I considered a few different intros to this article related to Tom Stewart’s hit on Dion Prestia.
But then I watched the game again.
Instead of arguing about a pantomime villain in Stewart or the morality of concussion, why don’t we do something novel and talk about the game?
It was a titanic struggle between two sides who are pretty similar in a lot of ways.
Both have been great sides in the recent past, Richmond admittedly more recently than Geelong. What binds the two, though, is that they are trying to pull off the most delicate high-wire act possible in a sport that takes parity seriously through mechanisms like a draft and a salary cap: rebuilding on the fly.
Both Geelong and Richmond are still trying desperately to contend while bringing in young players and transitioning old greats out of their original starring roles into supporting parts.
Like Paul Newman giving Tom Cruise the runway in The Color of Money, so too is Dustin Martin giving the spotlight to Shai Bolton.
Geelong are trying to do the same thing as well with Joel Selwood attending fewer centre bounces than ever before and generally spending less time on the ball to clear a path for players like Tom Atkins.
The game started off hot with both teams playing well. With about five minutes left in the first quarter, Prestia was sniped by Stewart.
Everything changed after that. Tyson Stengle kicked a goal from the ensuing play and Richmond didn’t score for the rest of the first quarter. Geelong went into quarter time up by 20 and the game felt like it could get out of hand.
That feeling did not abate until well into the second quarter, with Geelong kicking the first three goals. But then the Tigers swung the changes, finally finding a way to replace Prestia’s contested-ball excellence and rare ability to get first hands on the ball.
They threw utility Liam Baker onto the ball as a way to institute some ferocity into the game and he delivered.
Baker kicked a goal from a goal-mouth scramble after Ivan Soldo failed his attempted impression of Zinedine Zidane’s volley in the 2002 Champions League final.
Baker was in the play again a minute later, finding Dustin Martin in the pocket where he kicked an impossible goal on the wrong side for a right footer. It was Baker again streaming through the middle and finding Bolton for Richmond’s third goal in a row.
All of a sudden, a footy game had broken out.
In the third quarter, the Tigers got their forward-half turnover game going, and the game was heading in their direction on the back of Baker, Bolton and Tom Lynch, who was making his presence felt physically.
Robbie Tarrant also should be mentioned as a player who had an excellent game, showing rare courage in the second quarter, going back recklessly with the flight of the ball and coming into the game with a broken knuckle.
The other thing that happened in the second half, though, was Chris Scott swung a change, throwing Jeremy Cameron into the middle to use his pace, power and aerobic capacity to blow the Tigers away.
That worked exceptionally well with Cameron constantly being around the ball. I also think that there is a psychological aspect to it.
If you see a big, power forward with a reputation for ferocious athleticism in the middle, there has to be a boost for teammates and extra focus on him for defenders, even if stats do not bare it out.
The move reminds me in some way of subbing in a goalkeeper for a penalty shoot-out (much love, Andrew Redmayne).
Even if the stats do not bare out that the player coming on is a better shot stopper than the keeper coming off, bringing him in like a closer in baseball has to affect the psyche of the players shooting.
Tim Krul coming on in the 2014 World Cup quarter-final versus Costa Rica – despite being a statistically average penalty saver for Newcastle – immediately springs to mind.
Even if the scoreboard showed a close game, Richmond were haranguing Geelong every time they were near the ball and Geelong’s kicking coming out of defensive 50 was extremely shaky, getting picked off time and again.
Richmond’s pressure was beginning to tell.
The dam wall seemed to break at the beginning of the fourth quarter with Richmond kicking the first two goals of the final term and having the last 12 inside 50s, at the point of Tom Lynch’s third goal to put Richmond 17 points up.
But the Cats have serious mettle too.
They kicked the next three with Cameron kicking the punctuation mark to tie the game 15 minutes into the final term.
From here it was a battle of attrition with Geelong dominating the play but simply failing to convert, with three straight behinds.
No goals were kicked until the 26th minute of the final quarter when Maurice Rioli, one of the most famous names in Tigers history, kicked a goal to put the Tigers ahead by three points.
It seemed to be written. Richmond were home.
They have been so good at killing games when they are in a position to win since the heartbreaking three-game run of losses in 2017 against the Bulldogs, Fremantle and GWS. As a Tigers fan, I felt comfortable that the game would be killed by a clinical Tigers side.
But even though the laundry is the same, these aren’t the 2019 Tigers. They’re a little older, a little slower, and their best contested-ball player had been knocked out.
Geelong got the clearance through some fresh blood in Tom Atkins, who kicked it deep and let Jack Henry take an absolute screamer in a big spot.
The kids are alright in Geelong.
After this there was still about a minute left in the game. Richmond pushed the ball inside 50 again and again but could not find anyone.
With the final roll of the dice, Jayden Short hacked the ball forward only to find public enemy number one, Tom Stewart. He was as excellent as he was hated on Saturday afternoon, which is to say that he was truly extraordinary.
If it felt like Rioli kicking the apparent sealer was written, this is the only more perfect ending. The man who will rightly be crucified this week by all those who are not straining to tell us how much of a ball player he is and how out of character this was ended the game as he played it: with poise and calm.
It was his final act in a Cats guernsey before a mid-season holiday, and it befits a player of his calibre.
What a game. I’m just glad we can talk about it.