The trials of captain Cotchin

The revelation that Trent Cotchin entertained abandoning Richmond and the club’s quest for a third AFL premiership in four years for the sake of his family added another intriguing layer to the man who is just four games away from becoming the Tigers' longest-serving captain.

Devastated on behalf of his wife Brooke, whose Gold Coast protocol breach had cost him $20,000, and the family considerably more in light of the ensuing bad publicity, Cotchin briefly felt that for the sake of his family and his wife's mental health he should take them home.

Richmond captain Trent Cotchin.Credit:Getty Images

"But I'm looking forward to it being over as well. I reckon if we won a premiership in the next three years I'd be pretty much done."

Cotchin was measured in his early years as captain against the strong benchmark of the time in Joel Selwood and Luke Hodge. His emphasis on family and the nature of his leadership, which did not involve taking his teammates out for beers underlined by some mediocre finals performances, led to him being regarded as coming up wanting. Outright ridicule followed, for example, the decision to kick into the wind against Port Adelaide in 2014 and then a Mad Monday interview in a Kiss costume.

Not to mention the so-called boys' club stigma of having a wife leap to his defence on both social and mainstream media, as Brooke has done in the past, including after a string of early losses in 2016 which led to her being targeted by, among others, former Brisbane captain Jonathan Brown.

Against this was his care for his teammates and notably Martin, who went to live with the Cotchin family at Cotchin's suggestion after one particularly troubled period for the champion footballer.

This is not a comment against Sam Mitchell but of the two, who retrospectively shared the 2012 Brownlow Medal, it was Cotchin who contacted Jobe Watson before accepting his.

Still, at the end of 2016 – having just been awarded that Brownlow – Cotchin told his teammates he would relinquish the captaincy unless he had their full support. So much changed in that off-season leading to the drought-breaking premiership but one significant filip was the unconditional support for the captain pledged by Jack Riewoldt and Alex Rance.

Cotchin's captaincy credentials were questioned at Richmond board level during 2016 and also by some club executives, although not Gale nor his football lieutenant Daniel Richardson. The cathartic exchange between captain and coach late that year at Neville Crowe's funeral and the subsequent embrace by both men of each other and their frailties set the tone for the triumphant changes that followed.

Already a three-time Jack Dyer medallist and now also a Brownlow medallist, Cotchin appeared empowered to continue to lead his own way. Ceasing to focus upon his own form as his weekly numbers dropped, his leadership and value to the team grew in volumes. The unconventional captain became the benchmark, too, in the eyes of his peers when the AFLPA voted him the best captain in the game in 2018.

Richmond was the AFL's love child in 2017 when it reached its first grand final in 35 years but that relationship has been tested this year partly because the governing body tires of teams at the top for too long, partly because Richmond have challenged the AFL's savage football cuts and partly because of some off-field, hub and dressing room behaviour.

The league's goodwill that many felt allowed Cotchin to lead the Tigers to the 2017 premiership after the Dylan Shiel incident the previous week no longer exists. Captain and club find themselves in the eye of the perfect storm due to the fight outside the Gold Coast strip club in the pre-dawn hours of Friday.

As the wrath of Gillon McLachlan and the competition rightly focuses upon Richmond; the collective leadership of Cotchin – whose own familial protocol breach remains fresh in everyone's memory – along with Hardwick, Gale and Peggy O'Neal faces another brutal character test.

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