THE Richmond players in Sydney on Saturday afternoon had an imposing obstacle standing between them and an improbable AFL finals campaign: the mighty Sydney Swans.
I faced a smaller but equally imposing obstacle to watching one of the biggest games for Tiger fans in decades: a wedding cake.
My fiancee Nat had booked us in to talk to a wedding cake artist. We were to head to Melbourne, look at designs, visit my future parents-in-law and then (I hoped) tear back up to Ballarat in time to watch the Tigers on the TV.
It's fair to say, Nat does not get my love of all things yellow and black. And certainly not on wedding cake day.
We chose a cake design (or should I say, she did) then, as we crossed town, I whispered: "can we keep this nice and quick? I'd love to get back by four."
Nat gave me the "look".
"We don't spend enough time with my parents," she said. "It's important to them. We will leave at 4pm."
I did the mental arithmetic. The game started at 4.40pm - not good.
"Maybe you should have stayed home," she said. I did the mental arithmetic - consequences of missing the wedding cake briefing - also not good.
We arrived to see Nat's mother and only Nat's mother, because future father-in-law and Bomber barracker Rob was at Carlton versus Essendon at the MCG.
At 4pm, I gave Nat a subtle hint we needed to go. At 4.15 another, less subtle hint. At about 4.25pm we climbed into the car.
"I need to fill up," said Nat to Marilyn out of the window of the car. "Where is the nearest BP?"
"Can we keep this nice and quick? I'd love to get back by four..."Gav McGrath
"Swan Street, Richmond," said Marilyn. I quietly said to Nat: "you do know 57,000 Carlton and Essendon supporters are leaving the MCG right now?"
After filling up and following five other cars through the Swan Street service station car wash (she hadn't washed the car in three months, why now?), we got moving again. And then stopped on Olympic Boulevard, and on Alexandra Avenue, and again on City Road.
By the time we got to Ballarat and a restaurant, seven minutes remained in the game. There was a screen in the restaurant but no footy.
At least my phone had 3 per cent charge for score updates. Probably enough. With three minutes, 10 seconds to go in the game and less than a kick in it, my phone battery winked out.
There was a mad scramble to find a charger. By the time I got some charge into the phone, it was all over and I was in the dark.
Moments later, work colleague and fellow Tiger tragic Melanie Whelan called to put me out of my suspense.
"We're in," she yelled.
IT WAS not my idea to write this story. My boss made me do it. May lightning strike me if I am lying, I’ve been trying to keep a lid on it for 10 weeks (including the bye).
You see, everyone is getting caught up in the Richmond fairytale, including our Carlton supporting editor.
It’s not like he even likes the Tigers – he doesn’t. But everyone wants a piece of the Richmond fairy tale right now and he didn't have to look too hard to find a Tiger tragic.
There are half a dozen hardcore Richmond supporters in the office.
All wear their hearts on their sleeves. All were on the edge of their seats on Saturday night.
All were in agony when Sydney briefly hit the front in the second half, and again in the final term when the Swans pressed towards what appeared an inevitable victory.
They have ridden the rollercoaster this year, as have about half a million (give or take 100,000) other Richmond supporters.
When the Tigers were three wins-10 losses, we wallowed in misery together, forming a small support group.
And we needed it because there was no shortage of Carlton, Collingwood and North fans (especially North fans – I’m looking at you Matthew Dixon) having a hoot at our expense. With each win we first wanted to believe, then dared to believe. Even after eight wins on the trot, how many truly believed?
When, in the dying seconds of Saturday night’s match, the ball landed in Jack Riewoldt’s grasp and the siren sounded in Sydney, the overwhelming emotion was one of relief, as much as jubilation.
How could we turn up to work on Monday if the Tigers had missed the finals by less than a kick? I don’t know what would have been worse, the ribbing or the sad, sympathetic looks. Actually I do know what would have been worse.
Some people think Richmond supporters will be unbearable this week. I think they are wrong.
No, rather than basking, boasting or belittling the opposition (even Carlton and Collingwood supporters), Tigers fans are simply giving each other a knowing glance .
We love our club and revel in what the players have achieved in the past three months. But we also know how close the line is between fairytale and horror story.