Tigers had the best player this season, and the best team

Dustin Martin holds aloft the AFL premiership cup on Saturday. Picture: AAP
Dustin Martin holds aloft the AFL premiership cup on Saturday. Picture: AAP

JUST before half-time in the grand final a message for Dustin Martin came out from the Richmond coaching box. The message, or perhaps the plan all along, was for Martin to go forward, and for the other Richmond players to allow him some room to work. It was a predicable tactic, and Adelaide must have expected it. It didn't matter.

Within a minute of this manoeuvre, the ball was lifted in Martin's direction by a Richmond boot from out of a crunch of bodies in the centre square, and the crowd lifted its eyes to witness what everyone expected would happen. Martin, who has enjoyed a season of divine grace and power, moved his opponent out of his way and caught the ball.

He wore a casual, all-knowing expression on his face when he marked that ball, which seemed to tell of his season whole and of the one half still remaining in the grand final. It was a half to define Richmond's season, and his role in it as their leading man.

He looked in the moment of the mark like a hardened farmer performing a chore, and instantly it gave you an idea that Richmond were going to win, and that there wasn't much Adelaide could do about it.

Martin kicked the goal after completing that mark, and Richmond took a small but momentous lead into half-time. It was clear they were beginning to get what they wanted, and Martin had just offered Adelaide proof.

The eventual Norm Smith medallist, Martin looked totally at ease during the grand final, even in the moments when he realised, as he did on various runs, that there were Adelaide men hanging from his flanks. On several occasions he began running with the ball into clear air with his right paw raised, swatting at whatever reached out for him as if he running through a swarm of insects.

He did for the entire match look reluctant to leave the ground, even in marking contests that required a leap, such was his desire to feel the ground under his feet and stand up.

Twice Martin was caught by angry, frustrated Crows players, but the damage was complete by then. All of those hyper-charged runs had put the Crow's midfield into disarray, and even when Martin's cow-push failed him, it opened spaces and runs for his teammates who, as the match progressed, never failed to be there for him.

It looked ominous before the end of the second term, and every suspicion about Adelaide's chances at half-time seemed to solidify in the early minutes of the third quarter, with one play after another beginning and ending with a minor Richmond victory.

Nick Vlastuin took a defensive mark against Eddie Betts, and in front of a charging Taylor Walker, that, on another day, in another Richmond team, he would not have been able to take. It was a mark that perhaps he should not have been able to take, and whatever it said about his own steel in the grand final, it might have said equally about what went missing for Adelaide.

They had to react, invent, try too hard and, many times, arrive too late. There were some opportunities for Richmond to falter, especially early in the second term when Adelaide's poise and class made a brief stance, but the Tigers had long since dispelled any myth or hoodoo about choking. Everything they did was with commitment to each individual play.

They chased every time Adelaide ran. They surprised themselves and Adelaide by sticking tackles from behind that always seem to buoy a side's spirits, and project the outcome through a sheer display of attitude.

Richmond had the best player this year. And the best team.

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