Based on yesterday’s booming ticket sales, the Melbourne Cricket Club has estimated a crowd of well over 90,000 fans will be in attendance for Saturday’s preliminary final – with reports only around 1250 of tickets sold were snapped up by GWS supporters.
The resounding majority will be long-suffering Richmond supporters aiming to emulate the raucous support they showed during the recent qualifying final against Geelong, a Cats home game in name only as the Tiger Army turned out en masse in a crowd of 95,028 fans to cheer their side on to a 51-point win.
The projected weekend turn-out will easily exceed the biggest crowd that GWS has ever played in front of – a factor Richmond champion Dale Weightman said cannot be overlooked.
“That’s something we’ve got in our favour,” Weightman told Fox Sports.
“It’s not going to win us the game, but it’s going to be daunting for them.
“The Tiger Army will get right behind the side and they’ll make (the MCG) like a fortress.”
The huge turn out will be in stark contrast to the meagre crowd of 14,865 fans that watched the Giants defeat West Coast at Spotless Stadium on Saturday night.
Tickets for both preliminary finals went on sale to competing club’s members at 9am yesterday, with the AFL issuing an update in the late afternoon advising that public tickets for both Saturday’s game and the Friday night clash between Adelaide and Geelong at Adelaide Oval had been exhausted.
AFL Reserve tickets for the MCG clash go on sale today, with limited numbers of unused club or AFL allocations for both games to go on sale on Thursday.
And such is the confidence at Punt Road, Richmond greats Weightman and Tony Jewell are already looking forward to the Tigers’ first grand final appearance since 1982.
“I think we’ll win pretty easily, to be quite honest,” said Jewell, Richmond’s last premiership coach in 1980.
Weightman, who had 20 disposals and kicked a goal as a 20-year-old in the 1980 grand final win over Collingwood, went one step further.
“I think it’s going to be five goals plus… we’re good enough to beat this mob by 30 points and a bit more,” Weightman said.
“I’m confident we’ll put too much pressure on them.
“The thing about the Tigers is they are not giving any of the sides time and space to do anything.
“That’s what GWS thrive on – time and space. But they are not going to get it against the Tigers.
“We’ll just be at them the whole game right form the first bounce.”
The pair will join fellow Richmond champion and veteran broadcaster Rex Hunt on Tiger Radio, a Richmond-biased call available through aflnation.com.au, for the preliminary final.
Long-suffering Tigers supporters are finally daring to dream 37 years after their last premiership salute and Weightman can see parallels between this year’s team and his 1980 champions.
“You’ve got a few more-experienced guys who have played finals footy then you’ve got some young kids who have come in and shown that they’re up to it,” he said.
“In 1980 we had Kevin Bartlett, Francis Bourke, Merv Keane and David Cloke who had played in a couple of premierships for the Tigers then we had the younger blokes like me and Mark Lee.
“But I think it’s more about what you do for one another – the teamwork and all the little things. The score, the kicks, marks and handballs will look after each other.”
But while they have a dreadful MCG record and their fans will be massively outnumbered, GWS couldn’t be more excited about playing their first AFL finals match at the iconic venue.
In the last two seasons, GWS have played three finals at different Sydney venues and one at Adelaide Oval, so Saturday’s preliminary final represents another landmark in the history of the AFL’s newest club.
“It’s something we’ve aspired to since the day we started the club – when can we get to the MCG in a final,” GWS chief executive David Matthews said.
“We’re there this week and we’d love to be there the week after.”
The Giants have a 1-10 record at the MCG, where they have lost all three of their games against Richmond.
Their supporters are unlikely to number more than 2000 in a crowd that could be up to 45 times that size.
Outsiders continue to snipe at GWS over their attendances following last weekend’s semi-final crowd at Spotless Stadium, but Matthews says he’s comfortable with the way the club is tracking in that area.
The issue was raised again after last Saturday’s match drew the smallest AFL finals attendance in 101 years.
Both their home attendances and membership numbers are up this year and Matthews was confident GWS would continue building their support base.
“We played our 47th game at Spotless Stadium on the weekend, so we’re a young club, we’re six years in, we’re building in every area of the club,” he said.
“I’m quite comfortable with where it’s up to.
“We got 60,000 in a final last year against the Swans, we sold out the Western Bulldogs (preliminary final in 2016), we know we’ll continue to build.”
With gun midfielder Josh Kelly finally signing a contract extension, foundation player and small forward Devon Smith is the only long-term Giant yet to commit to the club beyond this year.
The skilful goalsneak has been troubled by knee issues through the second half of the season and is battling to regain a place in the senior side.
“Right now he’s just been focused on trying to get his body right and get back to playing football,” Matthews said.
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