No debt, 75 000 members, and three premierships in the next 10 years. Fantasy in 2010. Reality in 2020.
On Saturday night, Richmond’s come-from-behind 12.9.81 to 7.8.50 victory over Geelong saw the most feared club of recent times on-field dominance reach dynasty proportions.
Having gone back-to-back and won three of the last four premierships, they can rival the ’01-’04 Lions, ’07-’11 Cats, and ’12-’15 Hawks as the modern era’s greatest team.
The scary thing is, there are no signs this is the end of Richmond’s run. With an average age of 26.6, the team that held the premiership cup aloft last night, will still be younger next season than the Hawthorn team that completed the three-peat.
Four years ago, let alone ten, no one could have foreseen Richmond’s reign. That is except, Brendon Gale. The Tigers newly appointed CEO didn’t hope to be the best, he planned to the best. Out with mediocrity, in with supremacy.
When he took over, the club was $4 million in debt, with 36 000 members, and fresh off a 15th placed finish. His ambitious 10-year ‘Winning Together’ vision was laughed at, now that it’s come to fruition, he’s the one laughing.
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The journey to the top was far from smooth sailing. Calls for Damien Hardwick’s head threatened to derail the vision, but were met with reassurance and support, not the yellow and black axe synonymous with Punt Road.
In the tiresome 37 years between their 1980 and 2017 triumphs, 13 coaches had taken the helm. Stability was the answer, and ‘Dimma’ repaid the faith. He’s now a three-time premiership coach, Richmond’s second most successful ever.
In fact, this premiership team is full of feel-good stories. Trent Cotchin’s leadership was doubted, some even called for him to be sacked as skipper. He’s now Richmond’s first ever three-time premiership captain.
Marlion Pickett, the mid-season draftee that spent two-and-a-half years in jail, has become a two-time premiership player in just his 20th game.
21-year-old Noah Balta, the only Tiger on the field without a premiership medal, kept Coleman Medalist Tom Hawkins to a lone goal.
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Of course, there’s Dustin Martin. Three years ago, Richmond was first engulfed by ‘Dusty’ pandemonium, and on Saturday night, he was hunting his third Norm Smith Medal.
On the cusp of half-time, Geelong having skipped away to a 21-point lead, Martin treated Jake Kolodjashnij to his trademark don’t argue and sent a snap sailing through to wrestle back a morsel of momentum.
Trailing by three in the third quarter, Dusty kept his feet when Zach Tuohy couldn’t and burst from the pack to send the ball tumbling through from 40-metres out and put the Tigers in front.
When he threw the ball on his boot from 55-metres out and it skipped through the vacant goalsquare to put Richmond up by 22, you had an inkling the game was won, and Dusty was on the verge of greatness.
Saving the best for last, Dusty’s fourth and final goal was especially fitting. You could tell by his approach he was two steps ahead, picking off Rhys Stanley’s handball before shrugging off none other than Patrick Dangerfield – a symbolic moment as Dusty starred whilst Dangerfield could only muster 12 disposals – to send a dagger through every Geelong heart from the most impossible angle. That kick sealing 2020’s premiers, and Norm Smith Medalist.
With four goals, none lacking significance or flamboyance, and 21 disposals, Dustin Martin was lofted to unaccompanied air. The game’s first three-time Norm Smith Medalist, an extraordinary feat.
We already knew Dusty was the definition of a big-game player, but he can now stake claim to the greatest big-game player of all time.
And at just 29 years of age, he’s not done.
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Then there’s the brave Bachar Houli, who tore his calf in the first quarter, but played on and racked up 11 disposals because a sickening head-knock had forced fellow crucial defensive piece Nick Vlaustin from the field minutes earlier.
Vlaustin’s injury set the tone for a bruising battle, having been cleaned up by the follow through of Dangerfield’s elbow, he was out cold and didn’t return, forcing an unnatural pause to the manic opening as he was stretchered off.
In the same passage of play, the fairytale finish Gary Ablett Jr. was hoping for faltered as he left the field with what appeared to be a severe shoulder injury, a wince plastered on his face.
Fortunately, Ablett would return soon after. It was far from the final chapter he had planned, but one that painted his final football moments as courageous.
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Richmond’s eventual 31-point victory didn’t do the brilliant game justice. Geelong had pulled away to a 15-point half-time lead, before the Tigers chipped away in the premiership quarter to take a slender two-point lead into the final term.
It was then that the floodgates opened, and Richmond skipped away like they so often have in their grand final victories of recent times.
The enthralling grand final that was could’ve played out very differently, a torrential downpour hours before the bounce threatened to reduce the Gabba’s first grand final, and first night grand final, to a wet slog. The foreign 7:30pm AEDT timeslot ultimately proved to be the game’s saving grace, allowing for the weather to subside, and stars to shine.
Whilst Victoria’s stringent COVID-19 restrictions won’t allow for a Punt Road party, Tigers fans far and wide will be celebrating the best of Richmond’s treble.
As put by Hardwick, “They’re all different, (but) this one is extra significant. What we had to go through to get here, the 100-odd days in a hub, how hard the AFL, Queensland Government, people in Victoria did it… it’s an enormous achievement.”
He’s right. There was no favourable fixture, no home-ground advantage, no comfort of home for over 100 days, no full-strength Tiger army, and countless supposed scandals. Yet Richmond still prevailed. Dynasty accomplished.