Taking a break from the 2024 season previews, I thought I’d do some light reading to take me out of the “footy space” I tend to get in at this time of year. I was reading Mark Lawrence’s ‘The Red Queen’s War” series – pretty good but could have been two books instead of three. However, I was sidetracked by a Christmas present from my daughter.
Despite knowing I don’t follow Richmond, she is aware that I have a great admiration for the way Trent Cotchin was able to forge a path in the AFL, and how he was able to turn what looked like a trying beginning to his years as captain into a tenure as one of, if not the best leader the club has ever had. Actually, I think she just remembered me telling her that he stayed behind to clean up the change rooms once after a final, and it might have stuck with her as a bloody nice thing to have done!
Cotchin, as he details, is not your regular footballer. He is not the bloke that hits the pub after a game, takes the boys out to get on the piss, or subscribes to what many would envision as the norm for AFL players. From a young age, he knew that wasn’t him. Even as he struggled to know exactly who he was, he knew the person he was not. It’s an admirable quality.
In essence, his autobiography is less about a man and his career as a footballer, and more about a someone discovering who he is as a man. Cotchin details the worries, the anxiety, and the frustration as he attempted to be perfect in every facet of his life. He also acknowledges that this path was doomed to fail. And it almost did before he made some wholesale changes.
It is a bit of a journey as Cotchin discovers what he is, and what he was capable of being. And I have to admit, it sucked me in and made me like Cotchin a little bit more than I already did.
Before I continue, big thanks to my daughter and her partner for heading back to the store and having Trent sign the book when he appeared a few days later. Opening it to see it personalised was a lovely touch.
Cotchn’s story leaves no stone unturned in regard to the issues Richmond faced before the resurgence of 2017, and as someone who is not a Tigers supporter, it enlightened me as to what led to the Richmond turnaround and just how dire things were beforehand.
I suppose we’ve all heard in some fashion about the way Cotchin opened up to the group and left himself exposed. Settle down, nimrods… he didn’t go tackle-out – I am talking emotionally exposed. One of the big takeaways from the book was that Cotchin took until he was 26 years old to truly understand that he was worthy of the position he was in and the relative success he had enjoyed until that point. When he opened up to his teammates about his own worries, his own fears and his own failings, it was as though the walls at Richmond came tumbling down. It became a safe place for all to do similar.
It took outside help to get it done, with the Richmond captain engaging a life coach/mentor to help guide him with his leadership and life in general, which was something that the younger version of himself would’ve frowned upon. He credits this move with not only the ensuing success on the field, but success off it, and with becoming a better husband and father, as well.
However, it is the way this change in Cotchin impacted the team that interested me. Richmond’s 2017, behind the scenes, was all about getting out of your comfort zone, opening up to your teammates, and dropping the mask so many people hide behind. It took tremendous courage for Cotchin to lay himself emotionally bare in front of the group on the first day of preseason training. In so many situations in sport, or life in general, all it takes is one person to open up before others follow suit.
It worked a treat for the Tigers, huh?
Cotchin details his relationship with Dustin Martin, which went from close to non-existent early in their careers, as Cotchin viewed Martin as too different and someone he didn’t need to be friends with – just teammates, to a relationship that was intensely close, with Martin living with the Cotchins and, in effect, becoming part of their family for a time.
He discusses the situation where it seemed Martin may have left the club for North Melbourne and how he, himself, offered to be made available for trade at one stage when he thought things were not working out and his departure may have benefited the club.
It also offers an insight into Cotchin’s relationships with Damien Hardwick, who Cotchin likens to himself in terms of both leaderships styles and faults, as well as being a stubborn pick. And it examines his relationship with Jack Riewoldt, who was at one point removed from the Richmond leadership group. Riewoldt was one of the first people Cotchin approached after adopting a new way of looking at things in late 2016/early 2017, and it really changed the dynamic of their relationship and the team. It also paved the way for Riewoldt to return to the leadership group.
One aspect I enjoyed was learning about the factional issues within the club when it came to appointing a captain ahead of the 2013 season. Brett Deledio was the player in contention with Cotchin for the captaincy in late 2012. In a real sliding doors moment, the club chose Cotchin (obviously) and Deledio left several years later.
Things could have been very different…
Cotch also keeps receipts, quoting both David King and Mark Robinson as saying he should step down as captain. Good to see. Too many times, people in the media make calls, move onto the next thing, and forget about it. Some people remember. It affects them!
All in all, this book was different to a lot of biographies I’ve read over the years, inasmuch as there was a lot of focus on what Cotchin did to change himself, and not just a glorified “look at how great I am/was” run through the glory years. Whilst the premierships are celebrated and the awards are acknowledged, there is a strong leaning toward the human element of it all.
Despite not being a drinker and not being a “party boy”, that Cotchin is a people person becomes evident as you read. It’s just that he found a different way to connect with his teammates and all at Richmond – a deeper, more meaningful way.
There are several captains I have admired in recent history for the way they’ve gone about their work.
Luke Hodge was a huge presence at Hawthorn, and Joel Selwood refused to allow Geelong to be anything but a great team in his tenure. Cotchin is right there with them. A team man, a family man, and someone who actively sought out ways to better himself and help others.
He’s a captain I would have followed, and I can’t help but feel privileged to have gained an insight as to how and why things played out the way they did.
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