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Kayle Kirby ignites VFL Tigers

Bendigo Pioneer turned Richmond VFL hero Kayle Kirby gets a Gatorade shower following Sunday's nine-point win.

It isn’t too often that a VFL coach isolates their 23rd player inside 50 with their season hanging in the balance.

However, that’s exactly what Craig McRae did with youngster Kayle Kirby in the tense final term of Richmond’s nine-point win over Sandringham.

Kirby’s game-high, five-goal haul sparked the Tigers and led them to a meritorious win over the formerly fourth-placed Zebras, finishing 14.14 (98) to 12.17 (89).

As the rain set in at Trevor Barker Oval, and with the game slipping from their grasp, the Tigers turned to the Bendigo Pioneers dynamo, who ignited his side with a trio of third-term majors.

It was fitting that the sole goalkicker in the see-sawing final term was Kirby.

As the Zebras peppered the goals in the last quarter, they could only scrounge together seven behinds, as Kirby’s moment arrived.

With the ball dribbling over the line deep in Richmond’s attacking 50, Dan Butler’s quick thinking soccer kept the ball alive and Kirby found himself in the right place at the right time.

Kirby tracked the ball back with the flight, dropped the mark, but gathered the ball at ground level, sprung to his feet, and with a shrug of the hips, saw off a would-be-tackler and snapped truly.

Richmond kept its season alive as it pressured, scrapped, willed and clawed its way back from a 21-point deficit midway through the third quarter.

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As the rain moved from a nagging shower to a soaking downpour, the Tigers made their move.

With the Zebras looking dominant, Kirby pounced on a loose ball inside-50 and kicked the first of a three-goal burst in the third term.

Reece Conca slotted his first of the third term moments later, before Kirby crumbed and goaled to tie things up at 70 points apiece.

Kirby’s soccer attempt was barely touched on the goalline and handed Richmond a slender one-point lead — which it wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the game.

Next, Conca weaved his way through congestion and snapped his second major for the term, with Liam McBean slotting his sole major moments later.

Kirby completed the final leg of his third quarter trifecta by snapping his fourth of the game — pushing the Tigers lead to 19 points.

The Tigers turned the 21-point deficit into a 19-point lead in the blink of an eye, before Sandringham made a late surge in the shadows of three-quarter time.

The Zebras slotted back-to-back goals and sliced the margin to eight points heading into the critical final term.

The final term was a battle of wills and territory.

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Sandy peppered the goals and the Tigers struggled to hit targets going inside 50.

Kirby snatched his moment and found himself kicking the final two goals of the game to keep Richmond’s slim finals hopes alive.

The game started at breakneck speed as the Zebras got off to a flyer with the opening two goals.

Sandy looked sharp and the Tigers needed a kickstart — in stepped Butler.

The zippy and tenacious small forward gobbled up a defensive 50 turnover from the Zebras and coolly opened Richmond’s account.

Richmond slotted the next three majors through Kirby, Ty Vickery and Nathan Drummond before a late spoil by Ryan Gale handed Sandy the easiest of goals.

Sandy went on to kick back-to-back goals and snatched a three-point lead.

Soon after, Vickery cashed in on a 50-metre penalty and helped himself to a pair of opening term majors.

Lennon highlighted his class with a right-foot snap on goal with the quarter-time siren beckoning, which handed the Tigers a seven-point lead at the first change.

The Tigers could only managed a solitary goal in the second term and it came via Ivan Maric as Sandringham upped the pressure with four goals of their own.

The Tigers trailed by 15 points at the main break before Kirby’s second-half heroics netted them a nine-point win, their fifth-win-on-the-trot and eighth for the year.

Tenacious on-baller Anthony Miles put up his hand for reinstatement to AFL duties with a team-high 29 disposals, while Conca racked up 21 disposals and slotted two goals.

Next week the equation is simple - if Richmond beats Coburg and Essendon loses to the Northern Blues then the VFL Tigers will feature in finals action.

They welcome Coburg to Punt Road Oval next Saturday, August 27 at 12pm.

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