TIGER TIME HAS dawned at last and their hero has the world at his feet – deservedly so in both cases, says Chief Writer RON REED:
LIKE RECORDS, droughts are made to be broken – and 37 years is long enough for anyone to go thirsty. So, no matter how you may have once wished they would lose every week, it was impossible to begrudge Richmond their first premiership since 1980, especially given the totally authoritative manner in which they outclassed the Adelaide Crows by eight goals. Watching the likes of long-serving hero Matthew Richardson and Chief executive Brendan Gale, another tough, talented and loyal Tiger in his playing days, unable to hold back tears as the result became inevitable was enough to make you a bit teary-eyed yourself.
It is a toss-up whether or not this was a more emotional and uplifting feel-good story than the Western Bulldogs last year. It depends on your perspective and beyond that it doesn’t matter. Footy has been blessed with this sort of thing in the 21st century. Where once only a limited handful of clubs seemed to share the premiership around between them year after year – Richmond one of them if you go back far enough – from 2000 on 10 clubs have won flags and four others have made grand finals. That’s how it should always be.
As droughts go, the Tigers have endured a big one but the Bulldogs waited 60 years and for the old South Melbourne diehards who are now rusted on to Sydney, it was 72 years. For Geelong it was 44 years and even Collingwood hadn’t saluted for two full decades. Brisbane and Port Adelaide broke their ducks. If Adelaide had won, it would have been 20 years. Who’s next? Well, it’s been 51 years for St Kilda and 53 years for Melbourne so their long-suffering fans can at least take away some hope from the last two play-offs.
The immediate question is whether the Tigers can sustain it and become a force for a generation just as Hawthorn, Geelong and Sydney have, winning nine recent premierships between them. There seems no reason why not. They are not burdened by ageing champions for whom this was a do-or-die last chance and off the field they are financially stable – in fact, that’s an understatement; they are rolling in money – and the administration is astute, at peace and backed by an enormous army of committed supporters. It is hard to detect a missing link, but of course Geelong and Sydney are still powerful outfits and Hawthorn are certain to come again much sooner than later, while Greater Western Sydney become more threatening with every passing year. So next year’s challenge won’t be any less formidable than this year’s – it will just be met more confidently.
As a match, the grannie wasn’t a memorable spectacle. It had become a no-contest well before three-quarter time as the Tigers piled on seven goals in a row and there weren’t many individual moments of wonderment, perhaps a couple of Jack Riewoldt speccies – one in the first quarter, one in the last – the best candidates. But that didn’t matter because the sheer emotion being discharged by the 100,000-plus crowd at the MCG – and wherever else you were watching from – ensured that everybody except shattered Crows fans wanted to soak up every second of it.
More than any other individual component, it will be remembered for one announcement that came many minutes after the final siren – that Dustin Martin had won the Norm Smith medal for best afield. In what old footy-heads used to like to refer to as “an even team performance,” it was thoroughly deserved – four of the five judges gave him the three votes and the other had him on one vote – and only defender Bachar Houli seriously challenged him for the honour.
He has won practically everything on offer this season – only The Age media award eluded him, for reasons best known to that paper’s “experts” – and many qualified judges believe it might have been the best season ever played by anyone. He is now being handsomely rewarded for his efforts in monetary terms but he is benefiting significantly in another way altogether. Where the wider football community have always respected his ability as a player, you would struggle to find a spot for him among the game’s most admired characters. There have been a range of reasons for that, his unwillingness to put himself “out there” one of the main ones. But his image is changing, big-time, whether he wants it to or not. Forced to reveal a little more of himself because of the immense spotlight that has been trained on him all season, he has come across as humble, intelligent and likeable. Women I know have become beguiled by him in a motherly fashion. If he wants to be, he will now become one of the game’s most marketable commodities and if he continues to play like he has this year, there is no limit to what he can achieve on and off the field. As team-mate Dylan Grimes said after the match: “This is just the beginning for him. He’s 26 years old and the style he plays and the game he plays I think is going to hold up. Anyone with that level of fame and success and individual accolade would potentially let it go to their head, but I can honestly say he’s the most humble player I’ve ever played the game with.”
Perhaps all that’s left to say is: Here’s hoping he survives the celebrations that have been building up as one big moment followed another over the past month or so. The party promises to be more spectacularly epic than the grand final itself, and not just for Dusty Martin – it’s Tiger Time at last for hundreds of thousands of people and the rest of us are going to be hearing about it loud and long. Good on them.