On Saturday at 2.30pm, Richmond will stride onto the hallowed turf of the MCG in front of 100,000 people looking to break an almost four decade premiership drought. The Tigers – a feared, almighty powerhouse of the 1970’s and 1980’s, have been lost in the wilderness in a sustained period of heartache, ninth placed finishes and false dawns. Only days before the Yellow and Black chant echoes across the ‘G, Tigers fanatic NICK CREELY sat down to chat with local businessman Barry Rowlings, a former captain, star midfielder, Hall of Fame champion and crucial member of Richmond’s last premiership in 1980.
NC: How do you feel about this famous football club finally being back where it belongs?
BR: I’m pretty nervous, to be honest. It doesn’t matter what competition it is, whether it was when I first started out in Gippsland, I’m always nervous.
Q: Did you honestly believe another shot at a premiership was going to happen?
A: Not after last year, and that’s a really credit to Damien Hardwick and the coaching staff, like Blake Caracella, Andrew McQualter and Ben Rutten the backline coach. The way they’ve turned it around has been sensational, and bringing the new kids in has given opportunities for others to stand up.
Q: You left Hawthorn at the start of 1979 and went on to play 152 games for Richmond, try and describe just what the club means to you personally?
A: When I ended up going to Richmond, I left Hawthorn at the age of 29 and my knee was only really going to last 12 months. The Tigers gave me the opportunity to play and I missed the first four games and ended up winning the best-and-fairest that year so I’ve got a heap of respect for Richmond, not only for the great club they are but just for the opportunity, and I ended up playing another eight years there. I worked there after I finished playing, too, and they’ve been a great club.
Q: You played in Richmond’s last premiership in 1980 and the last Grand Final appearance of 1982, what do you remember about the lead up and the excitement of playing on the biggest stage?
A: 1980 was a bit ordinary at the finish of the year because I did my knee. I had the cartilage taken out and that was on the last game so I didn’t play any of the finals series. They put me back in for the Grand Final, and I was very, very lucky because the boys were playing so well. The lead up was just tremendous, like I was probably down at the club most days because of my knee and trying to get it right and so forth. We had a massive crowd watching us train, but we had a job back in those days, so we had to go to work, but the lead up was tremendous. It’s just a special bond when you win premierships, and you make life-long friends.
Q: Now you kicked a goal in the ’80 decider against the Pies in arguably the greatest game in the history of the club. What are your memories of the goal in which Kevin Bartlett handed one off?
A: It’s talked about a lot. They say KB (Kevin Bartlett) never handballed but on that day he kicked seven and probably could have kicked the eight, and I got a bit of a shock when he handed me the ball running into the open goal, to be honest. I could have fallen over and still kicked it, to be honest, but it is true, he did handball me the ball and I kicked the goal.
Q: Kevin Bartlett, as we all know played one of the great matches in grand final history, how does it stack up from your perspective?
A: It was tremendous. They tried to put Stan Magro (Collingwood defender) on him to unsettle him, but he’s just so quick and elusive, and it was just a special performance from him.
Q: You’re in Richmond’s Hall of Fame, you must be so proud of that achievement?
A: When they announced it, I was just stoked. To get a Hall of Fame was just sensational, and to also win a Best and Fairest was special.
Q: What have you made of the side this season, it’s surely the best team to field the park for the past three to four decades?
A: I believe it is, although this year they seem to have a lot of unknown players, like (Jason) Castagna, (Dan) Butler and (Kane) Lambert who haven’t played a lot of games. I think they’ve gone unnoticed a lot, but they just pressure the opposition, which is good, and that’s what makes them a good side. Dusty Martin, Trent Cotchin and so forth get their 30 possessions, but the other boys play their role and that’s what makes them a great side.
Q: What do you believe has been the most impressive aspect of the sharp turnaround of the club on-field?
A: Dimma (Damien Hardwick) has changed the game plan a bit, and the forward line pressure and backline with David Astbury coming back from injury to help Alex Rance has given him more scope to work around the ground. To make a big successful side you have to have multiple goal-scorers, and the game plan to shut down the opposition’s game plan. If you play your role, you will be successful.
Q: Which of the modern day players are your favourites and why?
A: Oh, well Dusty obviously, but I always text Cotchin after every game and he always texts back. We had a mentor program at Richmond a few years ago, and was with him so I keep in touch with them. I also like Daniel Rioli because I played with Maurice, but they’re just all great players.
Q: How did you deal with the hype of Grand Finals, and the emotions and nerves of the players of both sides?
A: With the Grand Final, and the parade as well, you just have to enjoy it. The reality is, you don’t know when you’ll get to play in another one. We obviously played in 1980 and then in 1982 we were very lucky, but you just have to enjoy the moment. The supporters come and support and pay money to watch you, so you have to make sure you embrace them, too. It’s a very nervous week, though, but once you hit the ground it gives you an enormous lift.
Q: The Adelaide Crows are a wonderful attacking side, what do Richmond need to be wary of and how they can exploit them to win the game?
A: Definitely their run. I reckon the Crouches and Jake Lever need to be stopped and I believe Richmond is the side that can stop that run. I think GWS and Adelaide are similar sides, and they both like to run on the outside, but if Richmond can lock them down and play their way they win, and we simply can’t afford to turn the ball over.
Q: Richmond fans are absolutely the most passionate in Australia. What do you make of the unrelenting support of their club?
A: They are, even when I finished and I started working at the club, the support for the Richmond Football Club is always there. Even when we’d get beat they’d turn up, and I always say to my young bloke, whether we win, lose or draw, we stay until the song’s over, and the Richmond people are like that. Even in our Grand Final in 1980, we had about 113,000 people there, and it’s just a great feeling.
Q: Where will you be on Grand Final day this year and what will you be doing in the lead up to the big day?
A: We have a function with all the premiership players tonight (Wednesday) night which Ian Wilson puts on at the MCG, and on Friday night we will go out with our 1980 boys and their wives and have a meal, and then on Saturday I’ll go for a bit of a jog and go in with my two children to the game.
Q: What are you doing for work these days?
A: I work for a concrete recycling business called Cardinia Environmental Recycling and we’ve been going for about five months now on Exchange Drive in Pakenham. Any people who’d like to dump their tiles, bricks, concrete or asphalt they are most welcome for no charge.
Q: Tony Mase, who runs the Masey’s Pizza and Pasta in Pakenham, is going to be your guest for Richmond’s Best and Fairest next week. How did this come about?
A: A friend of mine told me about Tony who is a big Richmond supporter. I dropped in and saw him one day and he certainly had a lot of memorabilia in his shop. Not only does he have a lot of memorabilia, he makes a great pizza, and I always sit down and have a chat about Richmond with him. We are now going to the Jack Dyer Medal together and I’m actually presenting a couple of awards on the night, and it should be a great night. Tony will be on the table with, probably, Kevin Bartlett, Francis Bourke and myself so he reckons he’ll take a lot of photos.