boilover to stop them.
Wrestling my Demons
It stopped me in my tracks, rising above the background noise like the hairs on the back of my neck.
Saturday morning, main street Point Lonsdale, excitable Melbourne supporter and the single worst sound in football.
The romance surrounding a drought-breaking Demons’ premiership is undeniable, but this was a timely reminder of the potential fallout.
It’s not the team, a likeable and uncharacteristically hard-nosed young outfit admirably trying to rid its club of 50-plus years of baggage.
Nor the coach, or the administration striving to best honour the legacy of the man who lit this red and blue fuse, Big Jim.
Certainly not the week-in-week-out supporters, for whom the likes of Gary Buckenara and the maulings of 1988 and 2000 are a cross to bear.
I’m talking about the fans – you know who you are – that will help swell the Members Reserve on Friday night and then fade away, largely unmoved in the event the Hawks prevail.
The same fans who threaten to turn the aftermath of a Demons’ flag into a living hell for the rest of us.
Be careful what you wish for.
Barbarians at the Gate
Little did I know that my Demon epiphany would soon be followed by a Giant U-turn.
It was only last week that I wrote how much more likeable this battered – and seemingly humbled – GWS outfit is.
That was before Toby Greene’s Daniel-san antics – against the backdrop of a smugly grinning Jeremy ‘Elbows’ Cameron – during Saturday afternoon’s beat-down of the Swans.
Is it just me or does GWS remind you of every team that beat you by 20-plus goals in junior footy and enjoyed dishing out a bit of needless physical punishment in the process?
If this is GWS at its most depleted, I shudder to think of a full strength outfit imbued with premiership swag.
The Giants’ brashness robbing many a neutral the opportunity to back what is looming as the single biggest threat to a Tigers’ repeat.
Collingwood has been accused of many things over the years, but perhaps never of being the AFL’s finals darling.
For those reeling at the thought, how else do you explain the black and white love-in – at least outside of the blue and gold half of Perth – that was Saturday night’s game against the Eagles.
Sure there was the goodwill-evaporating sight of an irate Eddie McGuire raging against the dying of the light.
But then there was Travis Varcoe, Nathan Buckley and a brave yet injury-riddled Magpie team tapping into the latent State of Origin-esque tendencies of Victorian neutrals.
Speaking of Victorians, you can throw in the scepticism reserved for top four interstate raiders seemingly being gift wrapped a Grand Final berth only to fall flat on the big day.
Don’t forget this is an Eagles side which has not yet been forgiven for its particularly meek surrender to the Hawks in the 2015 decider.
Now for mains.