After 37 long years Richmond has finally bared its fangs on Grand Final day again, mauling a lacklustre Adelaide with the relentless pressure that has become its trademark this September to seal an inspired 48-point premiership triumph before 100,021 fans at the MCG.
The Tigers sealed their 11th flag – and first since 1980 – with a run of seven unanswered goals from early in the second quarter that had the Crows staggering on the ropes just 10 minutes into the third term.
Richmond led by 28 points at that stage, having kept the Crows goalless for a quarter and a half. And when Taylor Walker finally broke Adelaide’s goal drought with a 40m set shot midway through the third term, the Tigers swiftly killed off any hopes of a Crows comeback, rattling on the next four goals to take an unassailable 45-point lead early in the final term that had even the most pessimistic Richmond fans daring to believe.
Adelaide got three late consolation goals but nothing could take the gloss off Richmond’s 16.12 (108) to 8.12 (60) triumph that Tigers fans had been dreaming about – often without much genuine hope – for a football eternity.
Adelaide’s star-studded forward line loomed as a potential spoiler to the Tigers’ fairytale, but Damien Hardwick’s men provided the latest supporting argument for the football adage that defence wins premierships.
Alex Rance (11 possessions and six marks, three contested) was outstanding despite being manned by Crows forward Andy Otten, and was clearly best on ground when the game was at its fiercest in the first half.
Brownlow medallist Dustin Martin capped off a fairytale year for himself and his club when he won the Norm Smith Medal after starring with 29 possessions, six clearances and two goals.
David Astbury kept Walker to just two goals and little of his usual influence, while Dylan Grimes and Nick Vlastuin conspired to shut down dangerous goalsneaks Eddie Betts and Charlie Cameron, and Bachar Houli (25 possessions and four rebound 50s) provided much of Richmond’s defensive rebound.
The Tigers smashed the Crows in contested possessions (170-140) and won the clearances (45-39), thanks largely to the stoppage work of Martin, Dion Prestia (27 possessions and three centre clearances) and Shane Edwards (25 possessions and seven clearances).
Jack Graham was only teenager playing on Saturday but was not overawed by the occasion, kicking three goals in the opening three quarters, while Jack Riewoldt and the Tigers’ army of small forwards harassed Adelaide’s defenders all day as Richmond finished with 11 separate goalkickers.
The Tigers’ win came on the back of a 13th-place finish in 2016 that had many calling for the coach’s head.
But Hardwick kept his head and held his nerve, simplifying the Tigers’ game play over the 2017 pre-season to take advantage of their pace and, after Ben Griffiths’ lingering concussion issues, fashioned an unfashionable attack around ‘Jack and his midgets’.
Before this season, the Tigers had not won a final since 2001, having lost elimination finals under Hardwick from 2013-15.
In defeating the Crows, Richmond continued a perfect record in return matches against teams that defeated it earlier in the season.
On Saturday, the Tigers avenged their 76-point thumping by the Crows in round six at Adelaide Oval, having earlier avenged losses to Fremantle, Greater Western Sydney, St Kilda and Geelong. Richmond did not have return matches against its round seven conquerors, the Western Bulldogs, or Sydney, who defeated it in round 13.
On a nightmare day for the Crows, midfielders Matt Crouch (37 possessions and five clearances), Brad Crouch (29 and seven) and Rory Sloane (21 possessions and two goals) never stopped trying, Rory Laird (27 possessions at 88 per cent efficiency) tried to generate run from half-back, and Sam Jacobs dominated Toby Nankervis in the ruck contests, even if his midfielders could not take advantage of his tap work.
The Crows made the better start on Saturday. Sloane kicked the game’s opening goal with a 40m set shot at the four-minute mark of the first term, then Betts added another a minute later when he capitalised on a Vlastuin fumble to run into an open goal.
The Tigers looked to be suffering some early Grand Final nerves and, although they had their share of the play, were struggling to get on the scoreboard, with spearhead Riewoldt kicking three consecutive behinds in less than four minutes.
Finally, at the 16-minute mark, Josh Caddy kicked their first goal and when Houli added another four minutes later the Tigers led for the first time, two points up on the Crows.
However, superb crumbing goals from Sloane and Hugh Greenwood late in the term sent Adelaide into the first break 11 points up.
The MCG’s lights were switched on at the start of the second quarter as Melbourne skies clouded over, with rain starting to fall soon after.
The Crows had the first two scoring shots of the second term – behinds to Betts and Tom Lynch – but it was the Tigers’ term from there.
With their tackling and chasing rising to 11 on the pressure-meter, Richmond piled on four unanswered goals, the first at the four-minute mark, when Riewoldt finally broke his duck with a 40m snap that was confirmed after a video review.
Jacob Townsend put the Tigers within two points midway through the term when he converted from 45m after a questionable holding free kick was paid against Jake Lever.
Graham and Martin then goaled in quick succession late in the quarter – Graham after a clever snap on the run, Martin following a strong mark in front of Luke Brown – to send the Tigers into half-time with a nine-point lead.
ADELAIDE 4.1 4.7 5.10 8.12 (60)
RICHMOND 2.3 6.4 11.8 16.12 (108)
Adelaide: Sloane 2, Walker 2, Betts, Greenwood, B. Crouch, Cameron
Richmond: Graham 3, Townsend 2, Martin 2, Caddy, Houli, Riewoldt, Grigg, Lambert, Castagna, Riewoldt, Prestia, Butler
Adelaide: M. Crouch, Jacobs, B. Crouch, Sloane, Laird
Richmond: Martin, Rance, Houli, Astbury, Prestia, Edwards, Graham, Grimes
Story – afl.com.au