Senior Writer Mike Osborne reveals the impact Damien Hardwick had on his family and his father-son relationship.
When Richmond surprised the footy world by qualifying for the 2017 AFL grand final for the first time in 35 years, I was conflicted.
Like most long-suffering Tigers fans, I thought of chasing an elusive ticket to the MCG where the rampant Adelaide Crows were waiting.
It had been Richmond’s best season in almost four decades – since the 1980 VFL grand final win over Collingwood when I was still a teenager.
But I wanted to share the moment with my 78-year-old father who’d also been a life-long Richmond fan, and was the reason why yellow and black flowed through my veins.
There was no way he was well enough to get to the game so my amazing wife organised for my entire family to gather from near and far to watch the game at our home.
It proved one of the most memorable days of my life as I sat with my delirious dad in our Richmond gear and watched captain Trent Cotchin and coach Damien Hardwick lift the premiership trophy after a 48-point win.
A year later my dad was dead. He had a heart attack just days before the preliminary final loss to Collingwood, so the Tigers were still reigning premiers. At his funeral he had a Richmond scarf draped across his coffin.
I’m sure many members of the Tiger Army have similar stories.
And also fans of the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne Demons from their seemingly fairytale wins in 2016 and 2021.
The simple joy of your team winning a premiership can change lives and outlooks.
And in my family’s case we have Hardwick to thank, as well CEO Brendon Gale and former President Peggy O’Neal – who both had the foresight not to sack Dimma after a disastrous 2016 season. And of course the players and everyone else at Punt Road involved in that 2017 win.
I was lucky enough to witness the Hardwick-coached Tigers win their next two premierships at the MCG in 2019 and the ‘Gabba in 2020. I had single seats, but I knew Dad was with me in spirit.
For Tigers fans, those wins were like catching a rainbow.
But as always, golden eras fade. Champion players get old and tired, or injured. Coaches get jaded or seek new challenges.
In Dimma’s case he says he has lost the energy and drive.
“Coaching is all-consuming, it’s relentless, and you must be totally committed,” he said. “I love this Club, the players, staff, and fans too much to continue to coach when I don’t feel like I’m 100 per cent in – you can’t coach like that, and it would be doing the wrong thing by everyone.”
Current Richmond President John O’Rourke was right when he said Hardwick had cemented himself as an icon of the club with his three premierships (to go with his two as a player at Essendon and Port Adelaide) and coaching a record 307 games.
“But he has given this Club so much more,” O’Rourke said.Embed from Getty Images
“He taught us about genuine care, connection and the power of storytelling. He loved his players, and they loved him.”
He gave we footy fans so much too.
Like Kevin Sheedy and Alastair Clarkson before him, he changed the way the game was played with Richmond’s creative chaos style.
For Tiger fans, it meant that even when the team wasn’t winning, they always seemed a chance.
As part of his farewell, Hardwick thanked the Tiger Army for its magnificent support. “The roar of the Richmond crowd will forever ring in my ears,” he said.
He appreciated the fans, and like me and my dad, we sure loved what he did for us.
Michael Osborne has been a journalist for more than four decades including 35 years with the national news agency Australian Associated Press, rising from junior reporter to Editor.
He was AAP Editor for 11 years and served four years as Head of Sport and Racing. He was also posted to London and Beijing as AAP’s Bureau Chief and Foreign Correspondent.