Australian Football had a prominent, but largely forgotten, place at the Brisbane Commonwealth Games of 1982. Perhaps best remembered for an opening ceremony featuring a 13-metre tall Kangaroo winking at the Queen and a map of Australia without Tasmania, it also featured a Grand Final replay between Carlton and Richmond.
How did a match between Carlton and Richmond become part of the 12th Commonwealth Games? As part of the Games, the host city had the opportunity to showcase a pair of demonstration sports. Like Melbourne did in 1956 when hosting the Olympics, Brisbane chose Australian Football as one of the sports. Unlike Melbourne, the game was contested by the two Grand Finalists rather than two representative sides. Also different from the Olympics 26 years earlier, the second demonstration sport was a Table Tennis contest between Australia and Hong Kong.
With all due respect to the Table Tennis, the prospect of another clash between Carlton and Richmond might have been a little more highly anticipated. Just 11 days after their nail-biting premiership decider, both teams were primed for another thrilling display in front of Prince Phillip, a full house at the Gabba and an international audience in the millions.
It is worth noting, especially for those not old enough to remember the old Gabba, a full house in 1982 looked a little different to those today. Now one of the grand cauldron’s of sport, in the 1980’s it had a hotchpotch of buildings and stands around its boundary. Well, to be more accurate these structures bordered a greyhound track that circled the cricket arena that remained in full operation until the early ’90s. It made for an intimate football setting with the goals well within reach from the centre square and a capacity crowd around 15,000.
Still smarting from their 18-point Grand Final defeat, the match offered more than just an opportunity to meet Prince Phillip for the Tigers. Less than a fortnight after succumbing to the Blues on the grandest stage here was a chance to get one back on their bitterest of rivals.
The Blues, on the other hand, viewed the game a little differently. Coach David Parkin derisively referring to the game as a ‘repechage’.
Despite hostilities being renewed between the two old foes, the exhibition status of the match and the size of the ground, defence took a back seat to attack. With Kevin Bartlett and Peter Bosostow doing what they do best, and Norm Smith Medallist Maurice Rioli repeating as best on ground, the game was an incredible contest. Parkin a little more positive post-game than he was pre-game, telling reporters he believed the game as an exhibition offered everything Australian Football had to offer.
In a match that was not short of goalkickers, the headlines were provided by a pair of Tiger forwards who had missed the chance to play on Grand Final day. Former Cat Paul Sarah slotted five goals to put smiles on the faces of Tiger fans, while Brian Taylor prompted a few grimaces when he was forced from the ground with a knee injury.
The Tigers had the better of a first-half shootout that produced 24 goals and took a sizeable lead into the half-time break. Sizeable but not comfortable. It wouldn’t have been a true exhibition of early 80’s footy without a Carlton third-quarter burst and Parkin’s men didn’t disappoint. In a withering display, the premiers turned the game on its head with an 11 goal to four term to take a 17-point lead into the final break.
Speaking post-match David Parkin acknowledged the emotional difficulty for both teams to play so soon after the Grand Final. “I think it would be the most difficult emotional experience that an athlete could face.” He then got into the Commonwealth Games spirit. “It is like missing out on Gold and then having to play off for Bronze.”
The only thing worse than playing off for Bronze, of course, is not winning which might have been at the heart of the final twist in the tale of this match. With Carlton sated with their Premiership win, Richmond’s desire for some kind of consolation saw them lift once more. The Tigers slammed home 10 goals to five in the final term to win by 18-points. Coincidently the exact same margin between the two teams 11 days earlier.
“We had an obligation to ourselves and to our supporters,” Richmond Coach Francis Bourke said after the game. “We wanted to win for our own peace of mind.” While it may not have made up for their premiership defeat, victory on this day did offer something that Grand Final day did not. While Carlton’s reign as VFL Premiers ended when Hawthorn defeated Essendon in the 1983 Grand Final. Richmond’s status as defending Commonwealth Games Champions remains as true today as it was when they left the Gabba in 1982.