Adelaide and Richmond won two emotion-charged AFL matches in contrasting styles on Sunday – victories that were about much more than games of football.
The Crows honoured the memory of their slain coach Phil Walsh in the best possible way, downing cross-town rivals Port Adelaide by three points in the closest Showdown ever.
Richmond held off fast-finishing St Kilda to win 13.11 (89) to 10.13 (73) in Maddie’s Match, held in honour of the late Maddie Riewoldt – the younger sister of Saints skipper Nick and cousin of Richmond spearhead Jack – who lost her five-year battle with a rare bone marrow disorder in February.
Both matches had major implications for the finals race, with the Crows displacing Collingwood in the top eight and the fifth-placed Tigers staying right in the hunt for a top-four finish and the resultant double chance.
But the key combatants were looking at the bigger picture in the aftermath.
“Words can’t describe the last couple of weeks,” Crows superstar Patrick Dangerfield told Channel Seven.
“We’re not Phil’s family so we can only imagine what they’re feeling, but he had such an enormous influence on not only our football club but the Port Adelaide football club as well and so many people with the AFL industry.”
Walsh had played and coached at seven different AFL clubs, including a long stint as Port assistant when he was a key figure in their maiden 2004 premiership campaign.
The 55-year-old was midway through his first year as a senior coach when he was allegedly murdered by his son earlier this month.
A total of 54,468 fans – the biggest-ever crowd for a Showdown – crammed into the Adelaide Oval to watch a clash which would have done Walsh proud.
The Power stormed back from six goals down midway through the third quarter, only to come up just three points short.
But having started the season among the premiership favourites, Port now sit in a lowly 12th spot, 10 points behind the eighth-placed Crows.
In contrast, Richmond are flying in fifth position after their eighth win in the past nine games, although they were given an almighty scare by the fired-up Saints, who kicked the only six goals of the final quarter.
Their match – which doubled as the major fundraiser for Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision – was watched by 45,722 fans, the biggest attendance at Etihad Stadium this year.
Nick Riewoldt overcame a painful right calf strain to take his spot in the Saints lineup, while Jack Riewoldt was a constant threat in the Tigers’ attack.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Nick Riewoldt told Fox Sports after the match.
“It wasn’t about us, it wasn’t about our family, it was about Maddie’s legacy.”
Hawthorn moved above Sydney into third place after handing the Swans the biggest loss of coach John Longmire’s tenure – a 23.8 (146) to 7.15 (57) drubbing at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
Having dropped two of their previous three games, ladder leaders Fremantle got back on track with a 13.17 (95) to 8.5 (53) victory over Carlton, who were gallant for most of the match before being held scoreless in the final term.
The WA clubs continue to hold down the top two spots on the table, with West Coast beating Collingwood 11.21 (87) to 7.14 (56) in what was a fourth straight defeat for the slumping Magpies.
Brisbane remain in last spot after going down 8.12 (60) to 4.12 (36) to Melbourne in an eminently forgettable clash on Sunday at the MCG.