Geelong’s leaders claw Tigers

Grey and miserable is a mood as much as a weather report when it comes to Richmond playing Geelong, and before Sunday’s rain had flattened hairdos, it seemed the latest instalment in this meeting of unequals would follow a familiar course.

Steve Johnson evades Alex Rance. Photo: Pat Scala

Thirty-five points up in sight of half-time in conditions that accentuated the margin, a 10th straight win against a team that has bettered the Cats only twice this century and once in their past 18 encounters seemed as inevitable as rain on the radar. At length it came, but with faces streaked as much with sweat as rain.

Richmond had more of the ball all day but didn’t hit the scoreboard until the 22nd minute of the second quarter. Building from the back, the Tigers rolled the dice and kicked eight of the next 11, were within six points with most of the last term to play, and finished that frustrating single kick behind as the siren drowned out the cheers for Sam Lloyd’s third.

The afternoon left Harry Taylor looking forward to a break on the Gold Coast and giving thanks that he plays with some incredible leaders whose calling is to find something when mere mortals have nothing left to give.

‘‘Sel kicked that really important goal for us, won a few crucial clearances that seemed to spark us,’’ Taylor said of captain Joel Selwood, who was beaten by Brett Deledio for much of the game, but not when it mattered most. ‘‘[He’s] getting tagged really heavily at the moment but still finding a way to have an influence on games, win crucial one-on-one contests and outnumbered contests at the right time. We’re very lucky to have him.’’

Ditto Jimmy Bartel, who relishes soggy conditions. But the spoilt faithful were heartened that youth stood up too, evidenced by Jordan Murdoch’s run-down and tackle of Nick Vlastuin and clinical finish that was a dagger to the heart of Richmond’s revival.

‘‘He’s making that a bit of a habit of his play now, kicking important goals for us,’’ Taylor said, recalling Murdoch’s long, late Easter Monday goal against Hawthorn. ‘‘We expect that tackling pressure from him, and he’s starting to really blossom and feel like he’s a great AFL player.’’

Murdoch has plenty of role models. Taylor is assuredly among them, and his effort in taking five contested marks in conditions where the eight uncontested he hauled in was feat enough moved Richmond coach Damien Hardwick to say this was a performance that highlighted what an incredible player he is.

Taylor thought the Cats moved away from ‘‘that real team care for each other, particularly around the ball’’ as Richmond came at them in waves in the third quarter, a rally launched by Alex Rance and carried with game-breaking run by the likes of Reece Conca and Shaun Grigg. ‘‘I thought they played with a lot of freedom,’’ Taylor noted, recalling the discomfort of being a defender isolated in what felt like 150 metres of space, so swiftly did the Tigers attack.

They had been as jittery early as the rain was steady, sticking to a short-kicking, dry-weather game when a more mundane approach was demanded. By quarter-time there was a familiar feel to more than just the sight of Bartel goaling from a long range in long sleeves.

When Richmond did go long, Taylor invariably stood in the way, and in Steve Johnson the Cats had the epitome of the adage that wintry conditions bring out the best in the very best. Johnson had 13 first-quarter possessions, the best of them a kicked screwed inboard to Bartel from the boundary at half-back.

Daniel Jackson’s job on him from that point was manful, his game-high 34 possessions adding punch going the other way. Deledio was likewise a welcome addition in yellow and black, and after waiting so long for a single goal, the Tigers peeled off four in seven minutes in the shadows of half-time.

Four straight in the third gave genuine rise to thoughts of an upset, but as it almost always does, Geelong found a way.

Article: Peter Hanlon – The Age