‘I thought, this is it, he could go’: Hardwick reflects on Tiger year

Damien Hardwick has reflected on Richmond’s premiership-winning season, paying tribute to his captain and highlighting the importance of Brownlow medallist Dustin Martin.

Speaking on The Hen House podcast, the Tigers coach also said there was a nervous period when it hit home that they could lose the midfield star to another club, but thought all parties had handled the negotiations well.

“It was a nerve-wracking period towards the end, especially when Dustin flew to New Zealand to speak to his dad,” Hardwick reflected.

“That was probably the first time I thought ‘geez, this is it, he could go’, and to Dustin’s credit he turned down a life-changing amount of money to stay at our footy club.

“Don’t get me wrong, he’s getting paid very well, he’s worth every cent, but he turned down a lot of money to stay loyal to our footy club.”

After months of speculation, Martin eventually signed a multi-year deal with Richmond on the eve of the finals. When asked whether the Tigers would have won the flag if Martin hadn’t signed, Hardwick said it was a “tough question”.

But he said once a player crossed the white line, whether they knew they were staying or going, they were “all in” for the jumper that they were playing in.

“It’s funny, you put yourself in the same situation and it’s easy to say you’d stay but if we’re talking about a life-changing amount of money … he chose the love of his teammates and the love of his club over the endorsement of money.”

Hardwick said people see the way Martin looks and the way he plays the game and can underestimate him as a person.

“I think Trent sums it up best … Dustin’s learnt a little bit off us but we’ve learnt a hell of a lot off Dustin.”

Hardwick was also full of praise for his skipper’s September performance.

“Trent really led from the front … he was enormous that finals series. His effort, his intent, his physicality at the contest throughout the finals series was as good as I’ve seen.

“I’ve been around footy a hell of a long time, seen some wonderful players play but his finals series was as good as I’ve seen from a captain.”

Hardwick said he had been confident of victory in the grand final from half-time, but being confident didn’t mean he was relaxed.

“We thought we had a really good plan in place,” he said. “It’s easy in hindsight … but we felt very confident. Especially at half-time when we were nine or 10 points up at that stage and we sort of knew that our best footy was in front of us … we were very confident at half-time that we were going to win.”

He said the moment he knew the grand final was sealed was when Dan Butler kicked a goal with about seven minutes remaining in the last term.

“I thought ‘geez we’ve won this’,” he said, adding that he then realised he would have to think about a speech. “It didn’t feel like an easy win in the end.”

Hardwick acknowledged that there would be comparisons to the Western Bulldogs’ premiership win in 2016 – and their subsequent premiership hangover and slide down the table in 2017.

“You certainly learn off your competitors,” he said, adding that he was confident in the “mature” Richmond leadership group.

He also said that competition for spots in the team was important for a successful year – and the Tigers, whose VFL side came runners-up in the grand final, would have just that, with players such as Connor Menadue and Sam Lloyd pushing for a place in the senior side.

Hardwick said he was pleased with the way his players had returned to training.

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