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50 years of MCG memories: Sheedy’s shrewdness in the ’74 Grand Final

Sheedy's hands Kevin Sheedy's clever handball from a set shot, to an unattended Michael Green right on the goal-line in the 1974 Grand Final win v North Melbourne.
Kevin Sheedy takes a superb mark during the 1974 Grand Final against North Melbourne

In the 11th of a special richmondfc.com.au nostalgic series celebrating Richmond’s 50 years at home at the MCG, Tony Greenberg reflects on a cunning piece of football brilliance produced by Kevin Sheedy that turned the tide for the Tigers in the 1974 Grand Final.

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

Richmond took a ferocious ‘us against the world’ approach into its 1974 Grand Final encounter with North Melbourne.

Going into the ’74 premiership-decider, there was an enormous groundswell of support for the Kangaroos, who had been ‘cellar-dwellars’ for many years, until legendary football figure Ron Barassi took over their coaching reins in 1973. Barassi immediately lifted the Roos to the fringes of the finals, before taking them all the way into the ‘big one’ the following year.

Seemingly, everyone in the football world, bar those of the Yellow and Black persuasion, was hoping for North Melbourne to win its first-ever premiership that sunny Saturday afternoon of September 28, 1974.

The Tigers were the villains of the piece, having ruthlessly disposed of Carlton 12 months earlier in a bruising Grand Final battle.

Then, in May 1974, Richmond’s reputation for ruthlessness and ruggedness went up another notch, when an almighty brawl erupted right on the half-time siren of the clash with Essendon at Windy Hill.

Renowned Tiger administrator, Graeme Richmond, was subsequently suspended for the rest of the ’74 season for his part in the Windy Hill brawl, with players Mal Brown and Stephen Parsons also being rubbed out, for one match and four matches respectively.

The upshot of this was that Richmond (the club) used the harsh penalty on Richmond (the official) as an added spur in its quest for back-to-back premierships.

By the time Grand Final day in 1974 came around, the Tigers, indeed, were ready to take on the world.

Two weeks earlier, Richmond, under the astute coaching guidance of the great Tommy Hafey, had disposed of Barassi’s boys by 21 points in a low-scoring encounter out at Waverley Park. The Roos bounced back in the preliminary final to narrowly defeat Hawthorn, and set up an epic showdown with Richmond for the ’74 premiership.

The Grand Final may well have been all over by quarter-time, had the Tigers managed to kick straight.  They had 11 scoring shots to five in the opening term, but led by only six points at the first change.

As so often happens in football, wasted opportunities leaves the door open for the opposition and, at the start of the second quarter, the Kangaroos set about making Richmond pay the price for its wastefulness.

They proceeded to kick the first three goals of the term to open up a 12-point lead.

Having grabbed the initiative, and with the crowd getting right behind them, the Roos’ confidence was soaring, and they appeared set to build substantially on their advantage.

But, just when the situation was looking decidedly grim for Richmond, wily Tiger Kevin Sheedy conjured up the most audacious act of trickery ever seen in a league Grand Final . . .

Sheedy was a 26-year-old veteran in his eighth season, and playing his 158th game of league football with Richmond, in the 1974 Grand Final.  

He had been the catalyst for the Tigers’ Grand Final triumph against Carlton 12 months earlier, kicking all three of the team’s first-quarter goals in his key ruck-roving role.

Now, with the ’74 Grand Final slipping away, it again was Sheedy who stepped up to provide Richmond with some timely, immense inspiration.

The Tigers managed to drive the ball deep into their attack, where Sheedy bobbed up to take a clever mark in the forward pocket, right next to the behind post.

Degree of difficulty for the shot at goal was quite acute, but if ever his team needed a six-pointer, this was it!

So, Sheedy’s crafty football brain hatched a plan that ultimately revived Richmond’s seemingly flagging fortunes, and knocked the stuffing right out of the Kangaroos.

Sheedy was a picture of concentration, with his head steady over the ball, as he ran in to take the crucial kick for goal from the tight angle.

At the last second, however, Sheedy stunned the crowd of 113,839 by handballing over the head of his North Melbourne opponent on the mark, Brad Smith, to Tiger teammate, Michael Green, who was unguarded on the goal line.

Green dribbled through the easiest goal you could ever see . . . and the pendulum subsequently swung completely back Richmond’s way after that.

As Elliot Cartledge wrote in his recently-published book, ‘The Hafey Years’:  “It was a psychological blow to the Kangaroos and the Tigers ran unchecked with goals to Hart, Green again, Balme with a magnificent long torpedo and then Hart – twice – to establish a definitive break.” 

Richmond went to the half-time break 20 points ahead and, although North managed to slightly reduce the deficit to 19 points at the last change, it was all the Tigers in the final term.  They slammed on 6.3 to 2.5 to run out convincing 41-point Grand Final winners.

Sheedy later spoke about his clever ruse that killed the Roos.

“Mike was always going crook at me for giving look-away handballs, so he knew it was coming,” he recalled.

“The day you stop taking risks is the day you get out of it.”

And, years later, Michael Green provided his views on the sneaky Sheedy handball . . .

“I didn’t know if he knew I was on my own, but I didn’t want to wave my hands around to attract attention,” he said.

“Kevin had his head studiously down over the ball and then he ran past the point where he should have kicked it. Then I knew it was on. I can remember thinking, if I drop this, I will look like a bloody idiot.”

The Norm Smith Medal for best afield in the league Grand Final wasn’t introduced until 1979.  Had it been up for grabs in 1974, it’s fair to assume that Kevin Sheedy would have taken ‘Normie’ home.

Apart from his pivotal handball masterstroke in the second quarter, Sheedy was dominant throughout, picking up 29 disposals (17 kicks, 12 handballs), taking six marks (including one that was subsequently nominated for Richmond’s Mark of the Century) and kicking two vital goals.

Legendary Hawthorn coach John Kennedy sang Sheedy’s praises in his column for ‘The Age’ newspaper following the Grand Final . . .

“Kevin Sheedy’s display had everything – great skill, great courage and fanatical determination. 

“His handpass to Green in the goal square was a good example – cool, but daring.  Had he been off-line with the handpass, the ball would have gone through for a point.

“He fooled everyone.  Every North Melbourne player seemed to go to sleep for a second . . .”

Geoff Poulter, writing in ‘Inside Football’, also paid a huge tribute to Sheedy . . .

“There was a touch of irony in the way Kevin Sheedy went about shattering the impossible dream of Ron Barassi, the coach.

“The ‘modern-day Barassi’ did to North Melbourne what Ron Barassi, the player, had inflicted upon his rivals in Melbourne’s famous Grand Final sides of the 1950s and early 1960s.

No one would suggest that every Richmond member didn’t play his part, but to my mind, Sheedy – complete footballer in every respect – was the man who got things moving.

“And he got things moving the way Barassi used to do in his heyday.

“Irrespective of any comparisons between Barassi the player and Sheedy the player, the Richmond trouble-shooter possesses all those intangible qualities that go together to make a thorough all-round “pressure” player.

“Sheedy’s reputation is built round the fact that he’s always there when things are tight.

“And he was in Saturday’s Grand Final – there with his strength, his courage, his professional football know-how, his fitness.  Inspiring, tormenting, stirring, driving, wanting to win.

“These are all the ingredients that make Sheedy (and made Barassi) a ruthless, irresistible football force.

“When North were at the peak of their momentum, and had raced to an 11-point lead 10 minutes into the second quarter, it was time for Kevin Sheedy to come to the rescue.

“He called upon the much under-rated Paul Sproule – switched to the centre – and the mercurial Royce Hart to help him put an end to the rot.

“And 15 minutes and six goals later, the North defence had become rattled, and the Tigers were marching triumphantly to another flag . . .”

1974 Grand Final details

Richmond                        3.8          10.11     12.17     18.20 (128)
North Melbourne            3.2          8.3          11.4        13.9 (87)

Goals – Richmond: Richardson 5, Hart 3, Balme 2, Sheedy 2, Green 2, Cumming, Walsh, Thorpe, Cloke.
Best – Richmond: Sheedy, Hart, Sproule, Morris, Green, Walsh, Andrews, McGhie.

Richmond Grand Final player stats

No. 1 – D. Cumming: 5 kicks, 13 handballs, 1 mark, 1 goal
No. 4 – R. Hart: 19 kicks, 3 handballs, 5 marks, 3 goals
No. 5 – G. Andrews: 11 kicks, 1 handball, 7 marks
No. 6 – P. Sproule: 17 kicks, 7 handballs, 5 marks,
No. 7 – W. Walsh: 16 kicks, 3 handballs, 5 marks, 1 goal
No. 8 – D. Clay: 10 kicks, 0 handballs, 2 marks
No. 10 – K. Sheedy: 17 kicks, 12 handballs, 6 marks, 2 goals
No. 12 – R. McGhie: 7 kicks, 2 handballs, 6 marks
No. 14 – D. Thorpe: 17 kicks, 5 handballs, 1 mark, 1 goal
No. 16 – B. Wood: 6 kicks, 3 handballs, 2 marks
No. 17 – B. Richardson: 8 kicks, 2 handballs, 4 marks, 5 goals
No. 21 – N. Balme: 9 kicks, 2 handballs, 2 marks, 2 goals
No. 29 – K. Bartlett: 27 kicks, 0 handballs, 1 mark,
No. 30 – F. Bourke: 14 kicks, 3 handballs, 1 mark
No. 33 – D. Cloke: 4 kicks, 1 handball, 3 marks, 1 goal
No. 37 – M. Green: 8 kicks, 4 handballs, 6 marks, 2 goals
No. 38 – K. Morris: 14 kicks, 2 handballs, 1 mark
No. 40 – M. Keane: 11 kicks, 0 handballs, 1 mark
No. 43 – C. Clayton (19th man): 0 kicks, 1 handball, 0 marks
No. 15 – B. Roberts (20th man): 0 kicks, 0 handballs, 0 marks