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Three minutes, eight coach-killers- how the dumbest side in the AFL threw away ANOTHER game


If winning close games of footy is a flip of the coin matter – and all the evidence holds that up to be true – then you might be fooled into thinking that Richmond have just been unlucky to lose as many games by as heartbreakingly small margins as they have been.

After all, all the debate this week has been over whether Collingwood, who improved their record to 7-1 this year in games decided by 12 points or less, are properly good or just on the most fortunate streak of their lives.

The Tigers’ latest narrow loss, a shocker by just four points to North Melbourne to put their finals hopes in jeopardy, came with an extraordinary 11 more scoring shots and 21 more inside 50s, and after taking a lead over the presumptive wooden spooners in the final minute.

Unlucky, again? Definitely.

But the Tigers’ woes can’t be attributed to just luck; they are the gullible rube thinking they can keep picking the cup on the right because, eventually, the ball will be under there. The only problem is that the ball went up the con man’s sleeve half an hour ago, and they’ve been too dumb to realise.

Cameron Rose wrote a great piece a few days ago, wondering whether the hunger had died enough in the Tigers that they no longer have the energy or will to hold tough at the clutch in a tight match.

It’s possible, but I postulate an alternate theory: they’re just really, really dumb.

The Tigers keep making unfathomably stupid decisions in the heat of the moment that are costing them win after win; but it’s not just confined to the ends of matches. More often than not, they’re putting themselves in that position by making unfathomably stupid decisions throughout the first three and a half quarters as well.

If they’re not really, really careful from here, it will cost them finals. Suddenly, the Western Bulldogs, St Kilda, Gold Coast and Port Adelaide are looking at their eighth spot on the ladder and daring to dream. From dreaming of the top four a fortnight ago, it’s been a steep drop, and they have no one to blame but themselves.

Let’s start with the final minutes against North Melbourne. Having seemingly given up on hitting the lead with a goal and resorting to overtaking the Roos with behinds, the Tigers finally hit the front when Jack Graham kicked truly from a free kick.

I’m not exaggerating to say they never for a second looked like holding it; for the next five minutes, the Roos moved the ball effortlessly from defensive 50 to attack, taking the game on with dash and dare as they had been doing all match.

They were first lucky to escape when Nathan Broad and Dylan Grimes waited for each other to mop up a loose ball inside defensive 50; Charlie Lazzaro bisected the two of them, and his tumbling ball hit the post.

For reasons unknown, Ben Miller – stuff cutting a young player some slack, he’s been playing footy since he was probably seven years old – decided that he, a key defender, would take it upon himself to instantly rush the kick-in, rather than waiting for Daniel Rioli, Nick Vlastuin, Dylan Grimes or bloody Toby Nankervis to take it.

Even so, he had an option in Kamdyn McIntosh wide. But he bangs the kick haphazardly to a two-Tiger versus three-Roo situation. The ball spilled to McIntosh in the end, who submitted his dumb moment: he turned inboard rather than just banging it on the boot and getting it the hell out of Dodge. Holding the ball.

Again, a lucky escape; Hugh Greenwood took the advantage, went for a checkside from 40 metres out, and could not have hit it any worse. The only positive thing you could say about the kick was that it bounced into the behind post; kick a point there, and Leigh Adams might have throttled him after the game.

For some Tiger fans, the king of all dumb moments came shortly afterwards; but for me, the grandaddy of them all came next. The Tigers, with their finals on the line, allowed the worst side in the competition to execute a training drill set play.

Nobody was guarding the space between ruckmen and boundary line: Todd Goldstein palmed it down to Cam Zurhaar, who had belted into that spot like it was the first five minutes. Watch the play again, and note how quickly Dylan Grimes is gone as his direct opponent. But Zurhaar waltzes through two other Tigers, into the clear, and with no one on the line, dribbles through an astonishing goal.

North are in front, and while they’ve done plenty right, the Tigers have done a hell of a lot wrong.

The Roos played the next 60 seconds far better than the Tigers had to preserve the lead: desperate at the contest, moving it forward in increments but content as well to keep the ball locked in tight, they defused a dangerous attacking foray, forced a stalemate that took time off the clock, and propelled it forward.

Miller, bless his soul, then had his second nightmare moment: after just barely clinging to a mark, his kick was the shank to end all shanks. Out on the full.

It’s not even the kick that was the dumb part: it was the decision. Why, with 90 seconds on the clock and your team trailing, are you going wide? Even if he’d found McIntosh lace out, he’s left corralled on the boundary, and it’s given the Roos precious seconds to get back and clog space inside their 50. A bomb down the line can easily be forced out of bounds.

(As an aside, it also made his decision to take the kick-in duties upon himself a minute earlier even sillier in retrospect._)

I don’t blame Miller for it all, though: most sides would have a specialist kicker hovering somewhere nearby, waiting for a handball receive. Where was Daniel Rioli? Jayden Short was off under the blood rule, but was Shai Bolton anywhere around? Vlastuin? The poor young fella shouldn’t have needed to try an execute a difficult kick at that stage of the game.

By this point, it was a wonder that Damien Hardwick had any hair left. Any one of those bloopers could have ended the match there and then: but despite it all, they’re still in with a fighting chance of forcing the game-winning goal.

Toby Nankervis takes the intercept mark; this is a minor gripe considering the litany of errors before and after it, but why Dion Prestia is charging deep into defence to offer Nankervis an option, rather than into the corridor where the ball needed to go will forever mystify me.

At any rate, the ruckman goes corridor, but he’s like Miller: not a good enough kick to execute that. He goes for a short pass to Vlastuin, but Vlastuin is charging forward and looking for a kick out in front of him. He’s wrong-footed, Phoenix Spicer reads the play, and takes a strong mark. Mistake, what’s the count up to now? Three billion?

The Roos aren’t faultless either: Curtis Taylor marks the Spicer kick, about a metre past the 50 line, but close enough that he could surely have been given his 30 seconds to have a crack at it. With 66 seconds on the clock by this point, that might have been enough.

At any rate, Taylor has Lazzaro free inside 50, working into space. He will certainly be given his 30 seconds to have a shot. But no: he heads long for Zurhaar, but overcooks a kick that Robbie Tarrant would have spoiled anyway, and it goes through for a behind.

The Tigers still have a chance.

North Melbourne players celebrate defeating Richmond.

North Melbourne players celebrate defeating Richmond. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Vlastuin’s there this time to take the kick-in: it’s not a mistake per se, but given what Miller had done a few minutes earlier through the lead, Vlastuin taking his sweet time to move it on was interesting. But the kick is right: as long as he can, right up the middle. Will the Roos crack?

Yep. A terrific mark from Noah Cumberland, one of the few Tigers to escape the game with a ‘sensible’ rating, marks, turns on a dime, and charges forward. It’s a beautiful wobbler; somehow, the Roos’ spare man, Bailey Scott, has been caught in no-man’s land, so there’s no one to stop Jake Aarts charging to mark.

He’s 35 out, 40 at the most, and all but directly in front. There are 44 seconds left. Kick the goal, and the match is over.

But Aarts hasn’t had his dumb moment yet, and any Tigers fan who’s watched their last two years had an inkling he’d have one of them. He plays on.

From 30 out. With five points the difference. He plays on.

I’m actually being generous in calling it a brain fade, because the other option is far more harsh: Aarts didn’t have the courage to go back, take the match into his hands, and have a set shot. To be a hero for life, as Noah Anderson had become last week.

Anyway, he plays on, and realises about three milliseconds later that it’s a mistake. Scott has caught up by now, and is close enough to lay a desperate tackle. Aarts shakes him for long enough to get his arms clear, but then comes mistake number two: he misses McIntosh from five metres away. Worse still, he handballs to McIntosh’s inside, meaning he has to run back into traffic to collect, as opposed to the space on boundary side, and on his preferred right foot.

McIntosh, under the circumstances, does well: he gathers and handpasses over Scott, who has left Aarts to pressure, and to Aarts again. He has five metres of space on Flynn Perez: time enough to either straighten up, or keep sprinting, straighten the angle, and look to snap on the left (or with a checkside).

Mistake number three: he doesn’t realise he has space, he snaps straight away, off balance and on the wrong side for a conventional right-foot snap, and it sails across the face. Miraculously, it seems for a second that it might work: the Tigers have Jack Riewoldt and Liam Baker under the ball. But it’s close enough to goal that Ben McKay, a titan in defence, can thump it through and out of the reach of Riewoldt. One behind. Somehow, the Roos have held on.

A Tigers fan in the front row slams his palm into the advertising hoardings three times. I thought he showed remarkable restraint.

McKay, unlike Miller, has no thought about kicking in: in comes Jaidyn Stephenson to do the honours. He does what you’re taught to do from tackers in the last minutes of a thriller: as long as you can, and as wide as you can.

There’s a scramble, and it looks briefly like the Tigers might have one last crack: but the Roos aren’t going to let it slip now. Dylan Grimes’ handball is pressured enough to miss Trent Cotchin, who gathers but can’t escape a wall of blue and white, and Zurhaar has the ball. By the time the play ends, it’s a ball up on the half-forward flank, with five seconds left.

The Roos run out the clock. Siren. Pandemonium.

It would honestly be hard to have played the last three minutes worse than the Tigers did: except for the fact that they played the last TEN minutes equally brainlessly against Gold Coast last week.

On that occasion, though, it was undisciplined 50m penalties, dropped chest marks, letting the ball come out the back and so forth. Mistakes, sure, but only in the sense that elite AFL footballers should be better than that.

This was just wrong decision after wrong decision after wrong decision. Bad execution after bad execution after bad execution. Your average club footy side couldn’t have done a lot worse: at least they would have just been outclassed in the final few minutes, rather than plain outsmarted by a side that wasn’t exactly 22 Einsteins at the death either.

Further back in the game, you have innumerable misses of simple set shots, with Jack Riewoldt a major culprit, and a 50m penalty twenty seconds before the quarter-time siren against Dion Prestia that took the Roos from the back pocket to the wing, and resulted in a Bailey Scott goal as the hooter went.

What was the final margin in the end, pray tell?

There will be talk this week that Hardwick needs to read the riot act, cut down on poor discipline, and put together a plan for the final minutes of tight games. That is the seventh game this year the Tigers have lost with some form of lead in the second half; some of that has to come down to the coach and the lack of a set, disciplined plan.

But at the same time, Hardwick can’t help his team turning into a bunch of Patrick Stars every time things start getting tight late in games. The Tigers didn’t just drop this game: they shot themselves in the foot, then tried to clean the wound with bleach, and then hopped backwards off a cliff.

The Tigers’ last fortnight has confirmed they are the AFL’s dumbest team. And it’s hurting them big time.





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