Brett Deledio was hurt, Richmond were rattled and Dustin Martin went into ‘beast mode’ as the Tigers escaped with a 19-point win against Essendon at the MCG.
The brave Bombers trailed by one point on Saturday with just under 10 minutes left but Damien Hardwick’s men steadied to kick the last three goals to win their seventh game of the season, 16.6 (102) to 11.17 (83).
Martin put in another eye-catching display with 43 possessions, 14 clearances and two goals, strengthening his position in the Brownlow Medal race.
Deledio, who has a history of calf and achilles issues, left the game at halftime after suffering tightness in his right calf, sparking fears he might have played his last game of the year.
“We’ll get some scans during the week but he’s a valuable player and we’re not going to put him out there if there’s a question mark over him,” Hardwick said.
“We’ll see how that one pulls up.
“I’m not too sure (about his season). We don’t want to make that call now – we’ll wait for Brett’s assessment and the medical guys will talk through that.
“But it was only tightness … there was no incident as such.”
Coming off a spirited loss to St Kilda, Essendon’s pressure was immense early.
Richmond were rattled as Essendon jumped out to a 19-point lead, but Trent Cotchin, Deledio and Martin steadied the ship and a brilliant Sam Lloyd dribbled goal helped their side regain momentum.
The Tigers kicked six unanswered goals, but couldn’t shake the persistent Dons after that in front of 44,908 fans.
Cotchin impressed with 35 disposals, as did Ben Griffiths with 12 marks and three goals, but Martin’s typically bullocking display was the key factor.
“When he hunts that contested ball, he’s so hard, he’s so dynamic in that part of his game … when he plays in that beast-mode mentality, he’s really hard to stop,” Hardwick said.
“He’s such a valuable player … he’s one of those guys who can get in and out of traffic.
“Essendon did a pretty good job of smashing into him, but Dusty eventually sees off most guys … it was a good game again.”
Zach Merrett was outstanding for the Bombers with 34 possessions and Orazio Fantasia was their liveliest forward with three goals, but John Worsfold was again left to rue poor goalkicking.
“Really, I think we dominated the inside-50 count. It was just scoring opportunities in the last quarter that we didn’t make the most of and Richmond managed to,” Worsfold said.
“That’s been a pattern for the last few games … whether that’s fatigue, it’s hard to pick, but we backed up a gallant effort last week with another big effort off a six-day break.”