Tigers bare all for team spirit

For Rich­mond the 2017 sea­son was all about trust, which was built around the pow­er­ful con­nec­tions formed in team tell-all ses­sions, writes MARK ROBIN­SON

Mercury (Hobart) - - FOOTY FEVER -

TO si­lence and some­times to tears, ev­ery one of them got up and told their story.

There were re­flec­tions about grief and fam­ily and hard­ship and fears and chal­lenges and also he­roes.

It was pow­er­ful and per­sonal, a plat­form for the 2017 sea­son based on trust which, if you look at how Rich­mond has played this sea­son, is an ex­ten­sion of the con­nec­tion cre­ated by th­ese tell-alls.

“I would say it would be right up there with the most val­ued thing within the club,’’ Jack Riewoldt said.

“It was pretty per­sonal from every­one.” What was it called? “I can’t tell you that ... it’s too im­por­tant.”

It be­gan with coach Damien Hard­wick in the pre-sea­son after his re­turn from a de­vel­op­ment course at Har­vard Univer­sity in the US.

He told his play­ers and coaches of his fail­ings and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties.

“I re­ally idolised him af­ter­wards for what he did,” said Riewoldt.

“My­self and Trent, Shane, Alex and Dustin have been there for the whole time he’s been there. We’ve seen him get grey hairs and get old and ma­ture into the job and ride the highs and lows. I think with se­nior coaches, you have to build a game plan, have a bit of per­son­al­ity ev­ery now and then, but his abil­ity to strip it back and ad­mit fault made me look within my­self. I know the other play­ers think the same.”

Trent Cotchin was next. He spoke of his ac­cep­tance of im­per­fec­tion.

“Just look within, don’t try to be a per­fect per­son be­cause it just doesn’t ex­ists,’’ Riewoldt said. “Trent is a great cap­tain, but his great­est as­set is his abil­ity to in­spire oth­ers with his ac­tions. He’s been chal­lenged as a cap­tain, a leader in fi­nals, he’s been phe­nom­e­nal.’’

Week after week, player fol­lowed player and coaches, too. Some­one would be nom­i­nated by the pre­vi­ous speaker and the next week he would stand up in front of the group, 44 play­ers, coaches and some staff, and mostly al­ways said in the play­ers’ au­di­to­rium.

There’s uni­for­mity in that room. Play­ers and coaches sit in the same seats in ev­ery meet­ing.

Riewoldt was about the 10th per­son cho­sen. He spoke at the pre-sea­son camp on the Sun­shine Coast in Jan­uary and it was based around the grief of losing his cousin Mad­die.

“I spoke about my hard­ship, the pass­ing of Mad­die,’’ he said. ‘’For­tu­nate is not the right word, but I’ve got some­thing to put my grief to­wards, which is the MRV char­ity and Mad­die’s Match which is im­por­tant. I’ve learnt the process of learn­ing how to grieve.

“A lot of our guys have gone through stuff you would never know about un­less we had th­ese con­ver­sa­tions.

“It was cleans­ing for some guys to bare their soul and the con­nec­tion it’s cre­ated within the group is awesome.

“The cap­tain and Dimma led it off, they bared their stuff. They were sim­i­lar in some ways. They’re such great peo­ple and so proud, and prob­a­bly Alex and my­self were in the same boat when we were strug­gling last year, we all went into com­plete manic mode, where we tried to turn ev­ery stone over to find the an­swer to get back to where we want to be.

“In do­ing that, every­one was look­ing un­der the same stone, but the thing we needed to do was be more hon­est with each other, strip it back and be­come ... not more authen­tic, but more per­sonal.

“It’s been a hum­bling process. I’ve learnt more from hear­ing other peo­ple talk about stuff that’s gone on in their life.’’

For ex­am­ple, Bachar Houli spoke about the birth of his daugh­ter and his feel­ings pre and post birth to­wards his wife, Rouba. At the end, he told the as­sem­bled to leave and ring their mum and tell her they love her. He told his story on 3AW last week­end.

The oth­ers re­main in­house. “I’m hes­i­tant to tell you about what was said, it’s not my place,’’ Riewoldt said.

“I ex­pe­ri­enced the death of a young per­son who should be liv­ing and breath­ing to­day. Be­cause Roo [cousin Nick Riewoldt] and I are so pub­lic and live our lives in the pub­lic eye, it was go­ing to get out. It’s amaz­ing some of the sto­ries you hear and they’re not around death or any­thing like

that, but it’s amaz­ing the sto­ries you’re hear­ing. Th­ese peo­ple haven’t had the op­por­tu­nity to ex­press their sto­ries. Plenty of peo­ple have stuff bot­tled up in­side. It was amaz­ing how many sto­ries were linked in to­gether. That cre­ates a con­nec­tion.’’

Sev­eral times, Riewoldt said, it seemed every­one in the room was cry­ing.

“It was pretty emo­tive stuff. Trent, Alex and my­self are very proud with the way they were able to ex­press them­selves, but also the adult deal­ings in terms of tak­ing on other peo­ple’s sto­ries. It didn’t change my life, but it gave a real dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on life and footy, gave me greater con­nec­tion with the play­ers, the younger play­ers. It was just an­other layer.’’

In many ways, it was the for­ma­tion of the grow­ing up of a Rich­mond team — and club — which, as the sea­son ex­tended, ma­tured into a grand fi­nal team.

The doubters — and there’s al­ways doubters about the Tigers — are si­lenced.

The doubters — and there was al­ways doubters about Riewoldt — are long si­lenced.

Riewoldt is now 28. Where once he wanted to be the best player, he now thrives on be­ing the best team­mate. Where once he was ac­cused of be­ing self­ish, he prob­a­bly now is the most self­less player in the team.

The grown-up Jack co­in­cides with him join­ing the

AFL360 team on Fox Footy at the start of the 2016 sea­son.

For­mer AFL360 pan­el­list Bob Mur­phy helped choose Riewoldt as his re­place­ment be­cause he be­lieved Riewoldt’s true char­ac­ter wasn’t be­ing ex­posed or ex­plored on other me­dia out­lets.

“I cer­tainly would agree 360 has changed a lot of peo­ple’s per­cep­tions about me,’’ he said.

“I didn’t beat my­self down, but I used to get af­fected by what peo­ple would think about me, I would find it hard to com­pre­hend how peo­ple could judge me as a per­son from the two hours of foot­ball they see on the week­end.”

The loss of Mad­die, the nat­u­ral ma­tur­ing and be­ing added to the Tigers’ lead­er­ship group this year have all played their role.

“Part of be­ing hu­man is grow­ing up at cer­tain stages,’’ he said. Still, he’ll for­ever be emo­tional.

He burst into tears at the sound of the siren in the pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal, over­come by achieve­ment, from when he joined for­mer team­mate Brett Dele­dio who was also in tears and even when be­ing in­ter­viewed by Matthew Richardson.

“I spent six years with Ri­cho and I know what it means to him and his fam­ily, and deep down you want ev­ery per­son to be a part of it,’’ he said.

Af­ter­wards in the rooms, Riewoldt sought sanc­tu­ary in the change rooms as the con­gre­ga­tion of play­ers and fam­i­lies cel­e­brated out­side.

In his gear, sans his boots, he said he had waves of emo­tions.

“In re­flec­tion, I felt like there’s still a big hole there which is a void which could be filled this week­end,’’ he said. “I was think­ing about what had hap­pened, what it meant, think­ing about Lids, the week ahead, the two se­nior grand fi­nals with Clarence as a young fella, reflecting on all those things.’’

He was beaten badly by Greater Western Syd­ney’s Phil Davis on the night, a sit­u­a­tion he would’ve pre­vi­ously beaten him­self up about.

“I was filthy about how I played be­cause my role is not to let my man beat me,’’ he said. “And I re­flected on that and just thought about what I could do dif­fer­ently this week.’’

Herald Sun colum­nist Matthew Lloyd last week wrote about the role Riewoldt has played this sea­son, ba­si­cally as the sole key for­ward with a bunch a kids around him.

He is a pre­sen­ter and con­tester and, where once he wanted to take the mark of the week ev­ery week, his per­for­mance is val­ued by how much he com­petes. Such as jump­ing for marks in two-on-one sit­u­a­tions and bring­ing the ball to ground. In the first 30 sec­onds last week, he con­tested against two op­po­nents, the ball squirted off the pack to Dustin Martin and the goal was kicked by Kane Lam­bert.

The week be­fore, against Gee­long, he com­peted against Lachie Hen­der­son and Zac Smith, and the spillage was col­lected by Cotchin who kicked an in­cred­i­ble goal.

“I don’t kick a lot of goals, I’m pretty con­sis­tent kick­ing two or three a week, but I feel I’ve had a big­ger im­pact on the score­board and on the team.”

His re­la­tion­ship with his for­wards, he said, was like that of a big brother.

Ev­ery week, three times a week, he and Ja­son Castagna and Dan But­ler have goal kick­ing prac­tice, with as­sis­tant coach An­drew McQual­ter stand­ing the mark.

On Mon­day, he took Dan Ri­oli to buy a suit for the Brown­low Medal. “I’ve got an ex­tremely high re­gard for Daniel on and off the field, he’s pretty in­spir­ing.”

His week has been kind of nor­mal. Mon­day was the Brown­low, Tues­day was

AFL360 and catch­ing up on two episodes of Aus­tralian Sur

vivor. Wed­nes­day was golf and then din­ner with cousin Nick. Thurs­day was the main train­ing ses­sion. But yes­ter­day was amaz­ing — the cap­tains run in front of 10,000 fans and the pa­rade in front of more than 100,000. It was mind-bog­gling.

His phone, how­ever, is in meltdown. In this 40-minute con­ver­sa­tion, he re­ceived 15 text mes­sages from fam­ily, friends, the King Is­land Bak­ery run by the Hamer fam­ily and a fruiterer mate who has painted his shop yel­low and black.

He’s rev­el­ling in the well­wish­ers and watch­ing the pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal again. He was wowed by the scenes of grown men and women cry­ing in the grand­stands.

It’s taken its time form­ing, but the re­al­i­sa­tion is in stone in­side Riewoldt that footy is about peo­ple.

“I have a huge love for the Tigers,’’ he said. “Some­times I think I love the Tigers more than any­one else. But there’s peo­ple out there who love them as much as me. I just get to play for them. I used to think, the fans don’t get it be­cause they haven’t played. You put in blood, sweat and tears through pre-sea­son, you put your body on the line in games. I do it for ab­so­lute love and loy­alty to the club. The re­al­i­sa­tion point comes when you say peo­ple don’t get the chance to do this, but they love it as much we love it.

“I’m crys­tal balling here, but I can’t imag­ine what it would be like if we won the flag.’’

Plenty of peo­ple have stuff bot­tled up in­side. It was amaz­ing how many sto­ries were linked in to­gether. That cre­ates a con­nec­tion JACK RIEWOLDT

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