Long before Richmond’s glorious, drought-breaking 2017 Grand Final triumph, for an entire generation of Yellow and Black barrackers, the tremendous comeback in the do-or-die 1995 semi-final against Essendon at the MCG, was the pinnacle of their Tiger-supporting lives. Tony Greenberg reflects on that match, which took place 25 years ago today – Saturday, September 16, 1995.
Seven wins on-the-trot at the start of the 1995 season had provided the perfect impetus for Richmond to make the finals for the first time in 13 years.
The Tigers finished third at the end of the home-and-away rounds, with 15 wins, six losses and a draw, clinching the all-important double chance and a qualifying final appointment with North Melbourne.
The qualifying final was a tight contest for three quarters, with Richmond trailing by just nine points at the last change. But the Roos’ greater experience enabled them to wear the Tigers down in the final term and secure a comfortable 30-point win.
As a result, Richmond activated its double chance, against Essendon in a do-or-die semi-final.
By half-time, it seemed almost certain the Tiger Army’s fears of the team being bundled out of the finals in straight sets would be realised.
Richmond trailed by five goals and was being beaten in almost every position on the field.
There was, however, one member of the Richmond line-up, who was shining like a lighthouse and doing everything in his power to keep a pulse beating within the Tiger . . .
Matthew Knights, Richmond’s acting captain, had produced a brilliant solo exhibition throughout the first half, kicking three of the side’s four goals, including a magnificent, inspirational, five-bounce effort.
Knights had almost single-handedly provided the stimulus for a stunning Richmond form reversal in the second half.
Clever small forward, Chris Naish, who ended up playing a prominent role for the Tigers that day, was glowing in his praise of Knights’ performance.
“‘Knighta’ was just terrific,” Naish declared.
“Obviously, he kicked three goals in the first half and really kept inspiring all of us. But even his talk was important . . . he was really up in that first half and kept us alive.
“I dare to say that we’d probably have been 50 points down if it wasn’t for him in that first half.”
Naish described the mood in the Tiger rooms during the long break . . .
“The feeling was one of disappointment in each other,” he said.
“Players such as Chris Bond, Duncan Kellaway and Ashley Prescott had all been doing their job. But it was more experienced players like myself, Nick Daffy and Scotty Turner, who really had to step up and support the players who’d been putting in during the first half.”
Richmond coach John Northey made several position changes at half-time in a desperate bid to revive the team.
Tough key defender Scott Turner was moved forward, key forward/ruckman Brendon Gale went down back, Nick Daffy and Stuart Maxfield into the midfield, while Naish subsequently went to a wing early in the third term when Michael Gale was injured.
The first half of the third quarter was an arm wrestle, with neither team able to goal, until Daffy received a free kick for having his arm held without being in possession of the ball.
Daffy’s kick from about 25 metres out sailed through for the first Tigers’ goal since the three-minute mark of the second quarter.
The Richmond revival had begun . . .
“Coming out after half-time, we were all pretty determined to make amends, and that (free kick to Daffy) was just a break that we got,” Naish said.
“We smelt Essendon weren’t on in the second half, as much as they were in the first half. And, ‘Daff’ kicking that first goal just gave us a glimmer of hope that if we kept sticking to the plan, then we’re a good chance.
“The rest of the quarter unfolded as it did . . .”
Scott Turner proceeded put his stamp on the match – in no uncertain manner!
The backman-turned-forward grabbed the ball out of a ruck contest in the forward pocket and slammed it through for a terrific team-lifting goal.
“For him to get an opportunity up forward to kick that goal, it just inspired us all,” Naish said.
“He’s a great character, Scott Turner, and we all got around him . . .
“The big ‘fella’ was really instrumental and significant. He really gave us a real lift, particularly us little fellas around him.”
Turner provided a further valuable boost to the Tigers’ chances when he ironed out star Bomber defender Gary O’Donnell with a bone-jarring shirt-front.
O’Donnell was stretchered off the field and took no further part in the game.
“Obviously Knighta had been very instrumental, and O’Donnell was hoping to do a tagging job on him. So, to get one of their stoppers off the ground, gave us a lift,” Naish said.
“That hit was just pivotal to our second half, really. It said that we’re awake now, we’re ready to play and, look out, here we come.”
Richmond players, who had been missing in action, suddenly appeared energised.
Naish responded by bursting inside 50, taking a bounce, steadying, and ramming it through for a stirring six-pointer.
Then, when Naish kicked another goal shortly afterwards, from a superb snap, the Tigers, incredibly, had hit the front.
The Tiger Army nearly raised the roof of the grandstand at the Punt Road end with the almighty roar that greeted Naish’s goal.
“I’ve never felt anything like that in my life,” Naish said.
“The Tiger faithful in the stands knew that we were well on the way and were starting to get right on top, and I think they wanted to let Essendon know we were right in the mix here.
“That loud roar was just so inspirational. It was a great moment for the Club, particularly heading towards the three-quarter-time break.”
After kicking 5.3 to just two behinds by Essendon in the third term, Richmond led by the smallest possible margin at the final change.
As Naish explained, the Tiger players were hell-bent on going on with the job in the last quarter . . .
“There was a resolve amongst us all not to let each other down,” Naish said.
“The week before against North Melbourne, we dropped away at three-quarter time, big time. So we were very determined not to let that feeling we had the week before take over.
“We really wanted to finish off the business and nail Essendon and advance into the finals series.”
A frantic final term followed, but Richmond managed to keep the Bombers at bay to record a 13-point victory that ranks as one of the most memorable wins in Tigerland history.
Richmond 3.2 4.4 9.7 12.14 (86)
Essendon 3.3 9.4 9.6 11.7 (73)
Goals – Richmond: Knights 3, Daffy 2, Naish 2, Rogers 2, Turner 2, Charles.
Leading possession-winners – Richmond: Rogers 23, Daffy 21, Tape 20, Bower 18, Broderick 18, Naish 18.
Goals – Essendon: Alessio 2, Denham 2, Mercuri 2, Salmon 2, Calthorpe, Lloyd, O’Donnell.
Leading possession-winners – Essendon: Denham 24, Mercuri 24, Hird 22, Symons 20.