Royce Hart – Retired Australian Rules Player
One of the greatest players of Australian Rules, Royce Hart was known for his extraordinary skills in center half forward position.
Born on 10th February, 1948, Royce Hart played in Victorian Football League during the 1960s and 1970s. His skills of leaping from the side and that of left-foot penetrating kick were amongst the most feared skills for the opponents. He had a much decorated career and went on to win several awards and achievements. During his playing career, Hart played for Richmond but also represented Victoria.
1967-1977: RICHMOND FOOTBALL CLUB
Hart’s Australian Rules career didn’t really start with Richmond. In 1964 Hart was invited for playing in under-17’s team of Clarence Football Club. However, the under-17’s season was postponed resulting in Hart’s switch to under-19 team. In his very first season he won the Best and Fairest award and repeated the same in the following season.
Richmond’s recruiting scout named Harry Jenkins noted this extraordinary performance by Hart and informed Graeme Richmond – the club secretary for Richmond. Graeme went to see Hart in action but missed it. Graeme was anyway ready to recruit Hart but Hart’s mother said that Hart did not have proper clothing to wear. Hearing this, Graeme bought six shirts and a suit for Hart and a deal was signed. It was good bargain for Graeme because retired VFL players were asking for a huge sum of money to play for Richmond.
Hart went to Melbourne and started working in a bank and at the same time started weight training at a gym. In 1966 he was sucked in under-19s team for the VFL season. The team was then coached by Ray Jordan. Because of some bad decisions by Jordan, the under-19 team was stripped down to half its premiership points as a result of which, the team missed the finals. Hart was put in the reserves and was made to play in Reserves Grand Final. The game was against Collingwood. Hart was put on a half-forward flank. Collingwood was about to win with a single point lead when just seconds to go for the final whistle, Hart went for a torpedo punt from 60 meters out of the goal, giving Richmond a final moment lead. Within seconds after the goal, the final siren went off and Richmond won the Reserves Grand Final.
1967 was the actual year when Hart made his VFL debut. His debut was against Essendon during the first round. He was put in full forward position but unfortunately, despite having many chances, Hart kicked 7 behinds and only 3 accurate kicks scored goals. Gradually Hart learned the drop punt for goal kicking and became one of the best in the job while most of the players still preferred drop kicks or flat punts. His newly acquired skill showed off in Round 4 when his kick made the ball bounce along the ground for 30 metres before entering the goal. With this unique goal Richmond won the match against Carlton. Only 4 games after his debut, Hart was selected for Second Victorian Team. That year Hart was at his best and was a key player who helped Richmond to reach and win the finals. It was Richmond’s first win since their appearance in finals back in 1947. 1967 season turned out to be great for Hart and he went on to win the goal-kicking award of the club. He also became the recruit of the year and was select for representing Australia in Ireland.
1968 didn’t end well for Hart but in 1969 he was back in his form. In 1969 season he did not only win the best and fairest award but was also selected for the All-Australian team. In 1970 Hart had to face universal criticism for publishing an autobiography named ‘The Royce Hart Story’. In the biography he name a team of best players with himself being a centre half forward player of the team. The team was actually nowhere even close to being the best team. In 1970, Richmond missed the Grand Final and in next season the Tigers ended up third. However, in 1971 Hart managed to win his second best and fairest award of the club during his VFL career and was also promoted to the position of Vice Captain of the team. 1971 was also notable because Hart crossed the 100-games milestone.
In 1972 Hart was nominated captain and he went on to win the best and fairest award for the third time. He led the team to the Grand Final but eventually lost to Carlton. In 1973, Hart represented Victoria as a captain but in Round 15 tore his left knee’s cartilage and could not play for the next four matches but eventually returned for the finals series. Despite his injury Hart managed to perform brilliantly and eventually helping the Tigers to win the premiership. The 1974 season was no different for Hart in terms of injury but still managed to help Richmond with the premiership.
The 1975 season was again almost the same. Hart’s injuries prevented him from playing in a few matched but did eventually return for the finals. This time however, it was disappointing for the Tigers as they lost the premiership. Hart decided to hand over the captaincy to Francis Bourke. In 1976 Hart’s injuries compounded and so did problems for Richmond. Hart could only play half of the games for that season. In 1977 Richmond had a new coach name Barry Richardson and Hart was placed on backline which was pretty disappointing for fans of Richmond. The same year Hart contracted another knee injury and marked his retirement by choice. However, Hart did stay with Richmond as a skills coach.
Hart as a coach actually managed to create his successor – Michael Roach. Roach became popular because just like Hart, he mastered the skill of penetrating drop punts. Hart continued coaching the reserves of Richmond till 1979 and then moved to Footscray (currently known as Western Bulldogs). His coaching career wasn’t that great because he could only train those players well who had similar skills. This was in line with Australian Football legacy of best players not being able to make impression as good coaches. Eventually, after a rollercoaster coaching career, Hart eventually returned to Tasmania and started a career as a commentator for junior football and ABC.
Awards And Achievements
Yes, Royce Hart was not a great coach but he was definitely one of the finest players to have played in Australian Rules during 60s and 70s. He has a laundry list of awards and achievements which are briefly mentioned below:
- Hart was a premiership player for Richmond in 1967, 1969, 1973 and 1974.
- He was a member of Tasmanian, Richmond and AFL team of the century.
- In 1969 and 1972 Hart won the Jack Dyer Medal.
- In 1967 and 1971 he won the Michael Roach Medal.
- In 1969 Hart was a member of All Australian Team.
- He captained the Richmond team from 1972 to 1975.
- In 1996 Hart was inducted into Australian Football Hall of Fame.
- In 2002 he was inducted into Richmond Football Hall of Fame.
- In 2005 he was inducted into Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame.
- In 2005 he earned the title Tasmanian Icon.
- In 2008 he earned the title Richmond Immortal.
- Hart was also won the ‘Class of the Century’ award in 100 Tiger Treasures announced by Richmond on account of their centenary year in 2008.
A player decorated with so many awards and achievements will surely continue to motivate new players of AFL irrespective of the clubs they play for. Hart’s contribution to Australian Rules and his fame will, without a doubt, outlive him and will be remembered for as long as Australian Rules will continue to exist.