Clear all

Coughlan-inspired Tigers  

All Star

In a season when serious injuries to star players took a massive toll, insipid performances resulted in a 13th-place finish and many of the team, for whatever reason, didn't bother singing along to the club song at their Hall of Fame dinner, it's probably difficult to imagine how one could find a memorable moment involving the Richmond Football Club in 2003.

Yet two things, one for sheer excitement value on the day as much as its place in history, and the other for his emergence as a potential future great of the game, stood out head and shoulders above all else.

The first - in which the second, 2003 club best-and-fairest winner Mark Coughlan, played a substantial role - happened on a sunny Saturday afternoon in late April, when the Tigers took on Hawthorn at the MCG.

A small crowd had gathered at the Rose Hotel in Fitzroy in the course of the morning to toast the unofficial perpetual cup of the day, the "Bazza", named in honour of the dual Richmond-Hawthorn premiership player Barry Rowlings, before heading to the ground, but none of us on either side was remotely prepared for the match that was to come.

The Tigers took the field in front of 45,140 fans and from the opening bounce looked an absolute rabble.

For the first quarter and 22 minutes, they looked as if they wouldn't even have given a contest to a suburban thirds outfit on a Warrandyte cow paddock.

The Hawks seemed to have brought their own ball and it took Richmond more than 20 minutes to get the ball into their forward 50 metres, let alone score a goal.

And when Ben Dixon goaled to give the Hawks a 51-point lead 22 minutes into the second term, it seemed a humiliating flogging was on the cards.

But when Hawthorn's ruckman, Peter Everitt, who had dominated the clearances and set up the game for his running players, went down with a broken cheekbone after an accidental clash with Richmond's Greg Stafford, the match suddenly turned on its head.

What followed was one of the most amazing comebacks in the VFL/AFL history, the 10th best in fact, and the greatest recovery for Richmond in its history.

Richmond piled on 14 unanswered goals to win by 20 points and for us Richmond fans, who had been cowed by the gloating of the Bazza contingent's Hawthorn supporters, thought we had died and gone to heaven.

Having considered it a victory to simply get near the ball in the first 50 minutes, the Tigers found another gear in the last part of the second quarter with goals to Coughlan and Campbell, thanks to handy work from Matthew Richardson. They seemed to come out for the second half as if they'd grown a foot taller and a metre faster.

Richmond could do no wrong and when the pocket-sized excitement machine David Rodan sprinted about 10 metres too far without being penalised and wobbled home a major in the third term, the roar from the faithful could almost be heard in Fiji.

Sitting way back in the Great Southern Stand at the Punt Road end, it was hard at times to see which one of the Richmond players had the ball, there was so many swarming around it at any given moment.

Coughlan got amongst it with three goals and 19 touches, recruit Kane Johnson was worth his weight in gold and seemed to be involved in just about everything, grabbing 30 touches, Wayne Campbell was at his best with 29 possessions and Greg Tivendale got 21.

For that one afternoon, before the wheels fell off a few weeks later and we lost eight on the trot, more than a few of us really believed our team just might be the "real deal", as some over-zealous commentators had ventured to say.

While the side wasn't, a "real deal" who did emerge from season 2003 was Coughlan.

One of the toughest nuts to pull on a Tiger jumper in some years, Coughlan was being praised by all around the club - from the boot studders to the physios through to the president - as a player who "gets his own ball".

It's a term that might not sound like much, but is, in fact, the highest of praise. He is, they added, the very future of the club.

And having been controversially picked up at No. 25 in the 2000 national draft when the Tigers passed on Jason Cloke under the father-son rule, he has repaid the faith in spades.

All season, the 21-year-old toiled tirelessly, was at the bottom of more packs than you'd care to think about and reminded a few, with some excitement, of tough former skipper Tony Free.

At the end of the season, he was duly rewarded with the Jack Dyer Medal as Richmond's best and fairest player.

We all know it will take more than just Mark Coughlan to push the Tigers into the finals next season - a bit of luck and a better run with injuries wouldn't go astray, either - but for Richmond, he was a shining light in what was otherwise a year to forget.

By Lyall Johnson
My Favourite Moment
December 30, 2003

Posted : 30/12/2003 09:46