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50 years of MCG memories: Royce Hart’s debut

In the third of a special richmondfc.com.au nostalgic series celebrating Richmond’s 50 years at home at the MCG, Tony Greenberg reflects on Royce Hart’s league debut for the Tigers in the opening round of the 1967 season.

Richmond will celebrate its rich, proud history with a weekend of celebrations in July. ‘Homecoming’ will be a must-see event

A new league football season always brings with it a good deal of anticipation and excitement.

For Richmond fans back in 1967, those feelings were heightened due to the selection of a talented teenage key forward from Tasmania to make his senior debut for the Tigers in the opening round match against Essendon at the MCG.

Royce Hart had been lured across Bass Strait by Richmond’s renowned secretary at the time, Graeme Richmond, for the ‘princely’ signing-on fee of a grey suit and six white shirts!

It was to prove a massive bargain-buy for the Tigers.

Hart had represented Tasmania as a junior footballer and earned selection in the All-Australian schoolboys’ side, playing as a rover.  A significant growth spurt subsequently resulted in him developing into a key forward at under-19s level with Hobart-based club Clarence.

He won the under-19 competition’s best and fairest and also topped the goalkicking, while playing for Clarence in 1965, before joining Richmond.

Throughout his first year at the Club, Hart spent most of the season in the under-19s, where he took plenty of spectacular marks and kicked 52 goals, until winning a promotion to the reserves in the lead-up to their finals campaign.

The ice-cool temperament and ability to rise to the big occasion, which were to be Hart trademarks in his time at Tigerland, came to the fore in the dying moments of the 1966 reserve-grade grand final between Richmond and Collingwood.

With the Tigers trailing by one point, Hart took a mark on the lead about 60 metres out from goal. 

He calmly slotted a towering torpedo punt through the big sticks, just 20 seconds before the final siren, to secure a thrilling five-point triumph for Richmond.

Hart had already captured the imagination of many Yellow and Black barrackers with his exciting exploits at under-19s and reserves level, so there was plenty of excitement circulating among them when he was named in Richmond’s senior side for the 1967 season-opener against the powerful, experienced Essendon combination at the MCG.

The Bombers had finished third in 1966 after winning the premiership the year before.  Their line-up was stacked with star players and they represented a major challenge for the Tommy Hafey-coached Tigers first-up in season ’67.

All Tiger eyes were on the high-flying Hart – and he certainly didn’t disappoint.

Lining up at full-forward on Essendon’s 1965 premiership full-back Greg Brown, the 19-year-old proceeded to produce one of the best-ever debut performances by a Richmond player.

He took 10 marks, including some ‘speckies’, and had 10 shots for goal, but was very inaccurate, finishing with 3.7 in the only blemish during an otherwise dazzling display, as the Tigers romped home by 35 points – 15.20 (110) to 11.9 (75).

Interestingly, after that wayward kicking for goal on debut, Hart was taken aside by Tommy Hafey and Graeme Richmond and advised to scrap kicking torpedo punts in his set shots at goal.

He consequently taught himself to kick a drop punt, and turned into a deadly accurate goalkicker.

A Tiger star was born that Saturday in mid-April 1967.

Here’s how Hart viewed his league debut for the Tigers, in a special column he wrote for ‘The Herald’ newspaper on the Monday after the game . . .

“ALL the old heads of Richmond kept warning me to watch for the rough stuff.  “This mob will get into you right from the first whistle and you’re going to get the full treatment, son.  So be ready for it,” they said.

But my first League game, my life’s ambition, came as a pleasant surprise.

I didn’t get hammered as much as I expected, although there was one clash in the last quarter.

I finished up with a sore head.  Did I run into something?  I’ll say I did . . . definitely.

I wasn’t happy with my goalkicking.  I should have kicked seven or eight on my practice form.

I don’t know what went wrong.  I lost concentration a few times, probably because we were so far in front.

I can’t work it out.  I missed some easy shots.  It was tricky shooting for goal where the old concrete stand was.

My marking was not too hot, either.  

Some of the marks I took were easy, but I missed the difficult ones, after getting my hands on the ball.

I was confident Richmond would beat Essendon, and I didn’t let myself think I would be a failure.

I was a bit toey before the game.  I watched some of the Reserves match, and then we had a talk about the Essendon team.

Len Smith told me how to play Essendon full-back Greg Brown . . . Neville Crowe gave me a few words of advice and calmed me down.

I settled down when we were handballing to each other and having short kicks in the dressing room.

But I was still feeling jittery, wondering how I would go.

I received 30 good-luck telegrams from friends back in Tasmania, but I didn’t read them until after the game.

When I ran on the ground and the Tigers were greeted by the explosive roar of the crowd, I felt like a million dollars.

That was when I began to notice things.

Last year I watched the seniors playing and I thought I would never be with them.

But there I was and I wanted the ball to come to me quickly.

Once the game started, I forgot the crowd, and it was just another match.

I had my first kick after five minutes for a point, and 10 minutes later scored my first goal.

I had proved I could get a kick in League football.  That was the main thing.

I had confidence in my own ability for two reasons, experience with Richmond Under 19s and Reserves and body-building exercises.

Playing with the Under 19s and Reserves gave me good experience and the body-building increased my weight boy about one and a half stone.

I can hardly wait until next Saturday, when I won’t be suffering so much from stage fright.”

Hart went on to represent Victoria in his debut season of league football, win the Club’s leading goalkicker award with 55 goals, be acclaimed as the competition’s Recruit of the Year, and play a pivotal role in Richmond’s drought-breaking premiership side.

It was a superb start to what was to become a brilliant career at the game’s highest level . . .