Under lights and held in Queensland, the AFL’s first night grand final was an intense and thrilling encounter that saw Richmond come back from 22 points down to defeat Geelong by 31 points.
Dustin Martin etched his name in both AFL and Richmond’s history books, as he kicked 4 goals and took home his third Norm Smith medal with a best on ground performance.
A bruising opening quarter that saw Richmond defender Nick Vlastuin concussed also witnessed Geelong superstar Gary Ablett Jr sent to change rooms to reset a dislocated shoulder.
Vlastuin was knocked out cold when a stray elbow from Patrick Dangerfield collected him flush on the jaw, resulting in a seven-and-a-half-minute delay that gave both teams time to group after a nervous but intense start.
After near misses by Geelong forward Tom Hawkins and Dangerfield, the Tigers swung the momentum back their way through quick goals from Dion Prestia and Kamdyn MacIntosh.
With the Tigers riding high, Ablett then returned from the rooms to set the crowd alight and his team responded lifting their work rate and intensity, to hit back and take a one-point lead into quarter time.
Geelong bounded into the second quarter as they finished the first, with Dangerfield winning a one-on-one against Richmond Captain Trent Cotchin, calmly slotting the resulting first goal to give the Cats some breathing space.
With Mitch Duncan and Rhys Stanley lifting, Richmond was powerless to get it into their half of the ground, let alone make inroads on the scoreboard.
It was then a moment of sublime magic from Ablett Jr that saw a lightning quick handpass free up Selwood, who kicked to Hawkins, who kicked truly to put Geelong 22 points up just before halftime.
Richmond’s superstars were being well held by their Cats counterparts or had just gone missing and were finding it hard to impose themselves on the contest in any way.
When things aren’t going Richmond’s way it’s normally Dustin Martin who turns it on, and that’s exactly what he did. Taking control of a chaos ball forward, with his trademark fend off, he controlled a loose ball and snapped across his body to keep Richmond within striking distance leading into the long break.
It was all Richmond at the beginning of the third quarter, with Riewoldt kicking straight after Lachie Henderson was adjudged to have held him during a marking contest.
Tom Lynch was being well held by Tom Stewart and unable to impose himself on the game in anyway so it was up to Richmond’s smaller forwards to keep the scoreboard rolling and reel Geelong’s lead back in.
Goals were traded quickly as Geelong started to wind, Duncan and Guthrie lifting their work rate to keep on top of the Richmond midfield, Guthrie rising up to take a fabulous mark, before Dusty proved again he is a cut above everyone else on the field with another goal, making him the only multiple goal kicker on the ground.
With Martin’s goal putting the Tigers in the lead, Hawkins then Guthrie both blew chances to put Geelong back in front as Ablett’s shoulder appeared to give him more trouble. Visible in distress Ablett grimaced in pain and headed straight to the room at the last break.
With the game in the balance heading into the last it was always going to be who could outlast the other, Tom Lynch began to work his way into the contest, bringing the ball to ground and involving his teammates.
He was rewarded when he marked in the goal square from a long kick, going back to kick his first goal of the night and put the Tigers up by 15 points.
After being down by 22 points, Richmond had pulled back the deficit through the same game plan they started with, coach Damien Hardwick showing full faith in his players to win through.
Martin then did it again, and put himself firmly into contention for a third Norm Smith medal, by breaking a tackle in trademark style and launching from beyond the 50m arc, the ball skidding through and propelling Richmond 22 points clear and with one hand on the Premiership Cup.
With players throwing themselves recklessly into contests, Sam Simpson and Menegola collided going for a mark in the Cats’ forward line, and Simpson fell to the ground heavily, knocking himself out.
After another lengthy stop in play, Menegola bombed it long, making the distance and providing Geelong with that glimmer of hope that the Tigers were gettable.
But just as they’ve done for the last four years, Richmond wore down the opposition and played to their strengths. Their star players in Riewoldt, Lynch, Shane Edwards, and Cotchin got on top and provided the platform for Martin to finish the Cats off.
Putting his stamp on the game in the last foray forward, Martin picked up a dropped Geelong mark, spun out of trouble through defenders and kicked the impossible from the boundary line. And with that the Tigers were home, winning three premierships in four years, and making Trent Cotchin the first Triple Premiership Richmond Captain.
It was a sad farewell for Gary Ablett Jr as he farewelled the game he loved, clearly hampered by his first quarter shoulder injury, Ablett was unable to impact the game and turn it in Geelong’s favour like he has so many times over the years.
In a fitting moment, die hard Tigers supporter and Australian tennis super star Ash Barty presented Richmond coach Damien Hardwick and captain Trent Cotchin with the Premiership Cup. The smile on her face summing up the feelings of Tigers supporters near and far as they celebrated another successful season for the “Yellow and Black”.