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Legend: Royce Hart

MOST arguments about the greatest centre half-forward of all time come down to two members of the Australian Football Hall of Fame: Richmond champion Royce Hart and North Melbourne superstar Wayne Carey.

In a 'Team of the TV Era', published in Heart of the Game: 45 years of football on television in 2001, Carey won the prized post and Hart was relegated to the bench.

But the Tigers who shared four premierships with Hart between 1967 and '74 have very different thoughts. "In my opinion, Royce Hart is the greatest centre half-forward the game has seen," Hart's former teammate Kevin Bartlett wrote in KB: A life in football.

Before this week, there were already plenty of reasons why Bartlett could claim to being right. Hart's four flags with the Tigers - two of them as captain - were just the start. He also won two best and fairest awards, was the club's leading goalkicker twice and was selected in the VFL/AFL, Richmond and Tasmanian teams of the century.

Now, Hart's elevation to 'Legend' status at the Australian Football Hall of Fame induction dinner in Canberra on Tuesday has given his supporters even more evidence.

"I feel greatly honoured and privileged," Hart told AFL.com.au. "On an individual basis it's probably the highest you can get. But I still say that winning premierships is the main thing, because football's a team game and that's the ultimate."

There are many legendary tales about Hart, who was born in Hobart and began his footy career with Clarence, and none are more famous than the one about how Richmond recruited him.

In a meeting with club secretary Graeme Richmond, Hart's mother told the legendary administrator her son would need some new clothes if he was going to get a decent job after moving to Melbourne. Richmond signed Hart for the princely sum of a suit and six shirts.

"There's so much money in the game these days, they'd probably give me a whole clothing factory now," he quipped.

At the age of 19, Hart kicked three goals in his VFL debut for the Tigers against Essendon at the MCG in round one of the 1967 season, and it soon became clear that the Tigers had secured one of the game's great bargains. Seven games into his VFL career, the teenager kicked seven goals for Victoria.

The boy from Tassie's rise to fame was confirmed by his three brilliant performances late in 1967. He kicked six goals against Geelong in the season's final round, then booted another six when Richmond defeated Carlton in the second semi-final. Two weeks later he bagged three vital majors as Richmond won its first premiership in 24 years with a nine-point victory over the Cats.

Hart counts the '67 decider as the game that he looks back upon most fondly.

"There was so much riding on it, with all the supporters, who hadn't witnessed Richmond in a Grand Final for so long, wanting the club to break that drought. For it all to happen in my first year was way beyond my expectations."

By then Richmond's game-plan, devised by four-time premiership coach Tom Hafey, could be summed up as "kick it long to Royce", and that style of play enabled Hart to take countless more great marks during the rest of his career.

Hart was conscripted into the National Service in 1969. He spent the best part of a year with the Royal Australian Artillery in Adelaide, during which he flew back to Melbourne on weekends to play for Richmond. Hart still kicked 31 goals for the season as the Tigers became the first team to win the flag from fourth on the ladder.

While living in Adelaide, Hart trained regularly with Glenelg and the connection led to an offer of $2000 to play for Glenelg in the 1969 SANFL Grand Final, held a week after the VFL decider. The Tigers' opponent, Sturt, was incensed and its experienced hard men took out their anger out on the controversial import. Hart was concussed in the first quarter and Sturt won its fourth successive flag by 65 points.

Appointed captain in 1972, Hart led the Tigers into the Grand Final with a series of commanding displays, including a six-goal haul in the qualifying final against Collingwood.

Although Richmond suffered an upset loss to Carlton in the highest-scoring decider in VFL/AFL history (the Blues won 28.9 to 22.18), he and his teammates rebounded in 1973. It was the season that proved Hart was as tough as he was talented.

Hart tore cartilage in his left knee during the Tigers' round 15 clash with St Kilda but returned for the qualifying final against Carlton, booting five goals in Richmond's 20-point loss.

Hart then led the Tigers to a seven-goal win in the first semi-final against St Kilda, but he had to have a large amount of fluid drained from his knee after the match. He was initially left out of the team to play Collingwood in the preliminary final but, Hafey included him on his reserves bench, just in case.

Hafey's fears were realised when his team trailed the Magpies by six goals at the long break. After a discussion with Graeme Richmond, Hafey decided to send his skipper into battle. A hobbled Hart booted two goals and set up numerous others as the Tigers came back from the dead and won by seven points. Hart kicked another three majors a week later as Richmond avenged its loss the previous year.

In 1974 Hart led the Tigers to another premiership. "It feels like a long time ago," he said with a chuckle. "Particularly with the way Richmond have gone over the last 20-odd years. I wish they'd win another one and get the monkey off their back."

The latter years of Hart's career were interrupted by knee problems, which eventually forced him to retire, aged 29, midway through the 1977 season.

A switch to coaching followed. Hart guided the Richmond reserves in 1979, then had an ill-fated two and a half year stint as senior coach at Footscray, during which time the Bulldogs won only eight of their 45 matches.

For the past 20 years Hart has lived back in Tasmania where he enjoys being away from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne. He still keeps in contact with Hafey, whom he regards as a father figure, and he was a regular attendee at club and AFL functions until poor health recently restricted his ability to travel.

An inaugural inductee into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996, Royce Desmond Hart is now one of just 25 official legends of the game.

 

THE LEGENDS OF THE AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME
Darrel Baldock, Ron Barassi, Kevin Bartlett, Haydn Bunton Snr, Barry Cable, Roy Cazaly, John Coleman, Gordon Coventry, Jack Dyer, Graham 'Polly' Farmer, Royce Hart, Peter Hudson, Bill Hutchison, Alex Jesaulenko, Leigh Matthews, James 'Jock' McHale, Kevin Murray, John Nicholls, Bob Pratt, Dick Reynolds, Barrie Robran, Bob Skilton, Norm Smith, Ian Stewart, Ted Whitten

 

By Adam McNicol

Clubs: Richmond/Glenelg
Born: February 10, 1948
Recruited from: Clarence (Tas)
Playing career: 1967-77
Games: 188 (Rich 187, Glen 1)
Goals: 371 (Rich 369, Glen 2)
Player honours: Richmond best and fairest 1969, 1972; 2nd Richmond best and fairest 1971; Richmond leading goalkicker 1967, 1971; Richmond captain 1972-75; Richmond premierships 1967, 1969, 1973, 1974; All-Australian 1969; AFL Team of the Century; Richmond Team of the Century; Australian Football Hall of Fame; Victoria (11 games,29 goals).
Coaching record: Footscray 1980-82 (53 games, 8 wins, 45 losses).

 

There's so much money in the game these days, they'd probably give me a whole clothing factory now