Tigers turn the tables, genuine flag chance

For 16 years the Tiger Army marched to the MCG in hope.

They hoped to roar in unison on a final siren in September. On Friday night they roared. They roared so loudly that the gorilla on their back came off.

Entering the qualifying final against Geelong the Tigers were one of only two clubs in the AFL to have failed to win a final since 2001. The other was Gold Coast, who have failed to make the finals in a short and tumultuous history.

The Tigers' recent history has been torturous. Between 2001, when they won a semifinal and made a preliminary final under Danny Frawley, and 2012 they failed to reach September.

In 2013, they led an elimination final by 32 points during the third term against Carlton, a team that only made the finals by virtue of Essendon's suspension due to the supplements saga, and lost.

In 2014, they folded to Port Adelaide in Adelaide. In 2015, they led North Melbourne at the start of the last quarter of an elimination final and lost.

Damien Hardwick, whose job was under threat last year, was aware of all that history. He told his players to embrace it, not shy away from it.

Embrace it they did. They were ferocious with their pressure and the Cats suffocated. But Tigers still had to fight the gorilla who threatened to break their back.

For all of the Tigers' dominance in the first half, 19 more contested possessions, four more clearances, nine more inside 50s and four more scoring shots, two late errors gifted Geelong goals on the stroke of half-time to cut the margin to just nine points after they led by 21.

Scores were level 14 minutes into the third and Tiger fans were feeling physically ill.

But the roars returned as the Tigers found another gear. It was Dustin Martin, with his Aston Martin engine, who ignited the Army.

He has already claimed the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year award and seems a lock for the Brownlow medal. But he also looks to be the wildcard of this finals series. In games were the pressure and pace intensifies, Martin's strength and speed to break free of congestion and his sublime decision-making and skill is the Tigers' trump card to add to their ferocious team defence.

Twenty-one of Martin's 28 disposals found a target and he had six direct score assists in a game where only four others on the ground had more than one. Patrick Dangerfield, who possesses similar assets, went at 45 per cent efficiency by contrast with his 31 disposals and had nine direct turnovers.

The Cats could not handle both the pressure and the crowd. The noise was something else. It's a huge advantage that Richmond now has for the remainder of this finals series. Despite finishing third, the Tiger Army out-numbered Cats fans three to one amongst the 95,028-strong crowd at the MCG.

Hardwick had complained about the "noise of affirmation" influencing the umpires in the previous meeting at Simonds Stadium in round 21. The Cats had a legitimate claim to having earned a home final at that venue but alas they were forced up the highway.

The Cats have now lost four of their last five finals at the MCG. Had Hawthorn's Isaac Smith kicked the goal after the siren in last year's qualifying final it would be five out of five.

Now the Tigers have the inside run. They will host a preliminary final at the MCG in front of the Army.

The Western Bulldogs broke a 62-year premiership drought just 12 months ago riding a wave of emotional sentiment and scintillating September football.

The Tigers haven't tasted premiership glory since 1980. But they are riding a similar wave. It's a yellow and black tsunami, and the Tiger Army might roar loudest on the last Saturday in September.