There was a hint of spring in the air and shades of September in August as Richmond VFL ended its home and away season in fine style, surging past Essendon to record a 12-point win on the road.
The Tigers made the pilgrimage north to face the Bombers at Windy Hill and were pushed all the way by a side looking to cement its place in the top four, and also atone for its performance the week prior.
In a game of ebbs and flows, the class and grit of Richmond shone through to secure a 13.5 (83) to 11.5 (71) win.
One point down at three-quarter time, and with the backing of a raucous, pro-Bomber crowd, the home side’s midfield flexed its muscle early in the final term, but Richmond was staunch behind the ball.
Ryan Garthwaite and Kamdyn McIntosh provided the wealth of knowledge and experience, while fourth gamer, Bailey Henderson provided the brashness of youth.
Henderson was shifted back in the last quarter and stood-up in some big, big moments.
Garthwaite was iron-fisted and courageous, and McIntosh cool and confident.
Connor Menadue played a sacrificial role in the previous three quarters before being let loose in the midfield, inflicting maximum damage.
Connor Menadue in action during Richmond VFL’s win over Essendon. Photo: Getty Images
Trailing by a point, with 20 minutes gone in the last quarter, Menadue’s class and penetration by foot came to the fore, as his running goal gifted the Tigers back the lead.
A lead they wouldn’t surrender.
Dan Butler sealed the win after Ben Miller and Menadue caused a turnover in the corridor and fed the ball to Butler, who stepped to the paint of 50 and drilled home the sealer.
Jacob Townsend is a player that you want on your side in a street fight, and that’s what the last quarter resembled, as Townsend willed himself from contest to contest, collecting collateral damage as he went.
The Tigers and Bombers went into battle at a venue famous for the brawl at half-time of the sides’ round-seven clash in 1974.
Essendon had a chance jump to third spot on the ladder with a win over the ladder leaders, and if Geelong was to beat Williamstown.
After shoring up top-spot and a home final, it was important for Richmond to affix its gaze to the immediate task at hand and not allow its eye to wander to the game in a fortnight’s time.
The Bombers were urgent and energetic from the opening bounce and controlled the midfield battle in the first quarter, led by experienced campaigner, David Myers.
The Tigers’ defensive unit was put under immense pressure from the get-go, as the Bombers moved the ball swiftly from stoppages with sleek ball movement by hand.
Richmond’s half-back duo of Derek Eggmolesse-Smith and Marlion Pickett were urgent and evasive, as Eggmolesse-Smith set-up the first goal of the game with daring disposal by foot.
The dashing left footer scooped up the loose ball at half-back and pierced it onto the chest of Townsend who inturn put the ball into the path of Menadue, vacant on the wing.
Menadue then took off and drove the ball deep inside 50 pin-pointing Noah Balta, 15 metres out in front of goal.
Balta converted the set-shot - his first of two goal for the term - breaking the deadlock of a scoreless opening 12 minutes.
Callum Coleman-Jones marks during Richmond VFL's win over Essendon. Photo: Getty Images
The burgeoning big man was given licence to roam in the opening half, splitting ruck duties with Callum Coleman-Jones, and enjoyed the freedom afforded to him.
All the things Richmond fans and the football public have come to love about Balta were on show - the size, the speed, the athleticism, and of course, the unpredictability.
Watching Balta week-to-week can at times be like watching a two-year-old colt navigate its way through its first Spring campaign - the form graph hits peaks and troughs, but the excitement level is always at fever pitch.
The Bombers had the game on their terms for the majority of the first term, keeping the ball in constant motion and bouncing off half-back at will.
The Tigers took their chances inside 50 which allowed them to cling to a six-point lead at the first break, a lead they also held at half-time.
The second term was an arm wrestle and a sign of things to come for the remainder of the game.
Coleman-Jones kicked started the second quarter for the Tigers after taking a towering mark on the boundary then curling home a goal from 35 metres out.
Just a reminder, Coleman-Jones is a second-year ruckman, Tiger Army.
Essendon then snatched the lead on the back of a three-goal burst which had Richmond on the back foot.
Late goals to Miller and Butler reinstated the Tigers’ six-point lead at the main break.
Sydney Stack gathered 15 disposals in the first half before injuring his right lower leg, which led to him sitting out after half-time.
"It's an ankle injury but it's too early to diagnose the extent of it, whether it's a syndesmosis I’m not sure," Richmond's VFL coach Craig McRae said post-match.
"But it doesn't look good, he's on crutches so I would have thought he's in doubt for the short term.
"He went into a contest, and went to bump the bloke and I think his ankle became unstable. Time will tell."
The second half had a hint of finals football and was a tremendous prelude to what’s to come in a fortnight’s time.
RICHMOND 3.0 6.2 10.4 13.5 (83)
ESSENDON 2.0 5.2 10.3 11.5 (71)
Richmond: Balta (2), Butler (2), English (2), Menadue (2), Coleman-Jones, Miller, Moore, Naish, Townsend
Essendon: Hocking (2), Houlahan (2), Begley, Heppell, Laverde, Mosquito, Myers, Mynott, Smith