18/04/2024

Stella Reid and Eilish Sheerin celebrate Richmond locking in a top four spot. (Photo: AFL)

Excitement is high at Punt Road, after Richmond qualified for not only its first AFLW finals series, but did so as a top four team.

The Tigers will travel to Queensland to take on the Lions, in a final series set to be full of history for the club.

Win or lose in week one, they will play at least two AFLW finals after gaining the double chance. Perhaps even more tantalising than this is the fact that Richmond is the only side to down Brisbane so far this season.

The club first had to overcome North Melbourne, which while it didn’t fully do on Sunday, being in the position at all is setting it up for a run at the flag.

“That’s the exciting part… even today, to be involved in this game [where] win or lose we’re fighting for a top four spot in the last round, we haven’t been involved in these sorts of games,” coach Ryan Ferguson said post-game on Sunday.

“Now to play our first final, have a final at home at some point… that’s pretty special.

“I’m trying to not to get in the way of the group in the moment, so they can just ride that momentum.”

The match-up with the Kangaroos ended with possibly the most dramatic result that it could have, as both sides had to settle for a draw.

Richmond needed just two points to qualify for the top four – had it lost, it would have instead had to gear up for a sudden death elimination final.

It was the seventh game in the Tigers’ season that was decided by 10 points or less, a fact that’s not lost on the coach.

“It was probably a fitting finale for us, the way the season’s gone,” Ferguson said.

“We’ve had so many close games and found a way to get over the line in them, and get over the line today in what we needed.

“I thought in the third quarter they turned the heat up on us… we had to hang on at times. We owned the first half and they owned the second half.”

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In a tense and heavily contested match-up, Richmond got the upper hand early, with young superstar Ellie McKenzie playing a heavy hand in that.

She finished her day with two goals, the first of which came in the second quarter to stretch the lead to two goals. The 20-year-old also led her side for disposals at the half with 10.

McKenzie would finish the match with 15 disposals and five tackles, as one of the most influential Tigers on the day.

Fellow midfielder Grace Egan had 20 disposals, six tackles and four clearances, while best and fairest favourite Mon Conti had 20 touches, seven tackles and four inside 50s.

In just her second game on return from injury, key defender Rebecca Miller had 16 disposals and nine rebounds 50s – a driving force out of the backline.

But when it came to facing off with the brilliant Roos’ midfield, Ferguson identified a need to tag another best and fairest favourite in Jasmine Garner.

While Sarah Hosking had previously played a successful nullifying role this season, he gave the responsibility to the inexperienced Meg Macdonald instead.

Playing just her 14th AFLW game, she kept the North Melbourne star to just 13 disposals and one clearance, in her season low for both statistics.

“I thought she [Macdonald] did a great job. We just thought Garner’s too good to just run free,” Ferguson explained.

“If we can quell her influence, it can help us get the result we want. Obviously they’ve got a lot of other strong mids, so it wasn’t a one person show in there.

“I honestly thought Meg’s been in good form playing on someone and beating them. Gave her a great task, and she’s been up for every task she’s had this season.”

North Melbourne will be left once again ruing inaccurate kicking and wasted opportunities. Darren Crocker’s side managed just 3.9 from their 35 inside 50s.

It was an all too familiar story, after kicking 3.8 from 43 inside 50s against Brisbane to drop another winnable game against fellow finals opposition.

The Kangaroos will need to take advantage of their offensive potency to overcome the Cats in an elimination final, while the Tigers will look to claim another win against the Lions away from home with a double chance.

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