Richmond has withstood an almightly challenge from a plucky Carlton to run out 25-points winners in Thursday night’s season-opener.
It was Richmond’s biggest and best names that stood up where it counted, with three-time Norm Smith Medal winner Dustin Martin stamping his authority on a highly-entertaining contest in a frenetic final term.
On a night of firsts at the MCG, Oscar McDonald became the first player to be activated using the new medical sub, replacing Jack Silvagni at half time as a result of a shoulder injury.
Richmond made use of the injury sub as well later in the night, with Nick Vlastuin deemed unfit to continue due to a knee injury in the third term and Jack Ross subsequently activated.
Earlier in the night, Sam Petrevski-Seton became the first player to give away a 50-metre penalty as a result of the stand rule, with Josh Caddy the lucky beneficiary in the second term.
So much has changed since the last time a game was played in front of crowds at the MCG but one thing remains a constant – Dustin Martin kicking miraculous goals. His first of two goals on the night saw him fend off a Blues opponent in the second term eerily similar to the first of his four spectacular goals in last October’s Grand Final.
David Astbury also faces a nervous wait after being reported for striking Lachie Plowman, with the Blues taking full advantage of the high elbow to slot home a goal in the third quarter.
“This is the best opener between these sides in recent memory, there’s no doubt,” Dwayne Russell said in commentary on AFL Nation.
There were plenty of positives out of the clash for the Blues even in defeat, with Sam Walsh looking noticeable bulked up and ready to take another step in his third season at AFL level.
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The difference: Tale of two forwards
In what turned out to be a crucial third term, Jack Riewoldt stood up and made the most of his opportunities, in stark contract to Carlton’s forwards who weren’t able to finish off their impressive work around the ground.
Riewoldt kicked two important third-quarter goals to ensure Richmond held a slender but important eight-point lead with a quarter to play and that proved to be enough of a buffer in the end.
In stark contrast, Harry McKay let a golden opportunity slip in the same term, playing on and being run down after taking a strong contested grab deep inside forward 50.
It’s those type of opportunities which David Teague will be left rueing on a night where his side weren’t far away.
The big question: Just how does footy look in 2021?
The question on everyone’s lips heading into the opening round of the season was how the game would look, following an off-season dominated by rule changes.
In a frenetic start in front of a buzzing crowd, the Blues look on from the getgo, kicking the opening two goals before both sides traded goals in open and free-flowing opening quarter.
Small forward Jason Castagna kicked two opening goals, but the early running was dominated by Patrick Cripps and Sam Walsh, who combined for 22 touches in the first term.
The footy on Thursday night was fast, furious and fiery. If this is a sign of things to come, we’re in for a treat this year.
The super sub: McDonald presses his claim
Jack Silvagni’s shoulder injury saw McDonald injected into the game at half time as Carlton’s 23rd player and he made an immediate impact, kicking his side’s first goal of the third term and slotting in alongside Harry McKay and Levi Casboult.
The man who only kicked one goal in time at Melbourne doubled his career tally barely a quarter into his time at Carlton and looked more than worthy of a spot in the side moving forward.
He then made it two goals in less than a half, flushing a kick from an acute angle midway through the final term to keep his side in the contest.
A crunching tackle earlier in the third team set the tone for a determined McDonald, who looks hellbent on making the most of his second chance at AFL level.
Crowds return to the MCG
How good is it to see crowds at the footy in Melbourne once again?
After a 2020 season which didn’t see a single fan attend a game at the MCG or Marvel Stadium due to the COVID shutdown, there was an overwhelming sense that football had come home on Thursday night, even if restrictions meant the ground wasn’t able to be more than 50 per cent full.
The overwhelmingly Richmond home crowd saw an unprecedented two flags unveiled less than 20 minutes before the bounce and that was just the entree on a night where the city regained one of its key traditions once more after 18 months in the wilderness.
Richmond: 3.3, 8.5, 10.8, 15.15 (105)
Carlton: 3.2, 6.6, 8.12, 11.14 (80)
Richmond: Riewoldt 4, Castagna 2, Martin 2, Rioli 2, Aarts 2, Bolton, Caddy, Lynch
Carlton: McKay 2, McDonald 2, Gibbons 2, Dow, Casboult, O’Brien, Plowman, Silvagni
Richmond: Martin, Lambert, Riewoldt, Prestia, Graham
Carlton: Walsh, Cripps, Saad, Curnow, McKay
Reports: Astbury (striking)
Richmond: Vlastuin (knee), replaced by Ross
Carlton: Silvagni (shoulder), replaced by McDonald
Crowd: 49,218 at the MCG