In the fifth of a special richmondfc.com.au nostalgic series celebrating Richmond’s 50 years at home at the MCG, Tony Greenberg rewinds to John Ronaldson’s heroic deeds in the Tigers’ glorious Grand Final triumph.
On September 23, 1977, legendary singer David Bowie released a single titled ‘Heroes’.
This signature Bowie song contained the inspirational lyrics, “We can be heroes, just for one day”.
Interestingly, the release date of Heroes came exactly 10 years to the day that a tall, strongly-built, but inconspicuous 20-year-old Richmond player etched his name into the Tigerland annals as a hero in the 1967 Grand Final triumph over Geelong.
John Ronaldson had been called up by the Tigers as a replacement for veteran ruckman Neville Crowe, who’d copped a four-match suspension from the league tribunal for striking Carlton’s John Nicholls during the second semi-final two weeks earlier.
Richmond coach Tommy Hafey and the other Tiger selectors were hoping Ronaldson would, at least, provide the Club’s elevated No. 1 ruckman Mike Patterson with a chop-out in the crucial battle against Geelong champion Polly Farmer.
Ronaldson, however, was to deliver the Tigers with so much more than that . . .
The 1967 Grand Final was only the 20th game of Ronaldson’s league career, which had started two years earlier, and he had kicked a total of just eight goals.
He’d been recruited by Richmond from suburban club East Malvern and had worked his way right up through the ranks at Tigerland, from under 19s, to reserves, to seniors.
Although Ronaldson had shown some promise in his 19 senior league games leading up to the ’67 Grand Final, there was nothing to suggest he would play a leading role in the Tigers capturing their sixth league premiership.
But on September 23, 1967, John Ronaldson became, in the poignant words of David Bowie, a hero, just for one day.
In the second quarter of a classic Grand Final contest, Ronaldson received a handball from Tiger young gun Royce Hart, and promptly steered it through for full points.
Ronaldson continued to provide valuable ruck support for ‘Swamp Fox’ (Mike Patterson), without doing anything out of the ordinary – until the last quarter.
Richmond held a slender two-point lead going into the final term of the absorbing, see-sawing premiership-decider, as fans and critics alike pondered who would step up to guide their team to the ultimate success over the course of the frenetic final hour.
Would it be Hart, Barrot, Bartlett, Northey and Guinane for the Tigers? Or would Farmer, Goggin, Wade, Sharrock and Marshall lift the Cats over the line?
The first goal of the last quarter went Richmond’s way, when Bartlett cleverly roved a Ronaldson ruck tap and snapped truly.
Not to be denied, however, and in keeping with the fascinating fluctuating fortunes of the epic encounter, Geelong hit back.
The Cats clawed their way to a six-point lead and, with their significant edge in experience, looked the likely winners.
Enter John Ronaldson . . .
At the 18-minute mark of the final term, Ronaldson, at full stretch, marked a pass from young teammate Barry Richardson in front of the MCC Members’ Stand.
Ronaldson was about 65 metres out, on a tight angle, when he launched a prodigious drop-kick, which kept going, and going, and going . . . right through the upright perpendiculars for as inspirational a goal as you could ever wish to see, to level the scores.
Then, just a few minutes later, at the start of the time-on period, with the two teams locked together, and the crowd of 109,396 roaring themselves hoarse, Ronaldson rose brilliantly to the magnitude of the moment yet again.
Big John was awarded a free kick by field umpire Peter Sheales, after being infringed against by Polly Farmer in a ruck contest at a boundary throw-in.
This time, Ronaldson was on the opposite side of the ground, in the forward pocket, about 50 metres out from goal.
He coolly went back and, although his kick was a wobbly punt, it did the trick, just clearing the goal-line for another crucial, team-lifting six-pointer, which put the Tigers back in front.
Bartlett subsequently booted the match-sealing goal, with the final siren signalling a momentous nine-point victory for Richmond, to break a 24-year premiership drought.
The enormous value of Ronaldson’s performance on Grand Final day 1967 belied his match statistics . . .
He finished with only six kicks, one mark and no handballs, but his three goals were worth their weight in gold.
Two years later, Ronaldson played a valuable role for the Tigers in their 1969 premiership success against Carlton.
Four decades on, Ronaldson’s mighty drop-kick, second goal in the ’67 Grand Final was nominated as one of the top 10 goals in Richmond’s league football history.
Here’s what he had to say about that goal, as reported in the Club’s league football centenary book, ‘Yellow & Black: 100 Years of Tiger Treasures’ . . .
“Most youngsters today would not even know about the drop kick,” Ronaldson said.
“It has been banned by coaches because the ball could slew off the side of the boot, but I hit this one sweetly.
“I must admit that although it was a decent kick, I was not really having a shot for goal. My intention was to roost the ball as close to the goal as possible in the hope that someone like Paddy Guinane would take a mark and kick a goal.
“My kick was not a shot for goal but, of course, I was rapt when it went through because it came at such a vital time in the game.
“To kick a goal at that stage of the match was critically important.
“I think we might have been behind at the time, so who knows what might have been if the ball hadn’t gone through for a goal.
“I also kicked one from the other side of the ground, but it was from a wobbly, old flat punt.”
Ronaldson described his incredible goal as “easily the most important” in his 59 games, but added that he kicked other goals from similar distances without getting the same exhilaration.