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Francis Bourke: Former AFL Football Player and Coach

One of the greatest players ever for the Richmond Football Club.

Francis William Bourke is a retired Australian Rules football player and coach. He is regarded as one of the greatest players ever to have played for the Richmond Football Club. In recognition of his achievements and contribution to the game, he received many awards throughout his career. After his retirement as a player, he coached Richmond and led them to the Grand Final.

To this day Francis Bourke is known for his strong will and determination.Francis Bourke

Early Life

Francis Bourke developed a love for Australian football at an early age seeing his father play the game. Frank Bourke also played for Richmond, so it can be said that Francis Bourke was a chip off the old block. Frank was in the Royal Australian Air Force and was a renowned player for Richmond.

His duty kept him from enjoying a long career the chances of which were hampered further due to injury. Francis more than made up for it.

Francis Bourke was born on 2nd April, 1947 in Caulfield. He attended the Assumption College where he honed his talent. Francis Bourke was turned out to be one of Assumption’s best players ever.

When he was just fourteen, he was diagnosed with heart murmur. He was advised to give up sports, but Francis Bourke was determined to continue playing the game he loved. Bourke left school in 1963 to play for Nathalia Football Club at the age of sixteen. He started off as a key forward, like his father.

Early Playing Career

Francis Bourke was immediately recruited by the Nathalia Football Club when he tried out as a forward. At 16 years of age, he displayed immense talent and made a name for himself at the club. He was the club’s leading goal kicker in his first senior season. Following this, he won the club’s best and fairest award in 1965.

It was these performances that caught the eye of the secretary of Richmond Football Club. Graeme Richmond showed an interest in recruiting the young footballer to play for the Tigers. Since his father had not played enough senior games, Francis Bourke wasn’t able to qualify under the father and son rule.

However, Graeme Richmond tested the youngster by having him play a few games for Richmond in 1965.

The following year, in 1966, Francis Bourke continued playing for the Purples. He eventually played a few games on match permit now and then for the Tigers.

Although he played quite a few games for Richmond, he was not recruited by the Tigers until 1967.

Francis Bourke had moved to Melbourne to play a few senior games. He was aiming to become a credentialed coach and wanted to have a few games under his belt before he tried out to become one.

Luckily for Francis Bourke, he was invited to play for the Tigers, alongside Kevin Bartlett as a second rover. After playing a few games, he was moved to the wing. This allowed him to form a great centreline with two fellow football greats, Dick Clay and Bill Barrot.

He had established himself as an exceptionally versatile player. Francis Bourke was part of an experiment where Richmond was using tall players on the wing. This supported their long-kicking game-plan.

Playing Career

The winning centreline that Francis Bourke, Dick and Bill had formed drove the Tigers to the 1967 Premiership win. This was the first Premiership win for Richmond in 24 years and earned Bourke a permanent playing position on the team.

The following year, he also represented the Big V and was the second runner-up for the best and fairest award. After being recruited for the Tigers in 1967, he was a key player in their Premiership wins.

1969 Grand Final

After winning their first Grand Final in 24 years, Richmond once again made it to the Grand Final 2 years later. This time the Tigers were to face Carlton. The Blues had been the favourites the entire season and were playing exceptionally.

Surprisingly, Richmond dominated the play from the start and finished with a 25-point lead. The Tigers bagged the Premiership flag for the second time in three years. As expected, Francis delivered a great performance and contributed a great deal towards the win.

1973 Grand Final

Francis Bourke had risen to the position of Deputy Vice Captain, assisting Vice Captain Kevin Bartlett and Captain Royce Hart. The Tigers faced Carlton again this year having defeated them in the 1969 Grand Final. Yet again, the Tigers managed to take home the Premiership by a 30-point margin.

1974 Grand Final

The following season in 1974, Richmond faced North Melbourne in the Grand Final. The Tigers managed to secure the victory by a 40-point margin. This time, the Tigers started the game as favourites as their most famous centreline, Francis Bourke, Kevin Bartlett and Dick Clay, were at the peak of their playing powers.

This was the club’s 9th Premiership victory.

In 1976, Francis Bourke was made the club captain. Although the team wasn’t able to make it to the Grand Final that season, it was one of the best years on an individual level for Francis Bourke. He made a name for himself as one of the most consistent players in the league.

1980 Grand Final

In 1980, the Tigers faced Collingwood in the Grand Final and secured their 10th Premiership victory with a massive 81-point margin.

Following the win, Francis Bourke retired from the game in 1981. At the time of his retirement Francis Bourke had played over 300 games in the league. 6 of these games were Grand Finals and 23 were Finals.

Coaching Career

A few months after retiring as a player, Francis Bourke was asked to return to Richmond as the team’s coach. Although he had no prior coaching experience, he led the Tigers to their third minor Premiership. Francis was one of the few coaches to lead his team to the Grand Final in their first season.

Honours And Awards

Throughout his career, Francis Bourke won many awards and honours in recognition of his contribution to the game.

• He was named in Richmond’s Team of the Century
• Won a Jack Dyer Medal in 1970
• Was made a Richmond Life Member in 1976
• Inducted into the Richmond Hall of Fame in 2002
• Conferred as a Richmond “Immortal” in 2005
• Inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2002
• Named in the AFL Team of the Century

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