The Tigers are looking very good at a dramatic rate

I watched the Tigers play in Tiger Heartland in Sydney: the Corner Hotel on Swan Street. I was meeting a few friends and the plan was to eat, watch the game and catch up.

The game started and I was partially paying attention. My expectations of the Tigers were very low and, to be honest, I’m grateful for the farewell. It seemed like we were starting to get a little better and start rolling, but then the injury bug hit again.

I couldn’t find Kane Lambert, Tom Lynch or Noah Balta – Dylan Grimes, Dion Prestia, Dustin Martin and now perhaps Shy Bolton as well as three of the seven or eight most important tigers – we had a very low chance. We’re not as deep as we once were in my eyes, so losing one of those first-choice 22 seemed really more damaging than the glorious years 2017-2020 where it seemed like we could exploit something.

I was playing the game out of the corner of my eye and saw Sam Reid kick the first one, then Lance Franklin missed a set shot in the first five minutes and I realized I was right. Outside the house, missing important players, we are not going to win it. As I said in one of my first columns, my relationship with Footy has changed to a point where it doesn’t hurt much.

After the flag of 2017 and the subsequent addition of two more to the trophy cabinet, there was no more life and death.

The Tigers are celebrating with the Premiership Cup after winning the 2020 AFL Grand Final

Tigers celebrate with Premiership Cup (Photo by Queen Rooney / Getty Images)

But then something happened. Hugo Ralph Smith, one of the Tigers whom I saw as a symbol of the erosion of depth in Tigerland in this dynastic run, kicked a goal. Suddenly a game started from there. Towards the end of the quarter the Tigers had three goals to spare.

Each goal is kicked by a player from a different era – the young Ralph Smith kicks his second and I begin to reconsider my position, the mid-career resurgence Dan Rioli kicks a rare one from the back half (an inspired coaching step) and then Shane Edwards gave her a kick to look like last year. The Tigers are 6 points ahead at the break.

I’m not talking to my friends anymore.

The second quarter was a pretty impressive Tiger position led by Dustin Martin. I don’t know if he’ll go for the swan but to me, he doesn’t look like a guy who wants to be somewhere else (note towards the end of the game where he and Jack Reold were on the umpire’s grill begging for 50m).

He was applying true defensive heat and breaking into regular sprints. He hasn’t even been out of third gear in other games this year and is still one of our regular bests, but he’s been busy in this game.

Buddy kicked a stroke at halftime, but the Tigers were 25 points above the big break.

We were here.

Opening the third quarter, Jayden kicked the first one short and I thought we were home. The arrogance of those years of dominant football, of blowing up teams in one quarter and holding them at arm’s length for the rest of the game, roared in my head again.

I settled into the conversation again, only the former PM with the rest of the pub, the SCG and the whole country really looked to congratulate him.

The next time I looked up, Buddy had a flame coming out of his back.

He just kicked one from Center Square – probably a 48-meter kick at SCG, but regardless, it seemed big. Friends, including Jimmy Bartel, my favorite non-tiger. I’m not breaking news here but Gee Hughes is an exciting footballer. He is such a rare combination of strength, speed, arrogance and a disgusting ability to kick in football.

Suddenly a game of three goals. The pub was hired. My heart was racing. I was pacing and sweating and swearing. My colleagues stopped talking about the election. They, Pub, were all there with me.

I mentioned earlier that arrogance gave way to something much more familiar. A combination of fear and pre-sorrow. I get the same feeling when Silvio, in the car with Adriana, cuts off the camera.

I felt sick to my stomach. It hurts.

When Buddy kicked the first of his three in the final, he made it an 8-point game and it was Vintage Buddy. He got up for the sign, landed in his half shape like a man, got a handball from Tom Papley and scored.

Lance Franklin is celebrating a goal.

It was a buddy show at SCG on Friday (Dylan Burns via Getty Images / AFL photo)

Eight points.

Sylvio has just turned into a forest. Adriana is crying. Everyone is worried about what is going to happen.

The rest of the game was an obscure, Richmond pub in Richmond Heartland and I was there with them, sweating a game we didn’t really know if we were going to win.

There is a moment that I vividly remember. Buddy Josh scored a goal from a free kick against Gibkas. The free kick was clearly a call that only a superstar gets against a first-year player. Probably there, incredibly soft. Tom Lynch doesn’t get that free kick because he played the role of Rob Gronkowski in 2015, Aaron Francis doesn’t get that call because he’s not good enough. The friend gets it because he is a friend.

Again eight point game. Fifteen minutes left.

Gibbous off Buddy. Grimm in front of Buddy.

The Swans then kicked another, this time behind Will Hayward’s line, behind the unforgivable inability to kill Luke Parker – also known as Robbie Tarant Special. If Carazzo is Italian for turnover, Tarrant is German for “refusing to punch and / or ever being brutal for getting a fist on a ball”.

Two point game. Momentum with the swan.

Then friends again. He kicked his third quarterly. Flames, at this point, are emitted from each hole. Every hole. This time he should have said that a dub from the right bounced off a center “50” and was indescribably. Bounce which was clearly in favor of the swan. The Tigers pushed the umpires again. The 18th reason the umpires hate us is in the free kick differential.

4 by the swan.

Edwards missed. Bolton missed. Baker, Rioli and Baker, my three favorites, made the catastrophic mistake in the back line that led to the Sydney goal. This time I blame the turf for Rioli slipping. This is clearly the worst surface of the AFL since Marvel cleaned up its act.

7 by the swan. Enter Dusty.

Toby Nankarvis and Dustin Martin are celebrating.

(Photo by Michael Wilson / AFL Media / Getty Images)

Prestia bombed it. Reoldt brings it to the ground and collects the ball. Hand pass to Martin. Martin led Parker forward. Really snap. Round. 1 by Sydney. Tigers capture slides. I jumped around, glad.

What are you waiting for?

Did he miss?

He does not miss these.

I, along with the rest of the pub, stood there in disbelief. He does not miss these. For five years I have given her the burden of my happiness, and she has always delivered. This time he did not. I did not understand it. Whenever Michael Jordan misses a midrange pull-up while playing on the line I imagine how the Bulls fans would feel.

Not upset, necessarily. More confusing.

We can now move quickly to the end of the game. The Tigers lost in an insulting fashion. The whole pub was surprised to see 50 people, which Prestia should not have given. We are all unbelievers. We gave the swans a chance to escape from the house, but we lost. But it wasn’t our fault we lost. It was those cursed umpires.

“No one else is stuffed by umps, just us,” I muttered to myself as I walked to the pub.

I got even more crazy back home because I saw footage of Essendon player getting Freo and Freo 50 at halftime strokes.

Sitting. Shocked. Sick.

But then I stopped and looked at myself and thought: “Oh my God. I’m back.” Not that this loss will ruin my weekend like it did in 2014, I think those days are really behind me.

It was more in the sense that at least some of my isolation was somehow gone. It’s such a desirable, tough Richmond side. It is full of players playing important roles at different stages of their careers. Impressive young players like Gibbs and Maurice Jr. Emerging superstars like Shy Bolton.

The rebirth of guns in new roles like Short and Rioli. Older staggers like Trent Cochin and Reoldt are still hanging, sometimes creating moments of their former brilliance but gaining real discomfort and firmness (see Cochin goes on the way to Buddy Train when he is in the lead).

They are just such a team of choice, led by a coach who has found himself on paper more than once and apparently intends not to do it again – despite the use of medicinal cannabis.

This Tiger team reminds me of Jack Nicholson Disappeared. You will no longer see RP McMurphy. Or Jack Torrance. Certainly not Jack Gates. You can feel it slipping away. The end of the window seems a little closer than the beginning because of our constant reliance on old legends in the big moments.

But sometimes they will create something that will remind you why you love them so much. This game was such a production.

This favorite team of the Tigers can be anywhere from the third to the tenth-best team in the AFL, taking care of the footy, shouting at 50 missed umpires and running bumps again.

I have a confession. I said in the previous column it hurts. It was true. But I would lie if I didn’t say it hit so well.

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