Though success was hard to come by for Wayne Campbell, he reflects fondly on Richmond's 2001 finals campaign. (Photo: Google Images)

Though it was only his second finals win in a 15 year career, Wayne Campbell has fond memories of Richmond's 2001 semi final triumph.

In the past five seasons, the Richmond Football Club have stockpiled an embarrassment of riches.

Team success has gone hand in hand with individual honours since 2017. A swag of accolades have accompanied three well-documented premierships. So much so that every noteworthy award has the fingerprints of the Tigers on it.

The years preceding the famed Hardwick era, of which club won just two finals in 35 years, almost seem a distant memory for supporters. For them, every ounce of pain has been healed by the dominance of their club.

For the longest time though, semi final wins over Essendon in 1995 and Carlton in 2001 were held in the highest regard. Those two magical days formed a Richmond utopia where, for a brief moment, all was right in the football world.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the triumph over the Blues. Leading the Tigers out for the do-or-die clash that day was beloved skipper, Wayne Campbell.

Having experienced the lowest ebbs at Punt Road, the four time best and fairest winner recalls an incredible buzz associated with the early 2000s.

“We had a really good year,” Campbell told The Inner Sanctum.

“In 2000, we were really competitive all year and then had a chance to make finals. We got beaten by Sydney in round 21 and then had to beat Carlton in round 22 and wasn’t able to do that.

“It was a real build from the year before.”

Heading into the final home and away match of 2001, Richmond had everything to play for against a rampant Essendon side.

Solidifying their place as reigning premiers, the Bombers could not lose top spot in the round 22 clash. A Tigers win on the other hand would secure fourth spot, a double chance and another meeting with the Dons in week one of the finals.

“I think we had everything to play for and they didn’t have a lot to play for. We played that way and they played that way as well,” Campbell told.

“We had a good win there to get us into the top four, but then coincidentally we played them the next week as well and they just smacked us.

“From the opening bounce we were horrible, which then lead into the (semi-final) week.”

Awaiting Campbell’s side was a Wayne Brittain led Carlton outfit, fresh off of a 68 point thrashing of Adelaide.

A meeting between old enemies awaited.

‘About as good as it gets’ – Beating the Blues

With sun soaking its hallowed turf, the MCG must have felt like a realm of pure escapism for those present on September 15 2001.

In the days leading up to the semi-final, monumental developments had a significant impact on Global political and geographical structures of the time.

On the Monday prior, a pair of terror attacks saw the collapse on the World Trade Centre in New York. The sight of the Twin Towers bellowing smoke and debris is one that is firmly implanted in the minds of many.

Closer to home, turmoil struck when it was announced that airline Ansett would be closing their doors.

“It was a pretty big week worldwide,” Campbell said.

Despite these phenomena taking place, there was still a football match to play, and the magnitude of it was glaringly obvious.

As Campbell recalls, if the players were not aware of how important their performances were, their passionate fans would let them know.

“Even though it was a really good year 2001, it was still the year the guy dropped cow manure on the door step [of Punt Road Oval],” he said.

“We ended up playing in a preliminary final, but that still doesn’t mean you don’t have some low points along the way. That was one of those.”

Goals to Matthew Richardson and Joel Bowden in the first quarter saw Richmond lead by 15 at the first break. For much of the day, they maintained such a lead and controlled the contest.

A Steven Sziller goal on the stroke of three quarter time ensured the same margin heading into the final term.

Just as important to the narrative of the game however, was Carlton’s inaccuracy. 14 behinds almost sealed the fate of the Blues as much as the performance of their opponents did.

Given the length of time involved, Campbell’s ability to hark back to specific incidents has faded. Distinct memories have given way to a visceral attachment to the match.

Themes, emotions and feelings are what he remembers best.

“I don’t recall too much of the game in terms of what happened,” he told.

“We were just sort of marginally ahead all day, probably the better side but only by a small amount. The game was just that.

“(It was a) beautiful day as well, MCG, Saturday afternoon. It’s about as good as it gets.

“There’s lots of people who say they were there on that day in 2001. It was a massive crowd and the feeling and the buzz after winning a final was pretty cool.

For one crowded hour, everything that glittered was golden at Richmond. An 11 point win to eliminate traditional rivals had player, team staff and supporter alike roaring in ecstasy.

Little did the group know that their triumph was to be the crescendo for Campbell and his charges.

‘We got everything out of ourselves’ – A special playing group

The following week, the Tigers ran into a Brisbane side on the verge of greatness at the Gabba. Their run of four grand finals in a row from 2001-04 will live in the annals of footy history for decades to come.

At that point, the Lions had not yet realised their destiny and Richmond entered the game full of belief. Unfortunately, their exit was not as grand, defeated by 68 points.

“Going to Brisbane, I thought we were some sort of chance, but Brisbane weren’t the Brisbane that we now look back on,” Campbell said.

“I think in that game we played okay. Actually, I think we played pretty well and we got beat by 10 goals on their home deck, with them absolutely up and running, flying. They were too good for us.”

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I was there when… Fitzroy played its last finals series

From their preliminary final loss, questions begin to arise when the lens of hindsight is cast over the game. Did Richmond overachieve that year? Or, was one finals run between 1996 and 2013 a blunder from a talented group.

The answer lies somewhere in the middle, at least in Campbell’s eyes. He takes a much more stoic approach.

A clean bill of health for a hard working squad full of all-time Richmond greats, followed by subsequent list changes all combined for the perfect storm that was 2001.

“I think we got everything out of ourselves in that year to finish fourth, to lose the prelim. Then after that it’s a different story,” Campbell surmised.

“In that year, our best 10 players played 24 games or 25 games, whatever it was. Whether it was Paul Broderick or Matthew Knights or Matthew Richardson or Brendon Gale or Darren Gaspar or whoever. We all just played the whole year.

“There was probably guys like Broderick, Gale that were coming towards the end. I think Brendon didn’t go on after that year. He was just an integral part of that team.

“There was the decision to top up (with players from other clubs). In hindsight it’s been shown to maybe not be the right thing. I’m not sure that’s the reason why in the end we don’t make finals for a couple of years.

Regardless of subsequent fortunes, achieving finals victory was a, albeit short lived, moment in the sun. That is not to say that there is no form of melancholy attached to the way it is perceived 20 years on.

‘Gee we didn’t get to play in a lot of them’ – Bittersweet reality

For most in Richmond’s 2001 side, beating Carlton was akin to climbing Everest and is still viewed in that fashion.

While Jason Torney, Ben Holland and Brad Ottens went on to play in finals at other clubs, for others this would be their only taste of September glory.

Of the 22 players that played in the 2001 semi final, only seven can say they were part of the revered come from behind win over Essendon six years prior.

Campbell is one of the lucky few.

He admits that just two finals wins in a 15 year career has been cause for deep reflection, often leading to a state of indifference.

“One part of me goes ‘what a wonderful experience.’ I’ve always thought the feeling after winning a big final at the MCG was something else. It was really, really special,” he said.

“Then the other part of your brain takes you to, ‘gee to win a Grand Final on the MCG in the biggest game of the year would be another 40 per cent on top of that.’

“Whilst they’re great memories, the fact that you think back to two finals series for myself – I know for Matthew Richardson he didn’t play in ’95 so he only had one finals series in 17 years – It’s pretty stark.

“On the one hand, there’s wonderful memories of those wins but on the other hand it does take you to a place where ‘gee we didn’t get to play in a lot of them.’”

Ultimately, it is the positive thoughts that win out. Those that can only be experienced from a finals win, alongside a group of players committed to a goal.

Sure, the group may not have the premiership cup to look back on. That rightly sits pride of place on Brisbane.

Absence does make the heart grow fonder though and for Wayne Campbell, among many others connected to the Tigers, the 2001 season will be forever cherished.

Sentiment will remain long after old wounds are healed by fresh success.

“The playing days are the best days of your life, which doesn’t mean that post-retirement is not good fun. It absolutely is because the pressure is off a little bit,” he concluded.

“But where there’s most pressure there’s most reward.

“As a player walking out there it’s pretty nerve racking, but then you get into the game and it’s awfully good fun.

“To come out the other side with 21 of your mates, sing the song and know that you’ve gone into battle and you come out the other side as the victor, it’s a really special feeling.”

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