The Roar
The Roar


Footy Fix: The Tigers aren't any good... but you have to admire their Phar Lap-sized hearts

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14th March, 2024
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If you want this game distilled into a two-minute stretch – and this is one well worth watching all the way through – it came 16 minutes into the final quarter.

With Carlton leading by 10 points, David Cuningham receives the ball in the forward pocket, looks inboard, and centres beautifully to the goalsquare, where Charlie Curnow waits all by himself.

He marks, the Blues fans packing the stands in front of him roar, he saunters in to send the Sherrin up into the fourth deck… and is tackled, with Heath Shaw-like timing – at the very same end, no less – by a desperate lunge from Nick Vlastuin. Holding the ball.

Richmond, the good.

After a needless score review gives everyone, Vlastuin most of all, a chance to catch their breath, he receives the free kick on the goal line. He runs, despite the oncoming Lachie Fogarty, looking to hit an ambitious 40-metre pass to Kamdyn McIntosh on the half-back flank that is both terribly difficult to execute and doesn’t set up much for the receiver to do with it next… and he scrubs the pass.

It barely goes 15 metres, and only a wayward bounce, plus McIntosh buttering up and forcing a contest, prevents it sailing straight back over Vlastuin’s head. It ends with McIntosh giving away a holding the man free kick just outside 50, as the Blues prepare to reload.

Richmond, the bad.


You didn’t need to just watch this comedy of errors, or last week’s horror show against Gold Coast, to know that Richmond under Adem Yze are not a good team.

Their kicking skills range between chaotic but effective to pure nightmare fuel, and there’s no real way of telling where on the spectrum the next pass will end up. Nor does the identity of the kicker give much of a clue – Jayden Short these days is almost as likely to miss his target by several postcodes as Tim Taranto, whose ineptness off the boot is well known.

Most of the premiership names have headed off into that good night, and of those that remain, half are either all but finished (hi, Dylan Grimes) or reduced to bit-part cameos (felicitations, Dustin Martin). The ones leading the show now are your Liam Bakers, your Toby Nankervises, your Marlion Picketts – honest as the day is long and courageous to a fault, but without the skill level their predecessors in the yellow and black had to add the necessary polish to all that flag-winning substance.

But it takes some doing for a team like this, which lost its most experienced midfielder by quarter time, its backline lynchpin by the half and its other tall back to concussion during the third term, one that had to scupper its plans to manage the minutes of Tom Lynch because there was simply no one left to rotate with him, one that had a month’s worth of misfortune packed into a couple of hours at the MCG, to push a bona fide premiership contender to its limits in every way imaginable.

The scoreboard says the Tigers lost this game by five points. But they could scarcely have showed more heart in doing so.


For all that Yze’s Richmond lacks in execution, they make up for in pure, undiluted desperation at every turn.

Ferociously hunting the ball, they outdid the Blues at what is supposed to be their strength – contested ball. They finished +11 in that stat; their +16 at quarter time was, as it happens, Carlton’s worst differential in a single term since Adelaide ambushed them in Gather Round last year.

For Patrick Cripps, George Hewett, Adam Cerra – as brutal a stoppage combination, even without Sam Walsh, as there is in the league – to be dealt a beatdown at the clearance game too speaks volumes about the Tigers’ ticker. When Prestia, their most decorated on-baller, suffered what I believe is his seven millionth soft tissue injury, up stepped a score of other options who rotated through the coalface, all of whom had an impact in some way, shape or form.

Marlion Pickett, a wingman by trade, went in and had two centre clearances; Thomson Dow, still finding his feet at the highest level, added three; 15 Tigers had at least one, and of the eight who had none three didn’t last out the game, and two were Riolis (this is more of an indictment on Daniel than Maurice, but this isn’t the time).

Leading them all was Nankervis, the goliath who is pretty much the embodiment of what I imagine ruckmen were like in the good old days, just with a much better aerobic capacity.

Nankervis is from the Oscar McInerney school of ‘when in doubt, boot it forward and hope for the best’; in the latter years of Damien Hardwick and under Andrew McQualter last year, it stuck out for its lack of nuance and planning, but if Yze’s team are intent to play the way I did then it suits them to a tee.


The big captain had eight clearances for the night, the most on the ground; four of them came out of the centre. More than any other Tiger, he ensured they controlled the stoppages despite being upstaged in the hitouts by the younger, springier Tom De Koning.

If the point of the exercise was to look for method amid the chaos, then there was plenty of logic behind the Tigers’ play. Last week, the Blues conceded 58 points to Brisbane from defensive half possession chains, exposing a vulnerability to fast-paced ball movement catching a Jacob Weitering, Caleb Marchbank-less defence one out, in space and exposed.

The Tigers were never going to be able to replicate the Lions’ scything kicking from half-back, so they compensated by hoofing the ball forwards at as many opportunities as they could muster. Under pressure? Two Blues hanging off you? No worries, just sink the slipper into it, get it further upfield, and worry about the consequences later.

It was scrappy… but it worked. And it worked well enough for the Tigers to go at 66 per cent disposal efficiency for the night, and still look dangerous every time they went inside 50.

By quarter time, the Tigers had three goals from defensive half possession chains, most of them from stoppages – in fact, by three quarter time, seven of their 11 goals had been generated from the coalface.

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Nothing about it was pretty, and it’s not going to work every week, but it’s a style that suits what Yze has perfectly. Nankervis, Taranto and co. will never win prizes for their foot skills, but they dig in hard, win their own ball, and with an uncomplicated game plan to let them take the next step, there’s a logical way forward for them.

To their credit, the Blues adjusted, fixed up their backline fragility with a few extra numbers staying loose behind the ball, and slowly but surely, forced the Tigers into their weakness – hitting targets.

Liam Baker gains possession.

Liam Baker gains possession. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

By half time, they’d won a whopping 21 intercept possessions in the midfield zone, leading to 16 inside 50s, many of them repeats – suddenly, having been edged for inside 50s in the first term, Carlton were utterly dominant on the territory front.

Had they kicked straight in that quarter, as other teams undoubtedly will against the Tigers, that would have been that. But their waywardness gave the Tigers the opportunity they needed to keep fighting, and fighting, and fighting, right until their last breath.

Seven points up at three quarter time, the dam wall burst with three Carlton goals to start the last, as the size and strength of Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow, goal line howlers notwithstanding, began to tell. For all his gumption, McIntosh is a wingman, not a tall defender.


Around the ball, the brilliance of Cripps told, the Blues finally able to overwhelm the Tigers’ exhausted on-ball brigade – the Blues’ skipper himself had seven contested possessions in the quarter alone.

And yet, while from the moment De Koning put the Blues in front midway through the term, Richmond refused to yield.

It came in many forms – from Vlastuin’s desperate chase down, to Grimes sprinting back to the goal line with every sinew straining to get a touch on a rolling Curnow kick, to Noah Balta and Grimes backing back courageously with the flight in a marking contest with McKay, and despite nearly taking each other out doing enough to make sure the two on one told.

In the end, had Rhyan Mansell not panicked with his snap from 10 metres out on the eve of three-quarter time, or had Shai Bolton cleanly gathered that loose ball inside 50 in the final seconds, or any number of other incremental, seemingly insignificant but utterly vital little moments late in the piece gone their way, they could well have pinched it.

Little comfort in the end – except if you’re like one of my Tigers-supporting mates who would seemingly rather they finish near the bottom and accumulate high draft picks than win too many games like this – but every single Richmond man can leave the MCG with heads held high after that performance.


We often talk about defining wins early in the tenure of a new coach. For Yze, we might look back on this in a few years’ time as a defining loss.