With Richmond locked in for a blockbuster 2020 season resumption match against Collingwood on June 11, Tony Greenberg takes a look at a Tigers’ Round 2 classic from the past that’s most notable for the last-quarter heroics of the man affectionately known as ‘The Ghost’.
Jim Jess’ rise to cult figure status at Tigerland occurred in Round 2 of the 1977 season on April 11.
That day, Richmond, having finished seventh the previous year, six points of out of the then final five, took on powerful reigning premier Hawthorn at the MCG in an important encounter on Easter Monday.
The Tigers had lost their opening round clash of the ’77 season to Fitzroy by 14 points, while the Hawks had suffered a 60-point hiding at the hands of North Melbourne.
Both teams, therefore, were extremely keen to get on the winner’s list in Round 2.
Jess, a long-haired, high-flying, long-kicking, tough, aggressive key forward, had joined the Tigers from Victorian country club St Arnaud as a mature-age recruit in 1976, managing six senior appearances in his debut season of league football.
He’d shown some encouraging signs of things to come, too, taking 10 marks and kicking two goals in the final home-and-away round of the ’76 season against St Kilda.
In the 1977 season-opener against Fitzroy, however, Jess was hardly sighted, finishing with just six disposals, and subsequently coming under close scrutiny from the selectors as to whether he should retain his place in the line-up for the Round 2 clash with Hawthorn.
Jess avoided the axe, but was selected as 20th man, which was akin to being the ‘sub’ in today’s AFL interchange system.
So, Jess took his place on the bench and, over the next three and a half quarters, along with the crowd of 42,192, was a spectator to one of the most amazing, fluctuating games in league football history!
Initially, it appeared as though the status quo would prevail, with warm favourite Hawthorn taking a comfortable 20-point lead into the quarter-time break.
But, in the second term, Richmond turned the game on its head with a breathtaking display of football.
The Tigers piled on a staggering 10.2 to 1.2, to go into half-time 34 points in front.
Predictably, Hawthorn’s stars stepped up in the third quarter to hurl the Hawks right back into the contest.
By the last change, Richmond’s lead had been cut to just 15 points, and the Tiger Army was decidedly nervous.
Hawthorn, due to its edge in experience and all-round talent, continued to surge, and hit the front for the first time since the second quarter.
Midway through the term, with the game slipping away, Richmond coach Barry Richardson decided to roll the dice and introduce Jess to the frenetic action.
Jess had an immediate impact . . . He goaled after taking a fine mark and converted again a few minutes later from a free kick.
But, the 22-year-old, in just his eighth game of senior league football, was saving his best for last . . .
With the Tigers trailing by four points, and the final siren imminent, Jess, literally, rose to the occasion.
Richmond champion Royce Hart, in an unfamiliar key defensive role, received a handball from Tiger young gun Allan Edwards in the middle of the ground and slammed the ball forward as far as he could.
Jess, sensing the moment, soared high above star Hawk full-back Kelvin Moore to pull down a spectacular mark.
He then coolly slotted the goal, which put Richmond two points ahead and, although Hawthorn charged forward again, the Tigers were able to hold on to record a stirring, famous, one-point.
With three goals from the only three disposals he picked up during his half quarter of ground time, Jess’ arrival on the ground had proved to be a blessing for Richmond.
Here’s how ‘The Age’ reported on Jess’ exciting match-winning exploits the following day . . .
“A playwright endowed with outrageous imagination would have failed to dream up a plot to match the Jim Jess story.
Like one of the heroes enshrined in ‘Boys Own’, Jess, a string-bean drover from Avoca, came onto the ground as 20th man midway through the last quarter and booted three goals to give Richmond a one-point victory over Hawthorn at the MCG yesterday.
And while superheroes are usually nonchalant about their miracles, Jess couldn’t help but be a little excited.
“They dropped me to the bench because I didn’t put in enough the week before against Fitzroy, so I wanted to give it all I had today,” he said.
“I was so frustrated watching the boys work so hard for three quarters and I just had to be let loose to help.”
And help he did!
After coming on 12 minutes into the last quarter, Jess booted his first goal following a superb overhead mark, and his second from a free kick came soon after.
But his match-winning goal, 29 minutes into the last quarter, was heroic stuff.
The ball came high from the centre line and Jess, by that time covered by three players, leapt from behind Kelvin Moore, and around two other Hawk defenders to juggle the mark.
And then, as if nothing rested on his kick, he casually steered it through.
From being nine points down, three minutes into time-on, Richmond came back from the grave to snatch a memorable victory.
Coach Barry Richardson said later he had sent Jess onto the ground a straight to full-forward hoping he could “perform some magic”.
“We had it in the back of our minds that Jim is capable of doing great things, and he really proved our thinking right.”
But Jess’ 18 minutes of glory was only a part of the Richmond success story.
There was that second quarter in which the Tigers left the Hawks breathless by ramming on 10.2 to lead by 34 points.
That should have been enough to see it comfortably through – but, of course, you can never be comfortable against Hawthorn.
John Hendrie, almost unsighted in the first half, and the irrepressible Leigh Matthews lifted the Hawks and last year’s premiers appeared to be back in business.
And they were . . . until Jess came on the scene.
While Richardson would have been disappointed with the second half fade-out, he must have been pleased with the performance of evergreens Kevin Bartlett and Royce Hart.
Bartlett never stopped running, picked up kicks everywhere – 27 of them – and was still going strong at the end.
And Hart seemed to get a new lease of life playing at centre half-back.
Not having to weave and turn, Hart moved with some of the freedom he showed seasons ago . . .”
Richmond 1.3 11.5 14.6 19.6 (120)
Hawthorn 4.5 5.7 11.9 17.17 (119)
Goals – Richmond: Lamb 4, Jess 3, Balme 2, Bartlett 2, Heard 2, Carter, Edwards, Monteath, Pitura, Scrimshaw, Wood.
Leading possession-winners – Richmond: Raines 29, Bartlett 25, Edwards 21, Bourke 20, Hart 20.
Goals – Hawthorn: Hudson 5, L. Matthews 5, Goad 3, Hendrie 3, Murnane.
Leading possession-getters – Hawthorn: Geoff Ablett 32, L. Matthews 25, Tuck 24, Hendrie 21, Martello 21, Rowlings 20.