After last weekend’s three-point win against the Sydney Swans sealed its ninth win in a row and eighth place on the ladder, the Richmond Tigers’ second finals appearance in five years was widely hailed as the ‘fairytale’ of the 2014 AFL season. It’s a projection Richmond carried through today on its banner – the only thing those wearing yellow & black ran through this afternoon at Adelaide Oval. There was no fairytale. To steal from Sam Seaborn, Port Adelaide did not seek, nor did they provoke such a story. Instead, they rose and mastered the occasion, and reminded all that their capacity may well be limitless.
On paper, both clubs’ results over the last five seasons are strikingly similar. Two finals appearances and three fairly wretched home and away seasons. Both boast some remarkable individual talent – Richmond’s Cotchin, Deledio, Martin, Rance and dual Coleman Medalist, Jack Riewoldt; Port Adelaide’s Wingard, Westhoff, Trengove, Harlett and Boaks. Each faced financial ruin – Port Adelaide’s red staunched thanks to the SANFL & AFL underwriting millions in debt, Richmond saved from liquidation in 1990 by its members, and its football department’s stocks boosted by supporters in 2011. The difference? The gulf between the top four and the rest should really be the top five. While Port Adelaide’s apparatus will likely hang precariously for the next five to 10 years, a list that has not changed much since the arrival of senior coach Ken Hinkley in 2013 is going onto the second week of the finals for the second consecutive year. Richmond’s onfield performance in the last two finals series doesn’t reflect the energy and ability of its CEO, Brendon Gale, or the commitment of its 60,000 members to erase its debt and give the club a decent shot at a flag.
Those members deserve to collect more than the insipid performance delivered today by players who celebrated like they had won the flag last week – and they deserve better than to represent themselves as Australian football’s traumatic bonders. That the record shows a 57-point loss is bad enough. The reality is Port scored 57 points in the first quarter and played to protect themselves from injury for the final 30 minutes. If I hadn’t been at the SCG to see the Sydney Swans beat Geelong by 110 points in round 11, I’d say this was not the worst performance of the season, but the most shocking. Port took Adelaide Oval like a Panzer division; Richmond had the ignition timing of a Datsun 180B.
In 1890, Port Adelaide were crowned the first ‘Champions of Australia’, defeating the Victorian Football Association premiers – South Melbourne – by three points at Adelaide Oval. I don’t believe in fairytales, but I am superstitious & never happier to see the Swans on the other side of a finals draw.