A POWERHOUSE performance from Dustin Martin in his 200th game has led Richmond to an imposing 31-point victory over Hawthorn in the first qualifying final at the MCG on a wet Thursday night.
Damien Hardwick had warned Martin was ready to take September by the scruff of the neck on the eve of Richmond's first ever finals clash against the Hawks.
TIGERS TOO GOOD Full match coverage and stats
The Tigers coach clearly knows his man.
After an excellent season by any standards other than the unparalleled ones he set in 2017, Martin was back to his very best against the Hawks.
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The reigning Brownlow and Norm Smith medallist did it all on Thursday night – high curling goals from the boundary, dribble handballs that bamboozled Hawks opponents and his trademark bulldozing work around the stoppages.
Martin finished with 29 possessions, 10 clearances, five inside 50s and one goal to get the Tigers' finals campaign off to the perfect start with a 13.17 (95) to 9.10 (64) victory.
The Hawks kept pace with the Tigers for much of the first half, but their failure to capitalise on some golden opportunities and Martin's brilliance meant they trailed by 14 points at half-time.
Richmond then took control of the contest with a five-goal-to-two third term that sent it into the final break with an unassailable 36-point lead.
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The sting went out of the game in the final term, but the Tigers did what they had to do to extend their record streak of wins at the MCG to 22.
The victory also marked the first time since 1980-82 that the Tigers had won four consecutive finals.
Richmond's relentless pressure simply proved too much for the Hawks to handle in the second half, with some of their youngsters having moments they would prefer to forget.
Their loss was further soured by a right hamstring to Ben Stratton that ended the influential defender's night midway through the third term and could end his season.
Conditions were slippery when the game got underway, with light drizzle falling for much of the game.
As outstanding as Martin was, he had plenty of support.
Captain Trent Cotchin (26 possessions and seven clearances), Dion Prestia (26 possessions, seven inside 50s and five clearances) and Kane Lambert (26 possessions and three goal assists) were influential through the midfield.
Nick Vlastuin, Alex Rance, Dylan Grimes and David Astbury were almost impassable in defence, while Kamdyn McIntosh (three goals), Daniel Rioli (three) and Jack Higgins (one) made life hell for the Hawks' defenders at ground level.
Rance pulled up sore at three-quarter time with a foot injury, but played out the game. He could also come under scrutiny for a scuffle with Paul Puopolo in the second quarter.
Tigers coach Damien Hardwick was a satisfied man after the game.
"It felt like a Richmond game. We spoke to our players just before and it certainly looked like a Richmond game," Hardwick said.
"I thought we dominated time in forward half and we set up really well behind the ball and I was really pleased with the endeavour of the guys.
"The pressure was good, the tackle pressure was good and, more importantly, our set-up was back to what we know, so it was pleasing all round."
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Tom Mitchell (38 possessions, 11 clearances and one goal) underlined his status as one of the game's elite ball-winners and never stopped trying even when the Hawks' cause was lost.
Jaeger O'Meara (29 possessions and eight clearances), Liam Shiels (26 possessions and 11 tackles) and Ricky Henderson (29 possessions) fought bravely through the midfield, while James Frawley kept Richmond spearhead Jack Riewoldt to just two behinds for the night.
Richmond got off to a fast start, kicking the game's opening two goals, through McIntosh and Rioli, to jump to an 11-point lead inside the first 10 minutes.
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Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson said the Tigers' system had stood up far better than his team's under the trying conditions at the MCG.
"We ended up having 20 more disposals than Richmond but 30 less inside 50s, so that tells you a little bit about our overuse (of the ball) and their preparedness just to get the ball forward and take ground with the ball," Clarkson said.
"Some of the chances we had, there was probably three or four in the first half where top of the goalsquare we missed twice, missed a handball to an open player, and in games like that you need to take your chances and Richmond were able to take theirs and we were unable to take ours.
"But really the game was won and lost in the intent in terms of them being prepared to take the ground more than we were."
Hawthorn missed a golden opportunity to hit back soon after when usual dead-eye Shaun Burgoyne somehow missed a set shot from 15m.
But they took a one-point lead into the first change on the back of late goals from Shiels and Jarryd Roughead
The Tigers had the opening four scores of the second term. Fortunately for the Hawks, just one of them was a goal, but it was one to remember, coming via a brilliant dribble kick by Rioli from 30m.
Nash cut the margin to two points before Martin stood up to give the Tigers some valuable breathing space.
First, he majestically curled the ball through the big sticks from 40m on the boundary line. Then in the dying minutes before half-time he cut through the Hawks' defences with a clever dribble handball that set up McIntosh's second goal.
Hawthorn had its chances in the run-in to half-time, but Roughead put a 40m shot on the run out on the full, Luke Breust botched a 15m set shot from dead in front – a miss that was just as staggering as Burgoyne's in the first quarter – and Rance bobbed up to get a finger on an on-target shot by O'Meara.
Sadly for the Hawks the Tigers gave them no chance of getting back into the match after the main break.
Richmond: Alex Rance appeared to hurt his left foot just before three-quarter time. He hobbled to the huddle, but after completing some quick sprints during the break he was able to play out the game. Jack Riewoldt came from the ground early in the final term with an apparent foot injury, but returned to finish the game.
Hawthorn: Defender Ben Stratton's night ended midway through the third quarter when he came off with a right hamstring injury. He finished the game on the interchange bench with ice strapped around his muscle. Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson was unaware of the extent of Stratton's injury after the match, but said the fact he couldn't come back on the ground didn't augur well for him being able to play in next week's cut-throat semi-final Blake Hardwick went into the rooms early in the third term with a hip complaint, but came back on to the ground soon after.
The Tigers are straight through to a preliminary final in two weeks' time, while the Hawks will play the winner of the Melbourne-Geelong elimination final, most likely next Friday night at the MCG.
RICHMOND 2.2 5.7 10.13 13.17 (95)
HAWTHORN 2.3 3.5 5.8 9.10 (64)
Richmond: McIntosh 3, Rioli 3, Caddy 2, Martin, Prestia, Higgins, Edwards, Graham
Hawthorn: Roughead 3, Shiels, Nash, Impey, Mitchell, Breust, Smith
Richmond: Martin, Prestia, Cotchin, Rioli, Lambert, Grimes, Grigg
Hawthorn: O'Meara, Mitchell, Shiels, Smith, Henderson, Sicily
Richmond: Rance (left foot)
Hawthorn: Ryan Schoenmakers (Achilles soreness) replaced in selected side by Daniel Howe, Hardwick (hip), Stratton (hamstring)
Umpires: Rosebury, Deboy, Ryan
Official crowd: 91,446 at the MCG