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Cotchin and Riewoldt tribute concert bookends Tigers fairytale

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20th August, 2023

Dustin Martin took the ball on the wing and turned out of the contest. An ocean of space opened in front of him. He could have run 15 metres and kicked it another 50.

But then he saw Trent Cotchin standing near the boundary by himself, so he shot him a dinky little pass. The crowd began to cheer and whistle. Cotchin, embarrassed, kicked the ball sideways to Jayden Short. Short kicked it straight back.

And so ends two magnificent careers, and perhaps the greatest narrative arc of modern times. Saturday at the MCG was more tribute concert than home-and-away fixture.

Fox Footy’s post-game interviews echoed through the PA at the ground. Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt did a lap of honour. They resembled two brand new fathers stumbling around a maternity ward: swallowing happy tears, hugging everyone in sight.

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It was redolent of Kevin Sheedy and James Hird’s ridiculous last game in Melbourne, only here there was a distinct lack of fireworks, and the team song wasn’t playing after a 27-point loss.

“Football brings people together through the power of story,” Cotchin said after the game.


Everyone knows this story almost ended in 2016. Richmond had been winning plenty of games, but kept coming up short in finals. Damien Hardwick had spent that year as an ogre, driving his players harder than ever, always demanding more.

He had only driven the group apart. The pressure was closing in on them. Cotchin told him he wanted to step down and walk away. He and Hardwick cried together before making a pact to get through it, to change, and to redefine who they were.

Trent Cotchin

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/AFL Media/via Getty Images )

Planets assemble. In walks mindfulness coach Emma Murray, who taught the players how to meditate, and ‘professional mentor’ Ben Crowe, who taught them to be the best versions of themselves. “What are we doing here?” Hardwick thought, “we’re howling at the moon.”

But it changed everything, it was the perfect antidote to the year prior. They learned to embrace their inner child. “Have fun, play, compete,” Crowe would say. Hardwick became chief storyteller, handing out objects like rocks and records before games, writing everyone letters.

Then the dynasty. You can have all the kumbaya of a Falls Festival, but you need some decent players to win finals. Martin became their nuclear weapon. But it was Cotchin and Riewoldt who really embodied the coach’s term, Richmond Men.

Cotchin went from an inoffensive ball-user to a maniacal ball-winner. Riewoldt went from a selfish goal-kicker to a selfless teammate. “I changed my whole mindset on how I wanted to play football and what I wanted to be known for,” he said.


The group found success in 2017, but more importantly it found a wave of love, care, honesty and connection that would carry them through the next half decade. They had volunteered some of their most personal stories of struggle and hardship to one another.

Brandon Ellis told the group about how he grew up in a housing commission flat and stole clothes as a child. “It wasn’t so much that Brandon got up and spoke about that,” says Hardwick, “it was the conversations that ensued from it, around the lunch table.”

The players became closer than ever. They would go further and dig deeper for each other. “I feel so lucky to be at this football club, in this family,” Riewoldt reflects.

It helped that they had also found the keys to football’s floodgates. Having eschewed trying to play a perfect, precision brand, they now played with a structure in defence and almost total freedom in attack. They knocked the ball on to no one and kicked long to contests.

They created on-field roles to bring out one another’s strengths, like playing Kane Lambert (Larry) alongside Martin (Barry) because they were the side’s best defensive and offensive players respectively.

Watching them during those years was a confounding thing to do. You were always ready to barrack against them, the side that was winning everything. But when the chaos and the beauty of it all collided, it was utterly compelling.


There’s Shane Edwards, stepping out of traffic. There’s Cotchin, bursting through a pack of bodies. There’s Riewoldt, whacking the ball over his head. There’s Dusty, slithering through a tackler, turning onto his right, kicking an astronomical goal.

Toby Nankervis and Dustin Martin celebrate.

Toby Nankervis and Dustin Martin celebrate. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

That’s all over now. Every club has since tried to emulate some part of the New Richmond. They’ve read the Konrad Marshall books, ordered the gratitude journals. But the moment is gone. The word vulnerability has become a cliché and hardly means anything anymore.

Craig McRae’s Collingwood players look to be having a lot of fun, and are winning a lot of games, but teams have already found the blueprint to beating them. Someone is going to need to stumble upon something else.

“Success influences perception more than anything,” said Jack’s cousin Nick. Without the premierships there are probably very few ex-teammates lining the boundary on Saturday. In fact this closing game probably wouldn’t have even happened, or would have happened years ago.

Jack Ziebell’s post-game interview, for example, was not a tearful farewell – he looked like he’d just won a car. Leaving a Melbourne bar that evening, he was set upon by a group of thugs who punched and kicked him to the ground.

In that strange sort of way, life can be a bit like football: “very f—in’ hard,” according to Hardwick.


There are very few fairytales. But we have all seen one of the very best. These Richmond Men were a joy to watch, not just because they were one of the greatest-ever football teams, but because they were an even greater group of friends.

And really, all we ever need in life is a Dusty and a Jayden: some mates we can play with, and who’ll kick us the ball.