RICHMOND’S administration believes the club’s progress has long been stymied by what it refers to as a “Messiah complex.” The Tigers don’t want to repeat the pattern of making one individual — player, coach or president — “the one” who will deliver them from decades of mediocrity.
Hence, it was a touch surprising to hear Damien Hardwick, in an unguarded moment, compare Trent Cotchin to Chris Judd and Wayne Carey, players who were regarded as Messiahs.
But in speaking of Cotchin’s abilities, Hardwick was on safe ground. Cotchin isn’t prone to getting ahead of himself. The coach might be reluctant to praise Jack Riewoldt for kicking 10, knowing that Jack can enjoy the adulation. He doesn’t have to worry about how Cotchin will receive high praise, criticism or hype.
Hardwick also happened to be speaking the truth. Cotchin is comparable to Judd at around the same age, and his range of talents — ball-winning, evasion, balance, skills on both sides — are similar to Gary Ablett’s. He is en route to becoming the most accomplished player to have represented Richmond since the great Kevin Bartlett.
No Richmond player since KB has seemed quite as unstoppable and consistent as Cotchin, who leads the AFL Coaches Association’s award and, if the umpires are willing to give votes to a team that loses in the last two minutes, will be among the placegetters in the Brownlow.
Like most champion onballers, Bartlett’s greatness lay in his high possession rate and constancy of output. The same is true of Cotchin, who has Bartlett’s knack for playing forward, but would never be labelled hungry.
Of the players who have shone brightest since Bartlett, Matthew Richardson is easily the people’s favourite — the one who gave the fans a reason to keep turning up. But Cotchin is well-placed to overhaul “Richo”, since he has few obvious weaknesses. He kicks either foot, can win the ball in close, marks strongly overhead and has a turn of speed. While not as explosive as Judd or Ablett junior, he still runs 20 metres in under three seconds, the benchmark for “quick” in the contemporary AFL.
Triple Brownlow medallist Ian Stewart defined the ability “to stand up in heavy traffic and make a decision” as the difference between very good and “great” players — read midfielders. Cotchin passes the Stewart test, having a gift for making the right split-second calls with the ball while under duress.
Richardson, who played two seasons with the teenage Cotchin, reckons the midfielder will improve further in the coming years, given that injuries to his Achilles have limited his training load. “His fitness will only get better,” Richardson said. “He’s only done one [full] pre-season.”
Richardson has been impressed by Cotchin’s ability to play as a forward. “I didn’t realise how good he could be as a deep forward taking marks.” An assistant coach from a rival club suggested that this ability to mark and kick goals as a forward might eventually see Cotchin surpass Judd in his prime.
Weightman nominated three players as standouts from his time at Tigerland: Bartlett, Geoff Raines and Richardson (Royce Hart was before his time). Raines won three best and fairests (1978, 1980-81) in a relatively strong Richmond era, but his exit to Collingwood and subsequent career at Essendon and Brisbane has eroded his standing.
Cotchin will win his second best and fairest this year and, barring significant injury, should end up with several Jack Dyer medals. He will be the next Richmond captain when Chris Newman finishes.
Bartlett won five best and fairests, played 403 games and booted a staggering 778 goals. He played in five premierships. But he wasn’t the Messiah because the Tigers had Francis Bourke, Hart, Kevin Sheedy, Dick Clay et al sharing the billing.
Cotchin, similarly, isn’t the answer at Punt Road. Just a large part of it.