The Saints had lost a champion big man injured in the previous week’s final, and a hard as nails defender, and went in against a Richmond side that was a raging hot favorite to win.
Has a familiar ring, doesn’t it, but the match in question was the Preliminary Final of 1971.
Richmond had made the MCG their home ground in 1965 and built a side that was tailor made for the wide expanses of the G. They won both their finals in 1967, and won another three finals to take out the 1969 premiership. When the Tigers triumphed in the 1971 first semi it seemed like the two yearly premiership sequence would continue. St Kilda had trailed all day in their semi-final against Hawthorn before a dramatic late surge fell just short of success as they went down by two points.
Richmond was the universal choice of the pundits before the game, with the only query relating to the forecast of wet weather which was considered more likely to help the Saints. In the second Semi St Kilda had lost champion big man John McIntosh with a season-ending knee injury and tough half-back Jim O’Dea suffered a similar fate when he tore a hamstring in the second quarter.
On top of that, talented centreman Glenn Elliott had injured his back and was ruled out late in the week.
Returning to the side for the Preliminary Final was the brilliant Allan Davis who had been omitted for the second semi after a quiet previous match at Footscray where he had famously raised the ire of coach Allan Jeans while eating a Violet Crumble as he sat on the bench. Also included in the starting 18 were John Manzie who had lost his place a couple of weeks earlier, and Stephen Theodore who was promoted from the reserve bench.
Davis, Manzie and Theodore would each play significant roles for St Kilda in the Preliminary Final which began on a sour note for the Saints as Richmond full-forward Barry Richardson raised the first two goals of the game in the opening minutes.
Stephen Theodore watched a replay of the match this week at his home in Irrewillipe.
Theodore had been dropped to the bench for the second semi – “So I had to have a good game to get a game the next week (if the Saints made the Grand Final)".
“There’s not many things I remember about football, but right at the end of the second semi against Hawthorn I was under the pack and I handballed it out. There was two of our blokes standing there – Rodney Galt and Johnny Bonney, and Galty picked it up and kicked a point. If Bonney had picked it up, he would have kicked a goal and we would have won it.”
Wayward kicking by St Kilda in the first half of the Preliminary Final meant that the Saints trailed by a point at half time.
Coach Allan Jeans’ master plan to topple the Tigers saw a double-teaming tactic on Kevin Bartlett, and the switch of Carl Ditterich to centre half forward in the third term which proved to be a match winner, with Ditterich pulling down big marks despite the weather, as he helped set up Davis for his six goals. The Saints ran away to a 30 point win.
Ditterich was unstoppable for the Saints and Davis was a matchwinner. Stephen Theodore remembers the Davis approach.
“He didn’t mind giving it back if he copped it. I remember at training there would quite often be scuffles (during match practice ) and nearly always it would be Davo or one of the Pascoe brothers involved. That was the way he played.”
Theodore himself was a tough and unrelenting competitor. And he was a noted wet-weather player.
“It was probably being brought up here (playing for Colac Coragulac). The ball always bounced straight in the wet – that was what I liked about it. If you attacked the ball you had a chance in wet weather games.”
Early in the Preliminary Final he clipped the much taller Tiger Rex Hunt who looked wobbly on his feet after the clash. Theodore jokes that it may have sparked Hunt who ended up playing a good game in defence on Barry Breen.
John Manzie had 24 kicks on the wing that day pitted against Tiger champ Dick Clay. Oddly, Manzie didn’t record a single handball. Blessed with pin-point kicking skills, he had been given wise advice by Brownlow Medallist Ian Stewart who had by 1971 become a Tiger.
“Stewie once told me, and I have passed it on to my grandson who is now in the Richmond academy squad –“Make every kick count. If you get five kicks a quarter, then you go back and think what you did with those five kicks.”
Manzie lost tapes of his footy career in a house fire, but the club ran off new tapes for him a few years ago and one of those was the ’71 Preliminary Final.
Richmond was bitter about the shock defeat and the club’s annual report had a sour grapes feel.
“We were …tossed out of the Premiership battle on a cold, wet, un-September like day by a team whom we had beaten twice in the first round”.
Those sentiments would come back to haunt the Tigers in Round 6 of the next season, as they were used by Allan Jeans as ammunition. In sunny, dry conditions at Moorabbin, St Kilda sliced up the Tigers by 89 points in kicking a then club record score of 24.21 (165).
Stephen Theodore chuckles at the memory. “They were favorites for that Preliminary Final in 1971, but when it rained I think they whinged about that for the next three years. They reckoned wet weather was what beat them.”
These days Steve Theodore and his wife live at Irrewillipe on the farm where he runs “a few cattle”. He often gets away to a holiday house at Peterborough where the fishing is great.
But he will be watching every minute of this week’s clash and has a simple philosophy as he hopes the Saints of 2020 can repeat the result like 1971.
“They really attack the ball which I like. It’s just one game. If you win it, you keep going”.
ST KILDA 1.2 6.7 11.10 16.12 (108)
RICHMOND 3.2 7.2 9.4 12.6 (78)
GOALS: Davis 6, Breen 3, Bonney 2, Theodore 2, Smith, Manzie, Galt
BEST: Ditterich (best on ground), Davis, Theodore, Trott, Smith, Mynott, Manzie, Besanko
|BACKS||Wayne Judson||Bob Murray||Kevin Neale|
|HALF-BACKS||Gary Colling||Barry Lawrence||Neil Besanko|
|CENTRES||John Manzie||Jeff Mortan||Stuart Trott|
|HALF-FORWARDS||Carl Ditterich||Barry Breen||Stephen Theodore|
|FORWARDS||Rodney Galt||Allan Davis||John Bonney|
|RUCKS||Brian Mynott||Travis Payze|
|RESERVES||Stephen Rae||Geoff Ward|