Hart gets his reward as a legend

Royce Hart.Richmond’s golden era of the late 1960s and early ’70s produced four premierships and a ton of football talent. Two players who represented the Tigers during that period were already official ”Legends of the Game”. On Tuesday night, they were joined by a third, when champion centre half-forward Royce Hart became the 25th player in history to be accorded such status.

Hart, 65, who had been one of the AFL’s initial Hall of Famers announced in 1996, joined Kevin Bartlett, Ian Stewart, who won the last of his three Brownlow Medals with the Tigers, and club icon Jack Dyer as Richmond’s official legends in this year’s intake, announced on Tuesday night at Parliament House.

The AFL also inducted a further six men to join the existing 245 members of the Hall of Fame. They are former Essendon champion spearhead Matthew Lloyd, Western Bulldogs’ star midfielder Scott West, former Melbourne forward Hassa Mann, South Australian Rick Davies and Western Australian Brian Peake, along with long-serving AFL umpire Bryan Sheehan.

Hart is still considered by many experts who witnessed his career to be the greatest centre half-forward of all time, superior even to modern-day giant Wayne Carey. Hart in 1996 was selected in the key forward post in the AFL’s official Team of the Century.

Hart played in all four of those Richmond premierships of the ’60s and ’70s, and captained the back-to-back wins of 1973-74. He played 187 games for the Tigers between 1967 and ’77, winning two best and fairests, both in years when the Tigers reached the grand final. He also kicked 369 goals, and played 11 times for Victoria. It was only a series of knee injuries that finished his league career at the age of 29, Hart going on to coach Footscray from 1980-82.

Hart arrived at Punt Road as a teenager signed by legendary club administrator Graeme Richmond for the less-than-princely price of six white shirts and a grey suit to wear in his job as a bank teller. An athletic and mobile though not overly tall forward with a magnificent leap, he quickly made his mark with the young Tiger line-up emerging under the coaching of Tom Hafey.

He showed his liking for the big stage early on, in 1966 kicking the winning goal for Richmond’s reserves in the grand final just 30 seconds before the final siren from 60 metres out with a torpedo punt, a feat witnessed by the 100,000-plus people who had assembled for the big one that day.

Only 12 months later, he’d perform similar heroics, not in the curtain-raiser but the senior match, a towering mark at a crucial stage of the last quarter over Geelong’s Peter Walker one of the most replayed of memorable moments from grand finals. In a classic game, Hart’s young Tigers prevailed. He and they would become dominant figures of the VFL scene for the next decade.

Hart’s graceful aerial ability and long kicking were beautiful to watch, but it was his capacity to rise above the pain barrier that also added to his status, most famously in 1973 when he had been troubled by a knee injury.

Hart had a torn knee cartilage, and battled to be fit enough to lead his team into the finals. He managed five goals in Richmond’s losing qualifying final against Carlton, but the knee continued to give him trouble, and come the Tigers’ preliminary final against Collingwood, was advised by medical staff to play only as a reserve (before the introduction of the interchange system).

By half-time, however, the Tigers had slipped six goals in arrears. Hart, in Rhett Bartlett’s history of the club, recalls a conversation between he, Hafey and Graeme Richmond in the rooms at half-time. ”Graeme said to Tommy: ‘You had better bring Royce on’,” Hart said. ”And Tom said: ‘If you bring him on now, you won’t have him for the grand final.’ Graeme said: ‘We won’t get to the f—–g grand final if he doesn’t come on’!”

Hafey took the gamble. It paid off spectacularly, Hart kicking two inspiring goals in a third-quarter comeback, Richmond getting up to win by seven points. Hart fired again on grand final day against Carlton as the Tigers reversed their humiliation at the hands of the same opponent, winning by 30 points. The key forward kicked another three goals and had more than 20 possessions, accepting and raising the premiership cup.

Fans of the modern era will hail the induction of Lloyd and West. Lloyd kicked 926 goals for the Bombers in a career spanning 270 games and 15 seasons, winning three Coleman Medals. He skippered the Dons from 2006-09.

West won seven best and fairests for the Western Bulldogs and was an All-Australian five times in 324 games over 16 seasons.

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