SYDNEY is surging in the final quarter, and Richmond's most unlikely of finals charge hangs by a thread.

The year is 2014, the Tigers have won eight games in a row to jump from 16th to ninth, and need one last victory to qualify for September, a month that's been largely off-limits for the Tigers for nearly 20 years. 

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In the frantic final moments, the ball is bombed inside the Swans' forward 50 again and again and again.

Time after time, one man stands strong. 

Alex Rance contests a loose ball with Sydney champion Adam Goodes in round 23, 2014. Picture: AFL Photos

Alex Rance was extraordinary that frantic Saturday evening, repelling every entry with what was fast becoming his trademark desperation and athleticism. 

He spoiled, tackled and rebounded. The disposal was a bit iffy at times, including a hair-raising kick out on the full, but that was part and parcel of the Rance package in 2014.

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"He's one of the finest players to play at our club, and there's been many great teams and great players, but I just think the way he defends is unique, his assertiveness and his confidence, he's an extraordinary player," club CEO Brendon Gale said after Rance's shock retirement on Thursday.

"He single-handedly won that game, or denied Sydney, at least. He was herculean in the last quarter, it was remarkable." 

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The Tigers won the match, crashed out the following week against Port Adelaide, but Rance was named All-Australian for the first time and now retires with five consecutive blazers. 

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But it wasn't always so spectacular. The West Australian landed at Punt Road with pick No.18 in the 2007 NAB AFL Draft, alongside future skipper Trent Cotchin. 

He was a strong-bodied teenager who spent his first season at the club languishing in the twos, and sometimes even the now non-existent thirds, before making his debut in 2009. 

Alex Rance contests a mark during his AFL debut in round two, 2009. Picture: AFL Photos

He had some rough edges to his game but started to win over the Tiger Army – at the time desperate for any type of positivity or hope – with immense bravery.

Rance's kicking continued to be an issue as his career progressed, in part down to him either biting off more than he could chew, or purely from hurtling from defence and attempting to kick the ball while running a hundred miles an hour. 

Damien Hardwick has said, only half in jest, he was prepared to trade Rance for a six-pack of beer when the coach arrived at the club in 2010. 

He termed it "Alex Rance moments". The defender would perform some sort of incredible feat, winning a seemingly unwinnable one-on-one contest, before making a questionable decision with ball in hand and turning it over. 

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick keeps an eye on Alex Rance at training in 2016. Picture: AFL Photos

Before taking up the senior role at Brisbane, assistant coach Justin Leppistch – himself a champion defender in his time – worked tirelessly with Rance, his potential evident but execution questionable. 

Troy Chaplin was another; the veteran Port Adelaide recruit helped develop the game IQ which Rance used to great effect to direct the Tigers' backline in recent years. 

Over the last few seasons, he grew in confidence and maturity; not just a full-back, but THE full-back of the competition, one who could take on the likes of Lance Franklin and come out on top. 

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Suddenly, Richmond's big three had a fourth member, and he was, to employ the oft-used phrase, "a different cat".

Blessed with cinematic good looks, Rance was active in the media. He enjoyed the opportunities to showcase his goofy personality, whether that be rolling into AFLX on a motorised skateboard or creating a "slip and slide" in the changeroom to get a laugh out of teammates during a tough stretch for the club.

"He's got a range of alter-egos. He's schizophrenic. I don't make light of that, but he flips into different personalities, I don't know where they come from or where he draws inspiration from, but he's just stark raving mad," Gale said with a wry grin. 

"Footy clubs can be pretty hard places in the middle of winter when you're under pressure, it's that approach, energy and spontaneity that lifts up the others." 

He is also deeply religious and very open about his faith, a rarity in a secular world where football itself is considered only half-jokingly as a major religion. 

A devout Jehovah's Witness, Rance has said he considered walking away from the game in 2015 to spend more time with family and devote to his spirituality, which at times clash with the hyper-individualised world of AFL. 

He has spoken about the difficulties he faces; the need to be selfish as a footballer when, as a man of faith, he needs to be selfless.

In a football world where the word "star" is thrown around with abandon, Rance leaves, in Gale's words, as "one of the finest defenders of the modern era". 

He ushered in a new Richmond, a fierce, hungry beast where pressure is key, and selflessness and vulnerability celebrated.

A tearful Alex Rance embraces David Astbury after Richmond's 2019 Grand Final win. Picture: AFL Photos

Rance is a premiership player, a five-time All-Australian (and captain in 2017), a best and fairest winner (2015) and two-time runner-up (2016-17), vice-captain of the club (2017-19), and six-time winner of the Francis Bourke Award for club values.

His final act on the football field was attempting a trademark intercept mark in defence in round one, landing awkwardly in front of a packed MCG as thousands of fans held their breath, knowing deep down his knee was done.

He returned to the field on Grand Final day, celebrating a premiership triumph with fellow key defenders Dylan Grimes and David Astbury by sitting on the turf, tossing confetti in the air. 

Heroic. Childlike. Rance.

Dylan Grimes, David Astbury and Alex Rance in the wake of the Tigers' 2019 premiership. Picture: AFL Photos

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