Richmond’s thrilling three-point triumph over Williamstown in Sunday’s Hard Yakka / Totally Workwear VFL ‘Love the Game’ Grand Final caused Tigers VFL senior coach Craig McRae to have nervous flashbacks to the 2017 decider.
Back then, McRae almost guided Richmond to premiership glory against Port Melbourne, but the Tigers gave up a 13-point lead entering time-on of the fourth term and then their ex-AFL-lister Ben Lennon missed a long set shot after the final siren that would have secured the flag.
On the weekend at Ikon Park, Richmond held a 31-point lead early in the second quarter before the Seagulls ground their way back into the contest. Williamstown veteran Willie Wheeler had two set shots at goal in the game’s last two minutes to put his team in front for the first time in the match but hit the post on both occasions.
The usually unflappable McRae said the drama of the occasion momentarily got to him.
“We lost a close one in 2017 and I had flashbacks,” he said after the Grand Final. “I thought we were going to lose another close one.
“Commiserations to Williamstown and (Wheeler). I feel for him, but I thought we earned the win early in the game.
“I’m just relieved at the moment. At some stage it’ll sink in that we’re the premiership team.”
Hear from @flybags4 following yesterday's Grand Final win over Williamstown 🏆🌟
— Richmond VFL (@RichmondVFL) September 23, 2019
The Seagulls engineered a remarkable turnaround in the middle part of the Grand Final after conceding 24 inside-50s to two in the opening stanza, holding the Tigers goalless for almost two whole quarters until late in the third term to drag Richmond into its second remarkable finish to a decider in three years.
McRae said Williamstown didn’t let the Tigers implement the game style he wanted to see from them after the first break.
“They just improved their contest,” McRae said. “I think early on they had a couple of (extra) players back (in defence) and it seemed to work for us. Inside-50s were significantly in our favour, but we thought they’d even that up.
“They’re a great competitive team and just nullified the game – that’s how they wanted to play. The open expanses of the ground we thought would suit us, but we just didn’t get much of that (space to use).”
Richmond VFL captain Steve Morris appeared in the 2017 Grand Final loss during his 87-game stint on the club’s AFL list and said he too had heart in mouth when Wheeler twice lined up for goal to deliver the Seagulls victory.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous,” Morris said on Sunday.
“I thought we did really well to be able to pinch those goals back against the breeze (in the final stanza), because they got within one point pretty early on (in the term). To get a little bit of momentum back our way… I thought was pretty important.”
Morris himself produced several inspirational moments to thwart Williamstown forward forays during the match. The tough defender finished with 11 disposals, four marks and six spoils, helping deliver premiership glory for the club he decided to stay with after being delisted at the end of 2017 following six AFL seasons.
“It’s a pretty amazing club to be a part of,” Morris said.
“It’s pretty surreal to be able to tick this achievement off with the club that I love.”