Richmond VFL has staged a stunning comeback, recording a two-point qualifying final win over Essendon at the Swinburne Centre on Saturday afternoon.
The Tigers, 40-points down at three-quarter time, booted seven-goals-to-one in a tension-packed final term.
Toby Nankervis was the hero, his match-winning set-shot swinging home on the breeze, leaving seconds on the clock as the ball left his boot.
Richmond was jumped by the Bombers in the opening half, as the visitors stunned the ladder-leaders with four goals in the first 14 minutes of the first quarter.
The Bombers baited and frustrated the Tigers for the first three quarters, before the home side steeled itself and poured all its energy into getting back into the contest.
Nankervis was a rucking goliath in the last quarter, controlling the centre square and stoppages, surging the ball forward at will.
The rucking monolith was aptly supported by premiership teammates in Dan Butler, Jacob Townsend and Kamdyn McIntosh, who all stood up in big moments.
Butler was dynamic and elusive inside-50, jagging three goals in the frantic final term.
Townsend was flint-hard around the ball and McIntosh, ice cool in the back-half.
When Essendon burst of the blocks, there was stunned silence at Punt Road Oval.
Aided by a stiff breeze, the Bombers exposed a slightly disjointed Tigers’ defence and scored with ease at times.
Essendon surged the ball forward at will, getting in behind Richmond’s defensive structure and storming into open space inside 50.
It took until the backend of the first quarter for Richmond to arrest back a slither of momentum and hit the scoreboard.
Mabior Chol played his first game back at the level since his AFL promotion, and brought his stellar form with him.
Chol, sensing his team needed a spark, out-muscled his opponent at a forward-50 stoppage and snapped truly on his left, in front of the horde of Tigers in the Jack Dyer Stand.
Townsend then pounced at the chance to snatch a forward-50 turnover, intercepting a kick back into the corridor, then coolly settling on the run and nailing the goal.
The margin was back to 14 points by quarter-time.
Richmond seemed to be caught a little off-guard by the Bombers urgency and immense pressure around the ball.
The Tigers were desperate to start the better in the second term but Essendon had other ideas.
The Bombers slotted two early goals before Callum Coleman-Jones and Connor Menadue combined for Richmond’s third, with the ruckman releasing Menadue into the corridor and the wingman snapping truly.
Unfortunately for the home side, the Bombers then went on a three-goal run before Menadue found space once again, this time snapping truly on his left.
Jake Aarts provided the spark early in the last quarter.
Aarts, hemmed in on the boundary, shook-off three would-be tacklers to fire off a handball to Dan Butler, who found space and snapped his second goal.
The 2018 draftee was involved moments later, this time as the goal-kicker, and Richmond had a pulse.
Butler would go on to kick two more goals in the last quarter, taking his tally to an equal game-high four for the game.
Callum Moore drew the Tigers within a point, before Mabior Chol’s set-shot cannoned into the goal post, levelling up the scores.
The ball was parked in Richmond’s front-half for the majority of the final term but with scores level, Essendon blasted the ball inside 50, where Mark Baguley’s snap sailed through.
The Bombers were up by a goal with minutes left in the game.
Riley Collier-Dawkins had a flying shot at goal which drifted to the wrong side of the post before Nankervis sent the Tiger Army into delirium.
Richmond also found a new hero, with Marlion Pickett endearing himself to the Tiger faithful with a second half to savour.
With his side desperate for a spark to light the flicker of hope, Pickett tracked a floating ball back inside-50, eyes only for the ball, and leapt into the converging pack, crashing to the ground, the ball hugged to his chest.
Pickett, unflustered and unflappable, slotted his second goal of the third term, the first time the Tigers kicked back-to-back goals for the game.
It may be seen, in time, as the act that defined one of the greatest comeback’s in the Club’s VFL history.
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RICHMOND 2.1 4.3 8.4 15.10 (100)
ESSENDON 4.3 9.4 14.8 15.8 (98)
Richmond: Butler (4), Chol (2), Menadue (2), Pickett (2), Aarts, Coleman-Jones, Moore, Nankervis, Townsend
Essendon: Heppel (4), Hartley (3), Younan (3), Baguley (2), Hocking (2), Landt