Tigers, Blues: dreams fulfilled and shattered

On night one of the new season, it doesn’t really matter who is playing, only that after the long phoney war, someone is. Richmond and Carlton it has become, because they are notionally grand rivals. But they haven’t really been contemporaneous contenders since Kevin Bartlett’s heyday, and he is now 70 and newly cast in bronze at the MCG. Nonetheless, more than 73,000 came for their fix. iFrameResize({resizedCallback : function(messageData){}},’#pez_iframe_afl_video’);

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This was 13th versus 14th from last season. Then, it was an immensely disappointing 13th versus a highly encouraging 14th. Now, they re-set. The Tigers’ 43-point win accurately illustrated the gap between the teams on their respective journeys.

The Tigers now can dare to dream their shattered dreams again. The Blues have no dreams, just another reminder of the cold hard light-of-day reality of a multi-year rebuild. It is a sobering business, and yet not without its charms. Coach Brendon Bolton counted out the five teenagers in his team, and the three debutants, and said: “The exciting thing is that we saw our future out there tonight.”

On night one of the new season, it didn’t really matter who was playing for the Tigers, just how. Emulating the Bulldogs, they vamped up their midfield, rotating often and speedily, and moved as a swarm down the ground, which for the Blues defence made for a terrifying sight. Coach Damien Hardwick said his team’s pressure rating was 1.91, whatever that means. It must be gratifyingly high. “We haven’t seen that in a long time,” he said. He also counted 11 Richmond goals kicked from turnovers, the most beautiful kind in a coach’s mind’s eye.

Dustin Martin kicked four goals, augmented by two others he presented in gift wrapping for teammates. These spoke of a reinforced team ethic, but also of a new dimension to Martin’s game. OK, it did matter that he was playing, and how. He was what the Tigers need him to be if they are to realise their potential, the figure around whom the game revolved. The Blues cheers squad lived to rue their clunky jibe at Martin’s haircut on their run-through.

Early in the last quarter, with the game not yet quite signed off, Martin launched a 70-metre torpedo out of defence. Josh Caddy, out-positioned by Sam Rowe at the other end of the ground, soccered it through. So it was that all four Richmond newcomers kicked goals on the night. It was the finishing touch, though Martin had some garnish to add yet. iFrameResize({resizedCallback : function(messageData){}},’#pez_iframe_afl_video’);

Richmond’s newcomers, in contrast to Carlton’s, mostly were from other clubs, picked for reinforcement, not speculation. Dion Prestia, though less obtrusive than Martin, was no less prolific. Ruckman Toby Nankervis kicked two goals to match Matthew Kreuzer’s two. On-baller Caddy added mesh to the midfield.

Jack Riewoldt was spasmodically seen, though he begged to have his eight tackles taken into account. Alex Rance, for once, had his hands full with Jacob Weitering. Trent Cotchin drifted out of the game. For the Tigers, that was pleasing in a way: a seven-goal win, but with all that upside, too.

The difference in class was stark. But the Blues had their moments. Against an opponent playing in Richmond’s hellbent way, a chink of an opening can suddenly become a sprawling panorama. Weitering, playing forward, was as Weitering the backman, a commanding presence, and Rance would attest to it. Sam Petrevski-Seton, sprung onto the footy world for this pipe opener, did not look out of place, just not yet on the pace, which was only to be expected. Glimpses would have to serve this night.

Carlton’s effort was unimpeachable, and they took their share of opportunities. In the third quarter, they kicked 5.0 to 2.6 and won it. In the last, they shaded the Tigers for inside 50s, which speaks of fighting spirit, at least. But Martin landed an inside 50 almost from the back pocket, which speaks of the limitations of statistics. For the Blues, it was simply that for every three goals they kicked, Richmond was certain to kick five or six.

Carlton, the home club, did come with razzle-dazzle, topped by a display of fireworks atop the scoreboard not seen since the night the scoreboard genuinely caught fire another Richmond-Carlton match years ago. As ever in modern sport, there was bread for some, circuses for the rest.