Tony Greenberg takes a wonderful trip back, in the Tiger Time Machine, to the last Saturday in September, 40 years ago.
Saturday, September 29, 1973 . . . the day a massive score was settled by 20 men proudly wearing the famous Yellow and Black colors of the Richmond Football Club.
A year earlier, the Tigers had entered the Grand Final encounter with traditional rival Carlton as the hottest premiership favorites in years. They had belted the Blues three times during the 1972 season, and were considered ‘the very best of good things’ to repeat the dose in that year’s premiership-decider.
Sadly, not even a huge score of 22.18 (150) was enough for Richmond to take home the '72 premiership cup, with Carlton kicking an amazing 28.9 (177), and laughing all the way back to Princes Park at the massive upset it had managed to pull off against the arch foe.
Tiger coach, Tommy Hafey, reflected the mood in the Punt Road camp following that shock loss.
“It was embarrassing . . . it was probably the worst defeat that I've ever been connected with because we were the better team – but we didn't win,” Hafey said.
“And, that's the one that really, really hurts you. I know sometimes you get beaten and you are disappointed because you probably could have won the game. But this is a side that no doubt should have won the premiership.”
Out of the ashes of the 1972 Grand Final disaster grew the steeliest resolve imaginable within the Punt Road playing group.
There was, however, only one way for Richmond to wipe the slate clean – by winning the 1973 flag. Anything less would be deemed totally unacceptable at Punt Road.
As fate would decree, the Tigers were handed a golden opportunity of exacting maximum retribution for their ‘72 failure when they came from 45 points down during the second quarter of their preliminary final clash with Collingwood, to win, and advance to another mighty showdown with the Blues.
This time, it was Carlton, who went into the game as the favorite, courtesy of its 20-point victory over Richmond three weeks earlier in the qualifying final.
The Blues had seven changes to the team that so convincingly accounted for the Tigers in the ‘72 Grand Final, with Byrne, Pinnell, Davis, Cattoggio, Crosswell, Walsh and Quirk replacing Hurst, Robertson, Armstrong, Jackson, Keogh, Gallagher, Lukas. For Richmond, Fowler, McGhie, Keane, Wood, Rae, Carter and Green came in for Boyanich, Hywood, Bond, McMillan, B. Richardson, McLean and Cumming.
Grand Final day 1973 was hot and dry, with a crowd of 116,956 filling the MCG to near capacity to watch Richmond's quest for revenge against Carlton.
The Grand Final was only three minutes old when a sensational incident occurred, which was to set the tone for the entire match.
Nuggety little Richmond back pocket Laurie Fowler became ‘David’, slaying Carlton's ‘Goliath’ John Nicholls. An air-borne Fowler collided with Nicholls, who had run out from goal to meet a kick from Blues’ star Alex Jesaulenko.
The football world looked on in shock, as ‘Big Nick’ was felled and, although he goaled from the resultant free kick, he was to have no further influence on this Grand Final, unlike the previous year when he had carved up the Tigers with a match-winning six-goal performance.
Richmond seized the early initiative in the '73 GF, thanks to Fowler's hit on Nicholls and Kevin Sheedy's sizzling form in his ruck-rover role. ‘Sheeds’ kicked all three of the Tigers' opening quarter goals through a potent mixture of rat-cunning, mongrel toughness and self-taught silky skills.
Midway through the second quarter, it was big forward Neil Balme's turn to impose himself on the contest and tip the scales further in Richmond's favor. Balme clashed heavily with champion Carlton full-back Geoff Southby and rugged Blue backman Vin Waite in the space of a few minutes. A groggy Southby did not appear on the ground after half-time.
As the match headed into the time-on period of the second term, the Tigers’ lead was a mere one point, but by half-time the margin had blown out to 26 points, with the brilliant Royce Hart yet again providing the inspiration up forward for “Hafey’s Heroes”.
A four-goal to two third quarter all but put the ‘73 premiership cup beyond Carlton's reach, as it trailed by 35 points at the last change. The Blues did stage a brief rally in the final term, cutting the deficit to 18 points, but there was not a snowball's hope in hell that Richmond was going to allow the precious silverware to slip from its grasp this time. Although the Tigers were frustratingly inaccurate in the last quarter, kicking 1.9, they were an extremely comfortable 30 points in front when the final siren sounded.
“The boys were like men on a mission and they certainly proved it on the day,” Hafey said.
“I can remember Paul Sproule saying to me after the game, ‘That was the easiest game you've ever been connected with. There's no way known that mob was ever going to get anywhere near us today’.
“That was exactly the way I felt, as well.”
It was a truly memorable day in the history of the Richmond Football Club because, not only did the senior side gain sweet revenge by taking out the premiership, but the Tiger reserves, under 19s and under 17s all won their grand finals.
Here's a cross-section of media reports covering Richmond's 1973 triumph . . .
Sunday Observer Sports Editor Mike Worner wrote:
“Call it a Tigerella”, Richmond coach Tom Hafey told me after the game against Carlton yesterday.
He was referring to the history-making 1sts, 2nds, 3rds and 4ths premiership wins of Richmond sides.
“How did we win the big one?
“We were desperate to play tough football and carry on from our second half against Collingwood.”
It was fitting revenge for Hafey who has smouldered with rage and indignation since October 7 last year.
“We had something to avenge. They humiliated us last year and I haven't let the players forget it,” he said.
“At 5 o'clock after every match we have begun planning for the next one – leading up to this.”
Hafey said that he told players he believed they were the fittest side in the competition.
This would carry them through to a premiership in the hot conditions.
Carlton hurried from the ground with their hopes of two flags in-a-row nothing but a bitter memory.
There was no waiting around for the Richmond run past. No exchange of jumpers.”
The legendary, Ron Barassi, also writing in the Sunday Observer, said . . .
“Richmond won the 1973 Grand Final yesterday because they adopted a shattering principle – attack at all costs regardless of who gets in the way.
The Tigers crashed their way to a brutal opening when Carlton colossus John Nicholls was downed soon after the first bounce. The scene was set for a pitiless day for the hungry Tigers.
Carlton were no match. It took them until the final quarter to show anywhere near the desperation that Richmond had shown throughout.
Richmond won the flag 16.20 (116) to 12.14 (86).
Yesterday's action lacked the skills of last year's unique final between these two teams. But this was more than made up by the crunch of bodies in desperate physical contact . . .
Richmond played a perfect pressure game, throwing themselves into the fray at any cost. They deservedly drank champagne as a reward for their third flag in seven years.
The battle of the coaches was most interesting with Tom Hafey deserving a pat on the back.
He put his team onto the field in superb physical condition and in an excellent frame of mind to win such a game.
Richmond's ruthless approach was understandable. After all, this match is the equivalent of a world championship and much more is allowed – and should be allowed – to go on in the Grand Final than is allowed in a normal match.
Richmond threw down the gauntlet in the opening minutes. From then on they bullocked their way to a well deserved win.
Their pressure football was excellent . . . A most impressive example of the Tigers' non-stop relentless football was seen when they kicked five goals in the time-on period of the second quarter.
The Tigers won handsomely in the ruck and around the packs where Kevin Bartlett was especially damaging. With Mike Green blanketing big Peter Jones and, in fact, taking the honors, Richmond repeatedly shot the ball forward, flooding their forwards with opportunities . . .”
Here's what the inimitable Lou Richards, writing in 'The Sun', had to say . . .
“Richmond took more than a premiership from Carlton at the MCG on Saturday.
Tommy Hafey's tearaway Tigers shattered for ever the legend of John Nicholls' invincible Blues.
The Blues weren't just beaten on the scoreboard.
They were mauled, physically and mentally, and I predict it will take years – that's right, years – for them to recover.
Big Nick has been cut down to size as a player at last (and a comparatively little fellow did it) and there's no one to replace him.
When Nick fell unconscious, face-first into the turf on Saturday, Carlton's present and future prospects nose-dived with him . . .
Richmond had a lot of matchwinners, but my pick for best of the bunch was tiger-hearted Kevin Sheedy.
‘Killer’ Kev kicked three magnificent goals in the first quarter to put Richmond on the way and kept on going from there.
He blocked and shepherded ferociously and had practically every one of the battered Blues wondering what he would do next.
Hart tottered back from the infirmary to take a succession of great marks and Stewart limped up forward to kick two decisive goals.
Bourke the magnificent simply stayed on the ground when lesser men would have been under it and inspired not only his own team, but the 116,000 people watching the match.
There's nothing much wrong with Australian Football when fellows like Francis Bourke are playing it.
Mike Green's great work in the ruck was generally overlooked, but, by golly, he was one of the Tigers who really won the game . . .”
'Herald' Sports Editor Terry Vine wrote . . .
“It was the day Nick Power gave way to solar energy and 18 superbly fit Tigers.
Big Nick won the toss, a free kick in the first minutes of the game, and the first goal.
But by the end of the day he took his bruised and battered Blues off the ground after 100 hard, gory minutes knowing that he'd been in the Tigers' den.
For the Tigers, it was sweet revenge.
This was what they had planned to do last year, but something then went horribly wrong -- wrong in the name of Nick Power.
This was different. This was glory, reward, the end of 12 months of having last year thrown into their faces.
There were yellow and black stripes all over the ground.
The Blues tried until they nearly burst. But all the time the hot sun – and the Tigers – bore down on them.
The perspiration rolled down their faces and necks, arms and legs, and into their hands and eyes, making the ball slippery and hard to see.
And there was one other thing that bothered the Blues – the mercurial Bartlett.
Almost everywhere there seemed to be a Bartlett to plague them and if it wasn't a Bartlett, it was a Stewart.
Then in the last quarter the Blues gave their fans their first real hope when they scored quick goals and whittled away the commanding Tiger lead.
The ground echoed to the cries of “Carl-ton!” as the Blues fought back. But like the Tigers of old, so young and bold, the Tigers fought on too.
1973 is the year of the Tiger.”
‘The Age’ reported that Richmond won the Grand Final because “we were desperate to play tough football for the whole game”, coach Tom Hafey said . . .
“We hoped to play on from last week’s second half against Collingwood, and we did.
“Jones had been the player who got Carlton going and Roberts and Green did a mammoth job for us in subduing him, enabling the smaller players to take over.
“Besides, we were the fittest team in the competition,” Hafey said.
Richmond captain Royce Hart said: “The win shows what dedication can do. We didn’t give up the ghost last year after the shock loss to Carlton. We made up for it this year.
“The whole thing was a credit to Tom Hafey and the way he got us to top fitness.”
Carlton captain-coach John Nicholls said: “We were beaten by a much better side on the day. Congratulations to Richmond – it played the sort of pressure football that wins premierships.
“I was very disappointed with Carlton. The team did not play anywhere near its best. Richmond was too good.”
RICHMOND 3.5 11.8 15.11 16.20 (116)
CARLTON 2.2 7.6 9.9 12.14 (86)
Goals -- RICHMOND: Stewart 3, Hart 3, Sheedy 3, Balme 2, Walsh, Roberts, Carter, Bartlett, Green. CARLTON: K. Hall 2, Crane 2, Dickson 2, Walls 2, McKay 2, Nicholls, Chandler.
Best -- RICHMOND: Bartlett, Sheedy, Stewart, Hart, Sproule, Walsh, Clay, Green. CARLTON: Crane, Walls, McKay, Hall, Pinnell, Jesaulenko, Byrne.
Replacements -- RICHMOND: Carter by Morris in final quarter, Balme by McKellar in final quarter. CARLTON: Southby, concussion, by Chandler at half-time; Catoggio by Quirk in third quarter.
Umpire: I. Robinson
RICHMOND Player Stats
Fowler: 6 kicks, 0 handpasses, 4 marks, 2 frees for, 1 free against
Clay: 9 kicks, 1 handpass, 4 marks, 4 frees for, 3 frees against
Hunt: 7 kicks, 0 handpasses, 2 marks, 3 frees for, 1 free against
Bourke: 13 kicks, 3 handpasses, 1 mark, 3 frees for, 0 frees against
McGhie: 7 kicks, 3 handpasses, 6 marks, 1 free for, 2 frees against
Keane: 10 kicks, 4 handpasses, 1 mark, 2 frees for, 1 free against
Walsh: 17 kicks, 2 handpasses, 3 marks, 3 frees for, 3 frees against
Stewart: 16 kicks, 2 handpasses, 5 marks, 2 frees for, 0 against
Wood: 13 kicks, 2 handpasses, 3 marks, 1 free for, 2 frees against
Rae: 10 kicks, 9 handpasses, 4 marks, 3 frees for, 3 frees against
Hart: 16 kicks, 3 handpasses, 7 marks, 3 frees for, 3 frees against
Sheedy: 16 kicks, 7 handpasses, 5 marks, 4 frees for, 4 frees against
Carter: 11 kicks, 2 handpasses, 2 marks, 1 free for, 1 free against
Balme: 8 kicks, 5 handpasses, 4 marks, 1 free for, 2 frees against
Green: 13 kicks, 4 handpasses, 8 marks, 2 frees for, 1 free against
Roberts: 8 kicks, 6 handpasses, 4 marks, 2 frees for, 0 frees against
Sproule: 15 kicks, 6 handpasses, 2 marks, 3 frees for, 0 against
Bartlett: 27 kicks, 0 handpasses, 1 mark, 5 frees for, 3 frees against
Morris: 5 kicks, 1 handpass, 1 mark, 0 frees for, 0 frees against
McKellar: 0 kicks, 0 handpasses, 0 marks, 0 frees for, 0 frees against
TOTALS: 227 kicks, 60 handpasses, 64 marks, 45 frees for, 30 frees against
B: L. Fowler, R. Clay, R. Hunt
HB: M. Keane, F. Bourke, R. McGhie
C: B. Wood, I. Stewart, W. Walsh
HF: K. Sheedy, R. Hart (c), S. Rae
F: M. Green, N. Balme, N. Carter
R: B. Roberts, P. Sproule, K. Bartlett
Reserves: C. McKellar, K. Morris
Coach: T. Hafey
B: R. Byrne, G. Southby, V. Waite
HB: K. Hall, B. Doull, P. Pinnell
C: D. Dickson, J. O'Connell, G. Crane
HF: D. McKay, R. Walls, A. Jesaulenko
F: J. Nicholls (c), C. Davis, V. Cattoggio
R: P. Jones, B. Crosswell, B. Walsh
Reserves: N. Chandler, B. Quirk
Coach: J. Nicholls