Richmond will have the better part of six months to ponder one question: Why wasn’t more done to stop Lachie Neale?
Neale has rocketed back into Brownlow Medal favouritism this season but saved perhaps his best performance for a game that won’t be part of that voting process, that being his 39-disposal, 15 clearance effort in Thursday night’s stunning two-point Elimination Final win over Richmond.
As the AFL world attempted to unpack what it had just witnessed by the time the final siren sounded, one thing was clear for analyst David King.
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“I think at the end of the game, you have to sit back and say what did Richmond do about Lachie Neale, who was the one problem all night? Nothing seemed to change,” he told Fox Footy in the aftermath of Thursday’s game.
“He relatively went untouched for the night. I think upon reflection the Tigers will be disappointed with the way they handled that matchup.”
Neale’s teammate Zac Bayley was one of a chorus of Lions players and coaches to praise Neale in the aftermath of the stunning win.
“He‘s an unbelievable player,” he told Fox Footy.
“He set himself up really well in the off-season and got his running capacity up so he can do that in-game and when he’s out on the field I guess it speaks for itself.
“He’s an unbelievable player.”
That workrate Bayley spoke of was evident in a stat that left King stunned.
“He played the last 90 minutes of game, which is unbelievable,” he said.
“A midfielder taking the contact he‘s taking and running the kilometres that he’s running at the speed that he’s exploding at, to play the last 90 minutes it’s just ridiculous.”
For the Tigers, King said, a review of the plan surrounding Neale was a must.
“We always say don’t get beaten by what you know,” he said.
“Damien Hardwick in the pre-match said we’re not going to compete at clearance, we like to win that next ball back. Brisbane have kicked 7.2 from clearance … Lachie Neale is responsible for 4.1.
“He’s beaten them single-handedly … you took a risk and you rolled snake eyes.”
Neale himself admitted he dealt with nerves in the lead-up to the match as the Lions prepared to try and rectify a 1-5 finals record under coach Chris Fagan.
“To be honest, I was pretty anxious pre-game,” he told Fox Footy after the match.
“I probably had a 20 minute shower before I drove in to the ground today just sort of resetting myself and getting prepared for tonight, which I usually don’t do.
“I’m usually a lot more calm and just flow into the game but I felt pretty anxious. But I think that’s a good thing. I’m really proud of the guys, it was an amazing effort to get over the line at the end and we’ve been through a bit the last few weeks so yeah, good to get that one, but on to the next now.”
Fagan was one of many in awe of Neale’s performance.
“It’s how he did it. He was so clean and it was a high-pressure, fast-paced game,” he said post-game.
“His ability to collect the ball cleanly and give it to his teammates was outstanding. It was one of the great finals games you’ll ever see.”