Ron Barassi’s departure at the end of the ’71 season – more than eight years after the late Laurie Kerr first sounded him out about the job at The Hotel Australia – triggered the succession plan. Enter John Nicholls, generally considered Carlton’s greatest player, as Captain-Coach.
Nicholls masterminded the 1972 Grand Final victory over Richmond – “a brilliant, strategic triumph” according to his Assistant Keith McKenzie. Hafey’s Tigers, unbackable favourites going into that game, were caught off-guard by a restructured outfit hell-bent on winning in a shoot-out.
The game plan was hatched before (but not for) the St Kilda Preliminary, as Nicholls didn’t want to show his hand. “For a fortnight I told the players that we were going to change it around completely for the Grand Final, but we couldn’t let people know by changing it around for St Kilda. So I said ‘We can beat St Kilda playing our orthodox game’ and we did. We struggled through, beating them by two and a bit goals.
“These sorts of things can leak out but our group of senior players, with whom I had a great affinity – Walls, Jesaulenko, Kevin Hall and these guys - they knew what the thinking was and they helped implement the plan, which went like clockwork.”
Nicholls dared his players to take the Tigers on in a shoot-out – contributing six goals of his own to Carlton’s outrageous scoreline of 28.9 (177) - to this day the highest tally totaled in a Grand Final.
Today, more than 40 years after the event it remains the game’s record Grand Final scoreline.
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