There are some striking similarities between the Western Bulldogs’ attempt to win their 2021 preliminary final tonight, with Marcus Bontempelli under an injury cloud, and what Richmond went through in the 1973 preliminary final with the great Royce Hart . . . both captains of their clubs, both the best player at their club, both wearers of the No. 4 guernsey, both sublimely-skilled left-footers, and both going into a cut-throat preliminary with a knee injury. And Bulldog fans will be hoping the similarities extend beyond that. Tony Greenberg takes a look at that memorable 1973 preliminary final, and the remarkable role Royce Hart played in it . . .
Richmond finished the 1973 home-and-away season in second place on the ladder with 17 wins and five losses.
Collingwood topped the table with a 19-3 win-loss record, while reigning premier Carlton clinched third spot with a 15-7 record. Essendon (13-9) and St Kilda (12-10) rounded out the then final five.
In the first week of the '73 finals series, Carlton defeated Richmond by 20 points in the qualifying final and St Kilda thrashed Essendon by 67 points, with Collingwood gaining automatic entry into the second semi-final as its reward for finishing on top.
The Tigers proved too strong for St Kilda in the first semi-final, winning by 40 points, setting up a do-or-die preliminary final clash with Collingwood, who lost to the Blues by 20 points in the second semi.
It shaped as an epic penultimate match of the ’73 season, with the long-time, fierce rivals locking horns for the right to challenge Carlton in the Grand Final.
There was added intrigue going into the preliminary final, with champion Tiger centre half-forward and captain Royce Hart under a major injury cloud due to a knee problem that had hampered him for much of the season.
Hart, who had played just 10 out of a possible 24 games to that stage of the season, was considered more than likely to miss, which would have been a major blow to Richmond’s chances in the cut-throat encounter.
At the last minute, however, the Tigers named Hart as their 19th man, as insurance, in case something went drastically wrong and he was required to come off the bench to provide his customary inspiration (there was no interchange system in those days).
It turned out to be the best insurance policy ever underwritten at Tigerland . . .
Before a huge MCG crowd of 98,652, a pumped-up Collingwood outfit jumped Richmond, piling on 6.7 to 2.2 in the first quarter.
That deficit for the Tigers blew out to as much as 45 points during the second quarter, with Yellow and Black barrackers distraught at the team’s ineptitude on such an important occasion.
A late goal by big forward Neil Balme, just before the half-time siren, cut the margin to 36 points at the long break, but hopes of a Richmond victory still appeared remote, to say the least.
Enter Royce Hart . . .
Club doctor Bill Grainger had strongly advised against Hart taking part in the on-field action, given it would jeopardise his prospects of playing the following week in the Grand Final.
But, as powerful Club official Graeme Richmond argued in inimitably forceful style, there would be no tomorrow for the Tigers if they didn’t take a punt on Hart’s fitness in the second half of the preliminary final.
Coach Tommy Hafey agreed with GR’s strong recommendation, and Hart was summoned into the battle after spending the first half on the bench, in a last-ditch effort to resuscitate Richmond.
Hart’s arrival on the field had an instant impact on the Tigers . . .
He kicked an inspirational goal right at the start of the third quarter that was the catalyst for an amazing Richmond comeback.
Hafey had made several other moves in a desperate bid to lift the flagging Tigers, but it was Hart, who provided the required impetus to propel them on the path to a famous victory.
Richmond slammed on 6.6 to 2.2 for the term, to trail by only eight points at the final change.
Having seized the initiative, there was no way the Tigers were going to allow their opponents to wrest it back off them, although it took until the 19-minute mark of the last quarter for them to hit the front for the first time in the match, when champion rover Kevin Bartlett goaled.
Another Bartlett goal, minutes later, sealed one of the greatest, most memorable wins in Richmond’s history – 15.15 (105) to 14.14 (98).
Here's how Mike Worner, writing in the Sunday Observer, saw all the Hart attack drama of the 1973 preliminary final unfold . . .
"At 1.30 yesterday afternoon Richmond captain Royce Hart offered his services to coach Tom Hafey.
"I wasn't going to have him sitting in the grandstand if he could be of value to us, so he went on the bench," Hafey said.
At 3.30, during the half-time break, Robert Lamb was replaced and the magical Mr Hart took over at centre half-forward.
At 5.30, he was talking about Richmond's star-studded seven-point second half steal of the preliminary final from Collingwood.
It was two quarters of Hart-Balme that lifted Richmond into the Grand Final for the second year in-a-row.
Hart, bubbling with confidence despite his troublesome knee, turned Lee Adamson's fairytale first half into a second half horror story.
Memories must have come flooding back for Jeff Clifton as his last half against Neil Balme also turned sour.
Balme actually began his five-goal run just before half-time when he took a mark in the goal square.
It had been awfully quiet for him, and all the Richmond forwards up to that stage.
The Collingwood backs, going in as they had never gone in before, gave the Tiger tails an uncomfortable pull.
"Our first half must have sapped all our energy. I believe we were not as physically strong as Richmond," a despondent Collingwood captain Wayne Richardson said after the game.
The game was almost a replica of the 1970 Grand Final when Carlton turned on a trail-blazing second half.
"Once again we walk away from the MCG disappointed," coach Neil Mann told his gloomy supporters and players.
Other than the Hart-Balme combination, Hafey made other moves that turned the tide.
Wayne Walsh went to the centre and the strangely ineffective Ian Stewart went to a half-forward flank, Robert McGhie went onto Thompson at centre half-forward, Dick Clay returned to full-back and Francis Bourke began the third quarter on a half-back flank.
Bourke found his feet in defence, Walsh started to collect kicks and Len Thompson languished.
The Thompson-Jenkin switch just before the ball was bounced gave the start of the match some added drama.
It worked perfectly as Jenkin, playing like a man possessed, marked and tapped his way to stardom.
Thompson, using pace and height, was more than a handful for the tentative Bourke.
Collingwood rover George Bisset, the best man on the ground, was everywhere. Again, it was only in part two of the match, that Kevin Bartlett and Paul Sproule became an influence.
With Paul Cranage, Lee Adamson and Daryl Salmon also on top, Collingwood raced away.
But once Hafey had made his half-time changes and the Richmond pace, strength and skill began to tell, Collingwood began that tumble to obscurity.
They actually lost the lead for the first time in the match when Richmond levelled the scores at the nine-minute mark in the final term.
The Magpies refused to say goodbye and Alan Holmes kicked a gutsy goal to give them back the lead.
Then, 19 minutes into the quarter, the Tigers hit the front for the first time when Bartlett goaled.
At that point some spectators, sensing the usual Collingwood "always the bridesmaid" role, began to leave."
Renowned chief football writer of 'The Herald', Alf Brown was lavish in his praise of Richmond's stirring fightback . . .
"Richmond, with the greatest comeback I have seen in a final series, beat Collingwood in the preliminary final at the MCG this afternoon. They will play Carlton in the Grand Final next Saturday.
Richmond were 45 points behind in the second quarter and did not appear to have a chance of winning. But a reshuffled and revitalised side helped them to turn on a superb winning second half.
Collingwood tired badly after half-time – especially big men like Thompson and Jenkin, who had given them great drive early.
Collingwood's fadeout was reminiscent of the Grand Final in 1970. Carlton were 44 points down at half-time, but got up to win.
Richmond rover Kevin Bartlett was a great player. In the first half he roved to a losing ruck, but got kicks. In the second half he improved his game, kicked more accurately and got two of Richmond's last three goals to clinch the match.
In the first half, Collingwood upset Richmond with tactics. Their playing of Thompson at centre half-forward looked like a match-winning move. And Jenkin in the ruck was rarely beaten.
But it was all Richmond after half-time. They swung 19th man Royce Hart to centre half-forward, Brownlow Medal winner Ian Stewart, who had done well in the centre, to a half-forward flank, and the Tigers were on their way to another Grand Final."
Richmond 2.2 4.7 10.13 15.15 (105)
Collingwood 6.7 10.7 12.9 14.14 (98)
Goals – Richmond: Balme 5, Bartlett 3, Stewart 2, Hart 2, Carter, Roberts, Sproule. Collingwood: Kink 3, Atkinson 3, Thompson 3, M. Richardson 2, Heard 2, Holmes.
Best – Richmond: Bartlett, Keane, Walsh, Sheedy, Balme, Bourke. Collingwood: Bisset, Dean, Jenkin, W. Richardson, Cranage, Holmes.