But due to their run and willingness to take the game on and – at times – some old fashioned grit and physicality, the Lions refused to yield.
The contest was only decided when the Tigers managed a crack Brisbane’s resistance and find a couple of goals in the final quarter, and even then the Lions didn’t drop their bundle.
Richmond won thanks to the class of Dustin Martin and Jack Riewoldt, the superb defending of Nick Vlastuin and Dylan Grimes and the inside grunt work of Dion Prestia and Shane Edwards.
But funnily enough the Lions showed that they have players who can perform on the big stage in those categories as well: the class of Dayne Zorko and Hugh McCluggage, the superb defending of Harris Andrews and Luke Hodge, and the inside grunt work of Lachie Neale and Mitch Robinson.
Vlastuin was superb in the way that he intercept marked the football in Richmond’s defensive half and presented as an extra man in what appeared destined to be 50-50 contests.
Grimes, coming off a week in which he was hobbling around with an ankle injury, was the man given the unenviable task of starting the match in the goalsquare alongside the dangerous Charlie Cameron. He wrestled and grappled with Cameron throughout – much to the small forward’s obvious frustration – and only once lowered his colours when he fell to ground in the third quarter, allowing Cameron to run into an open goal.
Martin did what we have come to expect from him, charging out of traffic and creating opportunities, while Riewoldt made the most of his opportunities and converted well.
But the Lions will lose no admirers on this showing and will benefit from a pre-finals hitout in front of what was a crowd of 76,995 – a record for Lions home-and-away matches.
Staggeringly, Neale gathered 51 touches, while Zorko had less of the footy but was more damaging. Andrews had the better of Tom Lynch, and Hodge’s experience and physicality were telling under pressure.
Mitch Robinson’s bull-at-a-gate approach was crucial, epitomised by a crunching tackle on Bachar Houli midway through the third quarter. The Tiger’s defender tried to run through a gap like a rugby league player looking for a gap in the line, only for Robinson to stop him in his tracks like a State of Origin front rower.
For an inexperienced team looking to start well, Brisbane had the opening goal of the match on the board within 90 seconds, courtesy of an angled set shot from Hugh McCluggage.
But it was the Tigers who got off to a flying start through their usual suspects.
At the ensuing centre bounce Martin ran on to a Prestia handball and burst out of the centre to drill one home from distance. Riewoldt then set up their second with a superb second effort after over-running the ball; he toe-poked the ball to Daniel Rioli who converted with the outside of his foot from 30 metres.
Riewoldt then converted Richmond’s next four goals of the opening term – one on the lead to a Martin centre clearance, another after Martin forced a turnover with consecutive smothers on kicks from Zac Bailey.
Marcus Adams, who won praise for keeping Tom Hawkins goalless last week, lacked the pace and mobility to deal with Riewoldt, frequently trailing in his wake as the Tigers talisman hunted the ball.
Richmond had several chances to extend their lead early in the second term but were wasteful, and the Lions looked more composed and fought their way back into the contest before half time.
The third term was an arm wrestle, particularly in the latter part, where both teams failed to score a goal for 11 minutes before Kane Lambert managed a running 45-metre goal after a handball from Riewoldt.
LIONS HEAR THE ROAR
Throughout their careers Jack Riewoldt, Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin have played in front of crowds averaging 45,000. In contrast, many of the Lions – including Hugh McCluggage, Harris Andrews, Eric Hipwood, Cam Rayner, Jarrod Berry and Darcy Gardiner – had never played in front of such a big crowd (their previous highest was 48,000 when they took on the Bombers here in round 4). The nerves showed early, with many of the young Lions making errors, such as Hipwood and Gardiner dropping uncontested marks.
IF YOU DON’T MIND UMPIRE
Richmond’s fans gave the umpires a hostile send-off at half time after a series of controversial Lions free kicks. Lynch was pinged for fending off Andrews in the chest before taking a mark and moments later Prestia was nabbed for deliberate out of bounds after hooking a kick 40 metres up field at half forward. But the penalty that most raised Tiger ire was when Lynch, leading back towards goal, pushed off Andrews and was penalised. Lynch then drew a 50-metre penalty for abuse.
6.2 8.6 10.7 12.10 (82)
2.1 4.4 7.6 8.7 (55)
GOALS – Richmond: Riewoldt 4, Martin 2, Lambert 2, Ellis, Rioli, Castagna, Lynch.
Brisbane Lions: Cameron 2, Zorko 2, Hipwood, McCluggage, Robinson, McInerney.
BEST – Richmond: Vlastuin, Martin, Prestia, Grimes, Riewoldt, Edwards.
Brisbane Lions: Zorko, Neale, McCluggage, Robinson, Andrews, Hodge.
UMPIRES: Meredith, Fleer, O’Gorman.
CROWD: 76,995 at the MCG.
N.Vlastuin (Rich) 9
D.Martin (Rich) 9
D.Zorko (BL) 9
L.Neale (BL) 9
D.Prestia (Rich) 8
Warwick Green is a Sports production journalist and writer for The Age.