The 2020 grand final was an excellent match, full of symbolism.
Gary Ablett Jr’s final appearance gave the match a gravitas perhaps unrepeatable with any other retiring AFL star. Then you had Dustin Martin scoring four otherworldly goals, a repeat of his 2019 grand final, and a third Norm Smith medal in another repeat.
But the main freaky symbolism came from the match repeating the 2019 Tigers-Cats preliminary final exactly.
Just like 2019, Richmond scored consecutive goals early, but Geelong worked their way back in. Just like 2019, Geelong took the lead at quarter time. Just like 201,9 Geelong dominated the second quarter but only kicked three goals to one after Richmond’s defence held firm. Geelong’s highest lead was 21, then a year later 22 points. Just like 2019, Richmond scored in the second and fifth minutes after half time to instantaneously flip the game. They kicked eight goals to two after half time in 2019 and nine goals to two in 2020.
Take a look at the last quarter of both the wins against Port Adelaide and Geelong in 2020. Damien Hardwick’s side held a two-point lead both times with the game on the line. Both quarters featured the Tigers sticking to fundamentals beautifully – holding their marks, making sure clearance kicks didn’t go out on the full, unexpectantly dominating clearances. The simple things.
In the last quarter of the grand final, we saw Kane Lambert scooping up a difficult half-volley to assist Dion Prestia’s first-minute goal. This was followed by Tom Hawkins dropping a chest mark.
Nathan Broad then held a difficult running mark in the goal square, running backwards. Another low-key moment when you knew the reigning premiers were too good was when a Jack Graham tackle in defence led to Shane Edawards, him and Jayden Short combining with tight handballs for Short’s clearance, a brilliant piece of defence. Noah Balta then took a mark leading to Dusty’s killer third goal.
Geelong in contrast saw their defenders shank a number of clearances out on the full all match.
This is why Jeremy Cameron will make no difference to Geelong winning the 2021 premiership. Geelong cannot win because a premiership is won with the bottom 11 of a team’s 22 contributing. It does not matter how stacked the top 11 are if the rest of the team can’t come through.
Richmond have won all these premierships because their nobodies are all good. Geelong’s nobodies are simply nobodies.
Geelong won two excellent finals in 2020, along with powerful wins against Brisbane, Port Adelaide and St Kilda mid-year. They are an excellent organisation endlessly capable of reinvention and brave with their playing strategies. I could hardly believe pure passing was possible in the AFL until I saw Geelong eviscerate Collingwood.
But I tend to think the grand final berth flattered them. Port Adelaide, a speedy young team, ran them down in the second half and were likely a better team in 2020.
Richmond’s only major loss these years was the Collingwood preliminary in 2018, a match that grows more mythical as the Tigers keep adding premierships.
Why Mason Cox single-handedly gets the credit when the Pies were already up five goals to one and blitzing the Tigers is pure sensationalism. The Pies were speedy that night, frenetic. Richmond, out of form, simply could not keep up with them.
My feeling is the fast Port would have also beaten the Tigers in 2020 but for the rain, which always favours more experienced teams.
Now, Geelong are a lot of things but they are not speedy. That is one reason why they cannot beat Richmond who, at least defensively, are fast as well as strong.
Richmond are not the be-all and end-all of season 2021. Things change and new teams will emerge. But speed is potentially the way to beat Richmond and Geelong are not the team to do it.
Jeremy Cameron is not 22 players who fulfil their jobs like Richmond are. He is but a man.