SPORTING greatness can come in many forms, but special reverence is afforded greatness achieved in adversity.
Richmond Football Club's 2017-20 greatness is already entrenched, forever included in any list which covers Australian football dynasties.
If the Tigers were, in the remaining weeks of the 2021 season, to prove capable of wading through and conquering the multitude of serious setbacks thrown their way, they may just elevate themselves into the best-ever category.
Their situation is certainly at crisis point, Dustin Martin's season-ending kidney damage sustained in round 18 the latest and most impactful addition to an injury list filled with star talent throughout the entire season.
That Richmond was able to defeat Brisbane in a 'home' match at Metricon Stadium on Friday night was yet more proof that this team can never be written off. And while it has finished round 18 without a position in the top eight, there is not one team above it on the ladder that would gleefully approach a September match-up against it, even without Martin.
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While Martin of 2021 hasn't been the Brownlow Medal-winning Martin of 2017, he has still been very, very good. And as evidenced in the Grand Finals of 2017, 2019 and 2020, he elevates his contributions for the moments when there are no prizes for second.
Martin joins Dion Prestia, Nick Vlastuin, Bachar Houli, Noah Balta and Nathan Broad on the injury list. Shane Edwards is on it, again, so too Dave Astbury. Trent Cotchin and Tom Lynch have been on it, both still seem underdone. Kane Lambert has been playing hurt. Toby Nankervis finally returned, against the Lions. Kamdyn McIntosh ripped a hamstring on Friday night.
As current fixturing stands, the Tigers are to play Geelong on Sunday at the MCG. It is an 'away' fixture, not that that will mean anything given there will be no crowd.
To win what would be one of the more extraordinary and improbable premierships in 2021, from this position the Tigers are probably going to need to win eight of a possible nine remaining matches – five home-and-away engagements, and then a finals campaign which would begin without a double chance.
After the Cats, clashes against Fremantle, North Melbourne, GWS and Hawthorn are to follow. I'm backing Richmond, even under this almighty adversity, in for four of those next five, which should take care of the mathematical challenge to actually qualify for the finals.
And then the real fun would begin, as there would be absolutely nothing to lose.
Clock's ticking in race against COVID
The show must go on. If it can. That is the AFL edict as it is forced to delve even deeper into its trick bag to complete the 2021 season.
While it was a massive shock for some to see, just minutes before the start of Sunday's GWS-Sydney match - the final match of round 18 - that many players from both sides had been ruled ineligible due to exposure to known COVID-19 hotspots, it wasn't a surprise to those who had been listening to the messaging of AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan.
Clubs knew that they needed to minimise exposure to outside risk. And while mass attendance at last Tuesday's rugby union match in Melbourne was not outside protocols, it also would not have been recommended under any circumstances. And it would be fair to say there was an element of surprise within the AFL industry that it indeed happened.
When that venue was elevated in Victorian Government COVID-19 risk assessments, the players simply could not play, particularly so due to the fact they had received special Queensland Government exemptions to enter that state for Sunday night's game.
Toby Greene and Callum Mills were the headline acts in those omissions, but three other players were also forced to stand down, a significant disruption to any side's match day preparation.
With 45 matches remaining in the home-and-away season, and nine to follow in the finals, there is every chance this scenario will unfold again. But provided the teams can field 22 players against 22 players, it will be game-on.
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Gary Rohan will definitely return. Jez Cameron is likely to return. And Mitch Duncan might return.
If all three get back in to the Geelong team in time for a first final, the Cats might just be unbeatable. Right now and for some time already, they loom to me as the standout team of 2021, best capable of dealing with the uncertainty and disruption attached to COVID-19, and yet still not fully reaching optimum output.
The Cats destroyed and embarrassed Fremantle in Perth in round 18. That the Dockers entered the match in seventh place on the ladder was proven to be either a quirk of ladder order, or confirmation that the gulf between the top six and the rest will be insurmountable in September.
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It may have only been the embattled Collingwood. But for three quarters it had been looming as the type of game Carlton would lose.
That the Blues from that point kicked six goals to none was a rare high point in a season which had only a month ago seen the club's board order an independent review into its entire football operations.
Sam Walsh could miss the final five matches and yet still would surely win the 2021 best-and-fairest award, his last-quarter heroics franking an already dominant first three. And as the very best players do, Harry McKay managed to put behind him a quiet first three quarters to kick four of those six last term goals.
While the Blues finished round 18 just one game outside the top eight, they have been ordinary for most of 2021. But in winning three of the five matches since the review was ordered, no one could argue Teague has lost his players. Whether that matters in the final wash-up is for the reviewers to determine.