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
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