In the lead-up to tomorrow’s AFL rookie draft, Tony Greenberg takes a look back at the first player picked up by Richmond in the inaugural rookie draft of 1997, Justin Plapp.
For someone who played less than 20 games of senior league football with Richmond, Justin Plapp left an indelible mark on the collective barracking psyche of the Tiger Army, who watched him play in the late 1990s.
Plapp, 189cm and 83kg, was a medium-sized forward from Tasmania, but he played tall, due to his spectacular marking ability.
In the 1996 season, Plapp kicked 98 goals from full-forward for Tasmanian club Burnie, thrilling locals with his high-flying exploits along the way.
Surprisingly, Plapp missed out on selection at the next AFL National Draft, but he found a new football home on the mainland when Richmond read out his name with its first pick (No. 7 overall) at the inaugural league rookie draft of 1997.
Following a few bags of goals from ‘screamers’ in the opening rounds of the 1998 season with the Tigers ‘twos’, Plapp had cult status bestowed upon him by the Yellow and Black faithful.
Supporters started chanting his name and waving Justin Plapp banners at Richmond reserves games.
With Richmond’s senior side struggling, the hype around Plapp as a potential saviour grew and grew.
“They were breaking down the door here telling us to put him in the seniors,” said the Tigers’ reserve-grade coach at the time, later to be senior coach, Jeff Gieschen.
Unfortunately, the sticking point for Plapp’s non-senior selection, was the Club’s salary cap.
“I can’t recall a reserves player having such an impact,” said Richmond’s football manager of the day, Brian Waldron.
“His performances in the reserves were just outstanding. He had beautiful hands and was a great kick. The pity was that we couldn’t squeeze him under the cap.”
While the Tiger Army clamored for Plapp’s elevation, the young man just kept on pulling down ‘speckies’ and booting goals in the reserves.
By season’s end, Plapp had won the competition’s leading goalkicker award (with 50 goals), the Club’s reserves’ Best and Fairest, and been a key member of the Tiger twos’ premiership side.
Richmond promptly promoted him to its senior list at the first available opportunity in the lead-up to the 1998 season.
Plapp, however, was forced to endure a frustrating run with injuries (hand and quadriceps), before finally making his senior league debut with the Tigers in the Round 14 match against Fremantle at the MCG.
While fellow Tasmanian forward Matthew Richardson stole the limelight with seven goals in a big 90-point Richmond victory, Plapp certainly didn’t let his legion of fans down, booting three goals in a highly-encouraging display.
The following week, against arch-rival Carlton at the MCG, Plapp kicked five goals and ‘Richo’ also booted five, as the Tigers romped home by 62 points.
With eight goals in his first two games, Plapp clearly was living up to all the expectations placed on him by the Tiger Army.
To paraphrase the ‘Immortal’ “Captain Blood”, Jack Dyer, Plapp made a good debut last week, and even better one this week!
The ‘Plappometer’ was going through the roof, as Richmond supporters roared their delight with the Tasmanian high-flyer’s exciting on-field feats.
Sadly, though, like Halley’s Comet, Plapp’s brilliance was over all too soon.
He managed just six more goals in six games that year, and only eight from 10 games in season 1999.
At the end of the ’99 season, Plapp was delisted by Richmond.
He subsequently found his way to St Kilda, where he spent three seasons for 26 games, but the magic was gone.
Plapp was played predominantly across half-back by the Saints, putting paid to his two main footballing attributes – high marking and goalkicking.
After leaving the AFL scene, Plapp returned to his native Tasmania, where he continued to take big marks and kick plenty of goals for several seasons.
These days, he’s back in Victoria, coaching TAC Cup team Sandringham Dragons, and helping develop the next generation of exciting football talent.
He is still fondly remembered by Yellow and Black barrackers of the late 90s . . .