1973 VFL Preliminary Final: Tiger triumph and Pie pain — again
The fallout from the Watergate break in a year earlier continues to dominate nightly news services. Chilean President Salvador Allende and his democratically elected Socialist government are ousted by a CIA backed military coup. Billie Jean King renders motormouth Bobbie Riggs mute with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 straight sets victory in their Battle of the Sexes clash in the Houston Astrodome. In Louisiana modern day troubadour Jim Croce is killed when his chartered plane crashes shortly after take-off during the Life and Times tour.
Meanwhile back home
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (right) approves the purchase of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles for the National Gallery of Australia. Police dramas Homicide, Division 4 and Matlock Police still comfortably amongst our highest rating television programs. Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night continues its lengthy run atop of the Kent album chart. Having won a slew of Oscars at the 45th Academy Awards in March, The Godfather, Lady Sings the Blues and Cabaret, continue to wow Melbourne cinema patrons.
As you were!
Melbourne footy followers were left with a feeling of déjà vu at the completion of the VFL Home and Away fixture. Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond, St Kilda and Essendon - finalists twelve months earlier - fill the top five places of the ladder and earn another crack at a premiership. Keith Grieg becomes the first North Melbourne player to take home the coveted Charles Brownlow Medal. Collingwood Full Forward Peter McKenna retains the mantle of the competition's leading goalkicker for the second year running.
The post-season opened with St Kilda clobbering Essendon by 11 goals in the Elimination Final. At the MCG Carlton led Richmond at every change and record a 20-point Qualifying Final win. A six-goal-to-one final quarter saw the Tigers end the Saints September soiree and avoid the ignominy of a straight sets sayonara. Out in the wilds of Waverley the Blues outlasted Collingwood and advanced to their third decider in four seasons. The Maggies 20-point defeat was their fifth consecutive finals loss and condemned the minor premier to a cutthroat clash with their noisy neighbour.
The Magpies September shortcomings set tongues wagging in the lead up to the Preliminary Final. Neil Mann, sporting a 75% winning record across his first two regular seasons as senior coach was yet to taste victory in three finals outings across the same period. Mann, best on ground for the Pies in their 1953 Grand Final victory over Geelong, wasn’t buying into the Colliwobbles myth.
“All this talk about Collingwood’s finals series jinx, hoodoo and the rest is a lot of rubbish and nonsense. The sooner we win the flag and kill all this ridiculous talk, the better. It has been going on far too long. There was no jinx on us last week against Carlton. We had our chances to win and get into the Grand Final but we threw them away. It’s as simple as that”
"Mann-sized reply to hoodoo chatter" – Ron Carter, The Age, Thursday 20 September 1973
At the selection table
Collingwood caused a shock when they named Melbourne High School student Rene Kink as the replacement for an ailing Peter McKenna. Having made three cameo appearances off the bench earlier in the season Kink’s selection in the starting 18 marked his full debut. The news from Punt Road proved bitter sweet for the Tiger faithful. The knee problems that incapacitated Royce Hart for the majority of the campaign had flared once more. Rather than risk further damage to his ravaged pegs the brilliant forward was left out when the squad was originally announced.
Hart’s absence was tempered, somewhat, with the inclusion of Francis Bourke. Bourke had missed the Tigers previous four engagements after damaging his right knee in the Round 20 victory at Victoria Park. The severity of the injury had some at Tigerland fearing St Francis’ season had ended prematurely. His return to the playing field capped an eventful week for Bourke, his wife Kerrie having given birth to a daughter Natalie Therese.
B: Fowler, Clay, McGhie
HB: Sheedy, Bourke, Keane
C: Walsh, Stewart, Wood
HF: Rae, Hunt, Lamb
F: Green, Balme, Carter
FOLL: Roberts, Sproule
19 th Dean, 20th McKellar
B: Gott, Clifton, O’Callaghan
HB: Cranage, Adamson, Salmon
C: Atkinson, Holmes, Dean
HF: Oborne, Jenkin, M Richardson
F: Heard, Kink, Wearmouth
FOLL: Thompson, W Richardson
19 th Price, 20th Manassa
Saturday, September 22 1973
Proving that September in the self-proclaimed World’s Most Liveable City offered more than footy finals, over 125,000 attend the third day of the 1973 Royal Melbourne Show.
10-1 shot Gala Supreme, with Frank Reys in the saddle, salutes in the 2000-metre Heatherlie Handicap at picturesque Caulfield. Six weeks later horse and jockey combine to take out the Melbourne Cup.
The toss of the coin and a late change
Having called correctly Collingwood captain Wayne Richardson elected to kick to the Punt Road end goals. Despite not being named in the original 20-man squad on Thursday night Richmond include Royce Hart (right) on the bench. The Tigers’ incumbent captain replaced former skipper Roger Dean on the pine.
Neil Mann pulls the first surprise of the afternoon moving Len Thompson to starting centre half-forward on Francis Bourke whilst sending Graeme Jenkin into the Ruck. Mann’s faith is repaid as “Jerker” controlls the early ruck contests with Brian Roberts. The Pies are first to settle, goals to Max Richardson and 21-year-old Hamilton native Alan Atkinson providing them with an ideal start. Richmond rookie Noel Carter, a best-and-fairest winner for Tasmanian North West Football Union club Ulverstone the previous winter, calms a few heart palpitations with an immediate six-point response. It’s barely a moment of respite as the Magpies, specifically on ball corps Jenkin, Robert Dean and George Bisset run amok.
It’s been quite a year for Bisset. Following a success-starved decade with Footscray, “Wee Georgie” departed the Western Oval in the 72/73 off-season courtesy of the short lived “Ten Year” rule. The little man has been a wonderful contributor to the Black and White cause were he’s averaged 24 possessions a game and added 34 goals for good measure. The Victorian Football Writers Association recognized Bisset’s efforts when they awarded him their inaugural “Player of the Year award” the previous Wednesday evening.
A swirling breeze made disposal by foot a little tricky. Calling the game for Channel Seven, Michael Williamson makes his feelings known to co-commentator Bob Skilton and, by extension, the viewing audience at large:
“There’s no doubt in my book Bobby the wind is a lot stronger than we think up here”
The 'Graeme Jenkin for Len Thompson' move is proving an absolute masterstroke. Identifying Francis Bourke’s lack of match fitness the Maggie midfielders look for the athletic Thompson whenever possible. Taking full advantage of an abundant supply, the 1972 Brownlow Medallist helps himself to three opening stanza goals. At quarter time Collingwood 6.7-43 lead Richmond 2.2-14
As the teams break into their respective huddles Michael Williamson ponders aloud
“ I wonder how much longer they’ll leave Royce Hart on the bench”
Richmond returns from the break with an urgency not evident in the opening half hour. Neil Balme and Carter miss gettable shots and it isn’t until Kevin Bartlett (right) kicks a seventh-minute major that the Tiges have something to show for their work. Ominously the comeback is short lived, and the Magpies machine kicks into action with a scintillating ten-minute burst that threatens to put the result beyond doubt.
Rene Kink marks ten metres from goal and, with nary a hint of neophyte nervousness, strokes the Sherrin through the big sticks. Outstanding lead-up work from on ballers Dean and Ron Wearmouth supplies Bob Heard with a couple of chances and the 202-centimetre beanpole converts both for maximum result. Kink’s second major of the quarter, a dexterous snap from 10 metres, pushes the lead out to a whopping 45 points. Collingwood controls all facets of the contest. Jeff Clifton, Paul Cranage and Doug Gott are rock solid in defence, on-ballers Dean, Bisset and Alan Holmes are getting plenty of the pill and the Richardson brothers look dangerous.
The remainder of the half sees little addition to the score. Stephen Rae, Carter and Paul Sproule register minor scores but Richmond, try as they do, can’t make serious inroads into the Pies imposing lead. They mount a desperate late drive forward and with the main break imminent Balme marked strongly in the goal-square. Unceremoniously dumped by Gott post grab, he receives a fifteen-metre penalty. The siren to signal the completion of the first half rings out and Balme coolly converts from point blank range. At half time Collingwood 10.7-67 lead Richmond 4.7-31
Necessity is the mother of invention
With their '73 pennant prospects on life support, the pressure was squarely on Tom Hafey to conjure up a miracle or two in the 15 minutes afforded him prior to the recommencement of hostilities. When the players return for the start of the second half it is evident Tom and the Tiger brains trust have been busy. Very busy. Kevin Sheedy goes on to the ball in a ruck roving role and Ian Stewart moves to a forward flank. Robert McGhie and Francis Bourke swap centre half-back and back flank roles respectively. Paul Sproule is swung on to a wing and Wayne Walsh shifts into the centre of the field.
Undoubtedly the most significant change involves replacing small forward Robert Lamb with Royce Hart. With Hart having made a mere ten appearances all season the decision to send him into battle is high risk/high reward. Six goals down with perhaps an hour left in their season, Hafey is left little choice but to gamble on the fitness of the brilliant Tasmanian.
A revamped Richmond dictate the opening minutes of the third term but minor scores from Balme, Bartlett and Sheedy are all they have to show for their endeavour. A strong pack mark and conversion from Balme elicits an immediate response, as Atkinson’s deft snap re-establishes a five-goal Collingwood lead. Plenty of huffing and puffing ensues to little avail. Desperate for a hero, Tiger prayers are answered by who else but Royce Desmond Hart.
Lee Adamson’s crude tackle on Paul Sproule results in a relayed free kick. The recipient? Hart. He drills home his first goal from 25 metres out. Ian Stewart’s clever shot through a pack of converging Magpie defenders is good. Upon the restart Wayne Walsh, having swapped assignments with Stewart at the main break, kicks long and finds Balme for another six-pointer. The Tigers are on a roll and the crowd erupts when Hart grabs another major. Four goals in the space of six minutes. Game on! The momentum has shifted in favour of the men from Punt Road.
In the commentary box Michael Williamson (right) is beside himself.
“Everybody thought it was pack-up time at half time but oh heck, what a comeback”
So true. A week may be a long time in politics but half an hour in a game of Australian Rules football can seem like an eternity. Hafey’s half-time moves are pure genius. The backline of Bones McGhie, Bourke, Laurie Fowler and Merv Keane are ferocious in their attack on the ball. The midfield of Walsh, Sproule and Sheedy flex their collective muscle and supply a multitude of opportunities to their forwards. Balme marks everything that comes his way, Stewart adds subtlety to the attack and Royce — well, he was Royce.
Are the Pies heading for yet another September straight set swoon? It appears so. Kink, demonstrating a maturity beyond his sixteen years, calms Collingwood’s concerns with his third goal of the game. Richmond, however, will not be denied. Deep into time-on Stewart courageously backs into an oncoming pack with no regard for his well-being and marks strongly. From 30 metres out the triple Brownlow Medallist makes no mistake.
“What a quarter, what a quarter of football” – Michael Williamson
Stewie’s heroic effort is the final score for the period and at three-quarter time Collingwood 12.9-81 lead Richmond 10.13-73.
The Pies control the opening exchanges but goals are at a premium, they add four behinds and stretch the lead to an even two goals. An omnipresent Barry Price, having replaced Ron Wearmouth at the final change, grabs four touches inside the opening five minutes of play. Under siege early Richmond push forward. Balme is held behind play by Jeff Clifton. Field umpire Bill Deller has no option and awards the pudgy Perth product a free kick. 30 metres out, directly in front of goal, Balme is cool in a crisis. The difference is just six points. The Tigers haven’t been this close since the halfway mark of the first term. Ninety seconds later the sticky fingered Balme marks Bourke’s long bomb. His fifth goal levels the scores.
The Pies, keen to exorcise the ghosts of recent September failures, quickly regain the lead thanks to Alan Holmes’ clever smart snap from the goal square. It draws a thunderous response from Pie fans stationed behind the Ponsford end goal. The Magpies press hard but meet solid resistance from Messrs McGhie, Bourke and Keane. Roberts, Balme and Bartlett fluff chances that would have put the Tigers ahead. The Timor time clock on the main scoreboard shows 20 minutes have expired. It is now or never. Richmond push deep into attack.
A common trait of successful footballing outfits, regardless the code, is the ability to absorb pressure and counter punch. There was no denying then, or with the benefit of hindsight decades later, the Hafey era Tigers were such a side.
Sproule handballs to a grateful Kevin Bartlett. Sensing a throw and expecting umpire Deller to pluck a free kick the Collingwood defenders stop. Bartlett plays on and from 25 metres out shoots for glory.
The audience of almost six figures explodes.
“First time they’ve been in front all day,” bellows Michael Williamson
Shaken. Startled. Stunned. Surely the Pies wouldn’t — couldn’t — drop another heartbreaker? Before they can regroup Sproule, provider 90 seconds earlier, turns assassin, and from 35 metres lands what for all intents and purposes appears to be a fatal blow to the Black and White victory plans. The Maggies dig deep and mount another forward thrust. Bisset takes possession and zeroes in on goal. But he hesitates and is dispossessed by the indefatigable Francis Bourke. Crisis averted — for now. Shortly after Max Richardson finds Atkinson 40 metres from goal. Atkinson is strong above the shoulders and accurate below the knees. Full points. The margin is just a single, measly, lousy behind.
The play is frantic and the ball bounces between the respective forward lines. Bisset tries to find Phil Manassa in the forward pocket but the dogged Keane boldly intercepts the pass. Those clad in Yellow and Black breathe a sigh of relief. With the final siren looming the brilliant Bartlett puts the result beyond doubt, his skilful snap from the forward pocket Southern Stand side finishes Collingwood’s quest for premiership glory and books his sides place in the season decider.
Full Time: Richmond 15.15-105 defeated Collingwood 14.14-98
The victors have been well served by Sheedy (right) and Bartlett, who both accumulated 25 disposals. McGhie and Keane have been standouts in a defence that was under the pump early. Bourke and Hart, neither match fit, provided plenty of inspiration and Balme with five goals leads all scorers.
Robert Dean, brilliant in Collingwood’s heartbreaking 1970 Grand Final loss, is recognised as best on ground by most media pundits. Bisset, Jenkin and Thompson round out the Pies best. Atkinson, Kink and Thompson grab three goals each.
What did the experts think?
Collingwood once again had a finals “blow up” when Richmond fought from behind to win their way into the Grand Final by seven points -
“Tigerish” — Ian McDonald, The Sporting Globe, Saturday 22 September 1973
Richmond played Russian Roulette Australian Rules style at the MCG on Saturday and survived to face Carlton in next weeks Grand Final. The gun fired all right – but it was luckless Collingwood who got the bullet
“Tigers do it by halves but Magpies end up quartered” — Percy Beames, The Age, Monday 24 September 1973
Collingwood fell out of the 1973 Premiership race at the MCG yesterday – and disgraced just about everyone who claims to be a Magpie fan. In one of the footballs greatest free-falls, the Magpies plunged from dizzy heights at half time to word defying disaster at the finish
“Collingwood for never" – Peter McFarline, The Sunday Press, Sunday 23 September 1973
Hafey and Co returned to the MCG seven days later hell-bent on avenging their embarrassing 1972 Grand Final capitulation to Carlton. Same opponent, different result. In a rugged, often brutal clash, the Tigers emphatically disposed of their hated adversary winning 16.20-116 to the Blues’ 12.14-86. Saturday, 29 September 1973 proved to be a red letter day as the Richmond Football Club secured the senior, reserve and Under 19 grade premierships. The cup returned to Punt Road twelve months later courtesy of a seven-goal victory over sentimental favourite North Melbourne in the 1974 finale.
Defeat in the 1973 Preliminary Final drew the curtain on a frustrating decade for the Collingwood Football Club. Unable to replicate their regular season dominance (142 wins from 200 starts from 64-73 inc) the Pies saluted in just 3 of their 17 Finals appointments during the corresponding period. The premiership drought that stood at 15 years would drag on for another agonizing seventeen seasons before the Magpies procured their 14 th V/AFL pennant in 1990.
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