An AFL boundary umpire’s tale of life in a hub, grand final nerves and a footy year like no other


My partner and I left Melbourne early in the morning of the first Monday in July.

It felt a bit like a mystery flight because it was only a short time before we left that we actually knew where we were going.

We were off for what I thought was going to be a few weeks of umpiring AFL footy in one of the interstate hubs before matches would return to Melbourne.

Now 111 days, 25 coronavirus tests, six hotels and 1,000 kilometres of running later, I’m almost ready to head home.

But not before one last mission — today’s grand final.

It’s been an extraordinary journey of ups and downs as I played my small part in trying to keep this game loved by so many Australians going.

Charter flights, COVID tests and round and round ovals

Myself and my partner were both “working from home” in the various hotels we stayed in.(Supplied)

My first task back in early July was trying to organise “working from home” from an interstate hotel at very short notice.

My daytime job is as a journalist in the ABC’s Asia Pacific Newsroom and, fortunately enough, my boss was very accommodating.

One of the early bizarre experiences came as we boarded the charter flight from Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport.

Instead of going through the main part of the airport, we waited with hundreds of other AFL players, umpires and staff at a private terminal before wandering straight across the tarmac and onto the plane.

In these COVID times, there’s no food on planes and people are spread out as much as possible.

We checked into our first hotel in Southport on Queensland’s Gold Coast with dozens of other umpires and their families.

With us all sharing the same floor in the hotel and eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together, it was very quickly starting to feel like Year 8 camp with all your mates.

There was no leaving the grounds of the hotel under the strict 14-day quarantine rules.

As a boundary umpire, a high level of running fitness is key to the job.

But with limited space, it meant endless laps of the hotel oval.

My boundary colleague Michael Marantelli — who is also umpiring the grand final today — set the record with 21.1 continuous kilometres around the oval during one of his runs.

After one week in quarantine, my first match day had finally arrived.

I was preparing for a Saturday afternoon game at the Gold Coast stadium between Fremantle and St Kilda.

But just before leaving for the match, my spot was suddenly in doubt — the result of my COVID test hadn’t arrived and under no circumstances was any player or official involved in matches allowed to participate without recording a negative result in the lead-up.

Some good work by our hub manager meant he was able to get onto the lab and confirm the result was negative.

AFL umpire Ian Burrows getting a coronavirus test.
The last of about 25 coronavirus tests I had across the 2020 season.(Supplied)

COVID tests had become one of the defining features of season 2020.

We were tested before every match and, if lucky enough, sometimes even a couple of times a week.

By my count, I’d racked up about 25 tests over the last few months — some less enjoyable than others.

The occasional one drew some blood, while my favourites were with one particular guy who was quick and would say “now just a short one up the nostril”.

Often there would be a little bit of jostling in the lines to try and position yourself to get one of the “friendly” testers.

A few weeks turns to a few months

Ian Burrows and partner Sofie.
The 2020 season has been like no other, requiring us to spend much of it in hotels as part of AFL “hubs”.(Supplied)

After one week at Southport, logistical reasons meant it was time to move onto another hotel just down the road.

As with the previous hotel, we shared our accommodation with a couple of footy clubs and families and partners of players and officials.

With coronavirus cases in Melbourne continuing to soar, people gathered around TVs on Wednesday that week as AFL boss Gillon McLachlan announced there would be no more footy in Melbourne for the foreseeable future.

Suddenly, what I thought was going to be a few weeks away was looking more like a few months.

By the start of the next week, we’d arrived at our third hotel, this time in Broadbeach, where we would be pretty settled for the next few months.

Hub life meant limiting your interaction with the public, no sitting down in cafes, restaurants or the like, always social distancing and following strict rules on which umpire colleagues you could hang out with.

In fact, the AFL’s hub rule book ran 17 pages long. And for good reason.

A lot had gone into working with governments and other stakeholders to make sure the season could continue safely.

While being away from home for such a long time and following such tight rules wasn’t always easy, we were fully aware of the hard times so many other Australians were going through, particularly those in Melbourne.

But if we could help keep footy on TV and in the stadiums for the fans, we were happy.

Three matches in just over a week, and a snake encounter

Boundary umpire Ian Burrows, left, is presented with the match ball by umpire Brett Rosebury.
Before moving to Queensland I was presented with the match ball after my 300th AFL game earlier this year — one of the last games in Melbourne for the season.(Supplied)

The next three months of hub life, like 2020 in general, were full of twists and turns and unexpected moments.

Never before had I umpired three matches in just over a week but that’s what came with the “footy frenzy” periods of the season where games were played every day.

Training in this COVID world was a whole different story as well.

No more big group sessions on the track and meetings in theatrettes, but instead running by yourself and coaching over Zoom.

There was one running session I did along a gravel path in a bushy area near Surfers Paradise that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Moving along at just over 3-minute-kilometre pace, I was puffing hard and keeping a close eye on my watch.

Turns out I should have been keeping an even closer eye on the path, because I was centimetres away from stomping on a snake.

I noticed it at the very last second, as it did me. I jumped and it jumped.

Luckily we both escaped unscathed — other than a soaring heart rate that I struggled to bring back down.

A night grand final, outside Victoria

By mid-October, I’d umpired all 18 home and away rounds, with trips to Adelaide and Cairns in between, and three finals.

But the most nervous wait of all was still to come.

The last Sunday before grand final day is always an anxious day for umpires — we’re waiting to find out who has been selected for the biggest match of all.

As soon as I saw the coach’s name pop up on my phone late in the afternoon, my heart rate was again going through the roof.

And as soon as I answered I was immediately listening for hints in his voice of good or bad news to come.

Fortunately for me, it was good news this time.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in a few epic grand finals before, including the 2010 draw.

But never has the finale been played outside of Victoria. And never before at night.

This one is going to be special. And I reckon it might just be another classic.



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Possible thunderstorms for AFL grand final


Amid fears of thunderstorms ruining the Gabba grand final spectacle, Geelong coach Chris Scott has given up trying to predict Queensland’s weather.

The 44-year-old spent 14 seasons in Brisbane as a player and admits he never worked it out.

But his Cats are prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at them and Richmond after the 7.30pm AEDT bounce down on Saturday night.

“(Wet weather) would change the way we play against anyone, but it would be the same for the opposition as well,” Scott said.

“They (Richmond) have got a bit of recent experience with slippery conditions over in Adelaide, but I’ve given up forecasting the weather.

“I’ve made too many mistakes year after year and it’s become a bit of an in-joke with our coaching team.”

The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast a shower or two with possible evening thunderstorms and a top of 27C in Brisbane on Saturday.

There is a 70 per cent chance of rain.

“My experience is it’s either going to rain all night or it will come and go really quickly and there won’t be much in between,” Scott said.

“We’ll think about it, obviously, but we’re not going to get confused by trying to forecast difficult-to-predict weather.”

Rain and slippery conditions would add another layer to Richmond coach Damien Hardwick’s theory that the grand final will be a tough, contested affair.

“Finals have been built on the back of the fundamentals of the game for a long time and I think this game will be no different,” Hardwick said.

“The strength of Geelong is around contested ball and it’s something we do reasonably well, as well.

“We’ve got two really good sides that are going to go at it and whoever’s system stands up the longest will come away with (the premiership).”

Richmond have won two of the last three flags and Geelong have played four preliminary finals in five years.

The Tigers won lead-up finals against the Cats in 2017 and 2019.

But the two clubs have not met in a grand final since Richmond won a thrilling VFL decider in 1967.

“We’re two pretty good sides who have been playing a great brand of footy for a long time and I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Hardwick said.

“They’ve been a yardstick, along with our football club, for a number of years and it’s about time we played off in a grand final.”





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AFL Grand Final 2020 Richmond Tigers vs Geelong Cats, live updates, score, start time, video, blog


Ultimate glory will be awarded to the champion of the AFL’s most unpredictable and difficult season in decades as Richmond faces Geelong in the 2020 Grand Final.

Richmond (14-5-1, third on the ladder) is trying to win its third premiership in four seasons, something only eight teams in VFL-AFL history have ever done, and become a dynasty.

Geelong (14-6, fourth on the ladder) is back in the flag decider for the first time since 2011, when coach Chris Scott – in his first year in charge – led this team to its third flag in five years.

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MORE AFL GRAND FINAL PRE-GAME COVERAGE



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NRL grand final 2020: Melbourne Storm v Penrith Panthers, Peter V’landys takes dig at AFL, Victoria


They told him it would never happen. They said it was impossible.

But Australian Rugby League commission chair Peter V’landys has laughed back at the critics who said the NRL couldn’t relaunch on May 28 ahead of this weekend’s grand final.

After the COVID-19 pandemic brought Australia’s sporting codes to a halt in March, there seemed to be no clear plan on what to do.

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V’landys, who had experienced the equine flu during his time in charge of NSW Racing, had a plan of attack.



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AFL Grand Final 2020 preview | Richmond Tigers vs Geelong Cats, stats, analysis, who will win, tactics, keys to victory, news


Footy’s ultimate prize is just 100 minutes away.

It’s a fitting showdown for Richmond and Geelong, the two best teams of the last two years, and it’s clear the Grand Finalists have been preparing for this very match-up.

We run through the keys to success for both teams and where the flag will be won and lost.

For so long, the Tigers have defined modern footy with their dominant intercept game, allowing them to control territory and score from it.

But after their qualifying final loss to Brisbane, there was a clear personnel shift, and it has flipped their style on its head.

“We’ve seen over the years, you want territory – that’s how you win big finals,” Brisbane great Jonathan Brown said on Fox Footy’s Ultimate Preview.

“Richmond started their run as a territory team, a forward-half turnover team when they won in 2017.

“And just remember last year, they won the Grand Final with absolute dominance around the stoppages against what was last year’s best stoppage team in GWS.”

The Tigers’ centre bounce line-up now typically includes some combination of Dion Prestia, Shane Edwards, Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin – a switch for Dusty, who has spent plenty of time in the goalsquare this year.

It’s the centre bounces where the Tigers now dominate, with the 6-6-6 rule forcing even numbers. However around the ground, they’re less impressive.

Perhaps even more stark is the change in how Richmond is generating territory.

Having focused on winning the ball via turnover in the home and away season, the Tigers are now getting it at the source and pushing forward.

“It’s a shift in the investment of your stars. You’re moving your higher-quality players up to the stoppage, so you’re going to win them more often than not,” Brown said.

“That’s a huge shift. That’s taking pressure off your defence, and giving your small crumbing forwards repeat opportunities to score.”

It doesn’t matter where they’re winning the ball – Richmond just wants to get it forwards. Fast.

The key to this success in the finals series has been through what David King coined the ‘Tiger line’, which is the area of the ground just inside the centre square where they can do the most damage.

“Any time you see a handball go from the logos into the corridor, to the wing line, they’re queuing up,” King explained on Fox Footy.

“And then the game goes from first gear to overdrive straight away. The forwards light up. Opposition plus-ones or loose men are rendered useless, and they get good quality one-on-ones when they go in.

“With the ball in contest, they’re getting themselves ready, and this is where the speed comes in. It’s super aggressive.”

But it’s not unstoppable. Brisbane found success in the qualifying final by focusing on halting this sort of ball movement.

It’s not clear whether the Cats have the right personnel to do the same thing though. As detailed below, Chris Scott’s side has sped up its own ball movement this finals series, but they can’t reach Richmond’s heights.

“If Geelong want to go fast, they’ll (Richmond) keep going faster, because they’ve got a higher speed limit than any other team,” Brown said.

All year the Cats had great success running out games, with their older bodies clearly enjoying the shortened quarters.

They were dominant after halftime, turning slender leads into thumping wins.

However something has changed in their two finals victories – they’re starting well, instead.

It’s an impressive and important shift, as seven of the last 10 Grand Finals have been won by the team that led at quarter-time.

It also means the Cats can play their preferred game style and dominate possession, going slow if they need to, rather than being forced to play fast and loose to get back into the game.

Richmond might’ve improved in the midfield this finals series, but they’ve got a ways to go to catch the Cats.

Chris Scott’s side ranks second in the AFL for clearances and first for scores from clearances – it’s their bread and butter.

The problem for the Tigers is they rank 12th for pre-clearance pressure applied, meaning they haven’t shown an ability to stop opposing midfielders at the coalface.

“Around the ball, the size of the Cats is going to be an issue. It’s their greatest strength,” St Kilda champion Leigh Montagna said on Fox Footy’s Ultimate Preview.

“They’re not a team that tends to just throw it on the boot and get territory, a bit like Port Adelaide or Richmond. They love to come out the front, take on the tackle and use the ball.”

The notable exception is Patrick Dangerfield, who is one of the best players in the AFL at extracting the ball from stoppages and driving it forward – but not with the best accuracy.

In one example shown on The Ultimate Preview against Richmond during the home and away season, Dangerfield thumped the ball forward, but the Tigers vacuumed it up and quickly rebounded for a score.

“There’s a better balance now with him in the forward line as opposed to in the midfield. He’s a high metres gained player, we know he can burst through stoppages, but he can tend to blast it at times and make it difficult for the forwards,” Montagna said.

“With the other guys in there, (Mitch) Duncan particularly, (Cam) Guthrie, (Brandan) Parfitt, (Sam) Menegola and (Joel) Selwood, they’re very good at using their hands and taking better looks.”

Duncan has had a tremendous finals series, with half of his inside 50s finding a teammate’s hands, while defender Tom Stewart has also become a sneaky threat up forward.

But a lot of this success is because suddenly the Cats aren’t taking forever to get the ball forward.

Their worst game of the year – against Richmond – saw them constantly kicking into a well set-up Tigers defence, because they gave Damien Hardwick’s side the time to prepare.

But there has been a dramatic shift since the qualifying final loss to Port Adelaide, with an almost 50 per cent increase in the number of times the Cats play on from marks in defence.

“It’s an adjustment made with Richmond in mind,” Saints great Nick Riewoldt said on Fox Footy.

“We know how organised Richmond are behind the footy, that’s their great strength … the quicker you move it, the less time they have to get all set up.”

It means the Cats aren’t controlling the footy quite as much – they averaged 85 uncontested marks across the home and away season, but 75 in their finals wins – but it’s clearly working.

If the Tigers get the game on their terms, and can move the ball downfield at speed, they’re going to be hard to stop.

The premiers love a chaotic contest on a wing, with their talls knocking the ball forwards or finding a running teammate who can quickly get it to Tom Lynch or Jack Riewoldt.

They’ve had great success against Geelong in recent years doing exactly this.

However the Cats have been even more stifling than usual from this source in this finals series.

Of the 107 times an opposing team has rebounded the ball from their defensive 50 this October, just once have they scored.

That’s an unsustainably low rate, but if the Cats can get anywhere close to that on Saturday night, they’re a real chance of winning the whole shebang.



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AFL Grand Final 2020 | The Age Expert Tips, winning margins and Norm Smith Medal predictions


Matthew Lloyd:

Richmond have the ability to shut down the opposition’s strengths better than any club and they have a game plan that is built for winning big games of finals footy.
Richmond by 15 points
Norm Smith: Dustin Martin.

Bec Goddard:

Richmond, because good dynasties are never built without a struggle. The Tigers have never looked flustered throughout the 2020 final series no matter what’s been thrown their way.
Richmond by 9 points.
Norm Smith: Dylan Grimes.

Michael Gleeson:

The Tigers will win. Why? The pressure of Richmond’s style of game can unwind the possession style of Geelong.
Richmond by 17 points.
Norm Smith: Dylan Grimes.

Daniel Cherny:

The Cats have played spellbinding football over the last fortnight but the jury is out as to whether their small forwards can get the better of the Tigers’ defence.
Richmond by 21 points.
Norm Smith: Dustin Martin.

Sam McClure:

The Cats have peaked at the right time of the year and if they can get decent supply to Tom Hawkins and Patrick Dangerfield, they might prove too strong for the Tigers. Danger to kick 3+ goals.
Geelong by 10 points.
Norm Smith: Patrick Dangerfield.

Peter Ryan:

With a plan to score refined after their round 17 touch-up, and the personnel to execute it, Geelong can win if they match Richmond around the ball and then kick straight.
Geelong by 7 points.
** Peter Ryan is on the AFL’s Norm Smith voting panel this year

Scott Spits:

This one is destined to be close. But I have a good feeling about the 2020 Geelong outfit, one of the oldest teams in history, which has handled the season with aplomb. A great farewell for Gazza, a reward for sustained excellence and an emotional night for Danger.
Geelong by 10 points.
Norm Smith: Patrick Dangerfield.


Wayne Carey:

I think the Cats’ defence will keep Richmond to a low enough score to allow them to win.

Geelong by 8 points.

Norm Smith: Tom Stewart.

Bob Murphy:

I hesitate to tip anyone, because I’ve been so woeful tipping any winners this year. Wouldn’t a draw just top off the year? Yes, it would.A draw, but Geelong by 6 points in extra time.Norm Smith: Mitch Duncan.

Jake Niall:

Richmond’s ability to defend behind the ball and then use speed on the rebound is the critical factor against a formidable Geelong, who need to get past Dylan Grimes and Nick Vlastuin. Tigers just.
Richmond by 10 points.
Norm Smith: Shai Bolton.

Caroline Wilson:

In a genuine battle of two heavyweights the Tigers’ system should prove too good for the Cats. Their defence is rarely beaten, their midfield is back to full strength and it’s tough to split the two key forwards. The reigning champs at their best should be too strong for the romantic contenders.
Richmond by 17 points.
Norm Smith: Noah Balta.

Greg Baum:

Winning form is good form. Geelong would have beaten Port Adelaide in the first final except for bad kicking at goal, and were utterly convincing beating Collingwood and Brisbane. There is a sense of mission about the Cats that not even Richmond’s swarms might be able to resist.
Geelong by 13 points.
Norm Smith: Joel Selwood.

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Geelong AFL grand final player penpix


PENPIX OF GEELONG’S TEAM FOR THE AFL GRAND FINAL.

BACK LINE

24. Jed Bews

Age: 26. Games: 102. Goals: 12. Finals: 11

Worked hard to nail down his spot this year after injuries ruined most of his 2019 season.

7. Harry Taylor

Age: 34. Games: 279. Goals: 75. Finals: 30.

In what could be his last game, Taylor is the only member of Geelong’s back six to have played in a grand final – and he’s featured in four of them.

8. Jake Kolodjashnij

Age: 25. Games: 109. Goals: 0. Finals: 12

Will probably get the difficult job of shutting down Dustin Martin when the Richmond superstar pushes forward.

HALF-BACK LINE

25. Lachie Henderson

Age: 30. Games: 184. Goals: 114. Finals: 14

Was certain his career was over at the end of last year, but now gets to play in his first grand final nearing his 31st birthday.

46. Mark Blicavs

Age: 29. Games: 178. Goals: 39. Finals: 17

Spends time in the ruck as well as patrolling across centre-half-back. A nightmare for opposition to match-up on.

44. Tom Stewart

Age: 27. Games: 85. Goals: 3. Finals: 10

A ferocious competitor, Stewart is rarely beaten one-on-one and is one of the AFL’s premier defenders.

CENTRE LINE

22. Mitch Duncan

Age: 29. Games: 222. Goals: 158. Finals: 19

A young gun in Geelong’s last premiership in 2011, Duncan was outstanding in the Cats’ semi and preliminary-final triumphs.

14. Joel Selwood

Age: 32. Games: 309. Goals: 162. Finals: 33

Had finger surgery after the qualifying final, but nothing will stop Geelong’s warrior leading his team out in his first grand final as captain.

27. Sam Menegola

Age: 28. Games: 85. Goals: 62. Finals: 12

The dashing wingman has been a revelation this season and was unlucky not to be an All-Australian.

HALF-FORWARD LINE

40. Luke Dahlhaus

Age: 28. Games: 193. Goals: 131. Finals: 11

Second grand final after playing in the Western Bulldogs’ 2016 premiership.

23. Gary Rohan

Age: 29. Games: 143. Goals: 143. Finals: 19

Shook off his disappointing finals record with three vital goals in the preliminary final.

32. Gryan Miers

Age: 21. Games: 45. Goals: 46. Finals: 6

Youngest member of a veteran team who knows where the goals are.

FORWARD LINE

4. Gary Ablett

Age: 36. Games: 356. Goals: 445. Finals: 24

One of the all-time greats is attempting to finish his glorious career with a third premiership. Terrific preliminary final against the Brisbane Lions.

26. Tom Hawkins

Age: 32. Games: 276. Goals: 602. Finals: 25

Fourteen seasons in and the imposing power forward is in career-best form. Even the Tigers’ outstanding defence will have trouble handling him.

42. Mark O’Connor

Age: 23. Games: 50. Goals: 3. Finals: 7.

The Irishman has failed to be overawed in finals and is dependable as they come.

FOLLOWERS

1. Rhys Stanley

Age: 29. Games: 143. Goals: 94. Finals: 9

A mobile ruckman who can push forward and kick goals.

35. Patrick Dangerfield

Age: 30. Games: 268. Goals: 299. Finals: 19

One of the great finals players of the modern era gets his opportunity to shine in the first decider of his career.

29. Cameron Guthrie

Age: 28. Games: 181. Goals: 58. Finals: 14

An All-Australian this year, the no-fuss onballer is an underrated gem in a star-studded midfield.

INTERCHANGE

38. Jack Henry

Age: 22. Games: 65. Goals: 9. Finals: 7.

Made up for a shaky start in the preliminary final by pushing forward to boot a late goal.

2. Zach Tuohy

Age: 30. Games: 204. Goals: 67. Finals: 13

The long-kicking Irishman is a threat no matter where he is on the ground. He has slotted a goal in all three finals this year.

3. Brandan Parfitt

Age: 22. Games: 71. Goals: 33. Finals: 10

The young midfield bull is rated highly at Geelong despite rarely receiving many accolades outside of the club.

37. Sam Simpson

Age: 22. Games: 14. Goals: 6. Finals: 2

Two solid performances after being recalled for the Cats’ semi-final against Collingwood.

EMERGENCIES

30. Tom Atkins

Age: 25. Games: 35. Goals: 9. Finals: 4

A casualty of Geelong’s qualifying-final loss, Atkins is likely to be the first one in if a midfielder suffers a late injury.

39. Zach Guthrie

Age: 22. Games: 20. Goals: 2. Finals: 2

Would be one of the great selection shocks if the defender comes in after just three games this season.

17. Esava Ratugolea

Age: 22. Games: 40. Goals: 27. Finals: 3

The forward-ruck has been overlooked since the home-and-away season ended.

45. Brad Close

Age: 22. Games: 8. Goals: 2. Finals: 0

The forward has impressed in his first season with the Cats but hasn’t played since round 17.





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Richmond and Geelong name unchanged teams for AFL grand final, Damien Hardwick and Chris Scott look back at 2020 season


On the eve of the AFL grand final, coaches of both participating teams have taken time to reflect on an incredible 2020 season.

Both the Tigers and Cats had the luxury of naming unchanged teams into the grand final, sticking with the same line-ups that brought them success in last weekend’s preliminary finals.

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick and Geelong coach Chris Scott have both seen their teams face unique challenges on and off the field this year, including having to spend months away from home in AFL hubs.

Hardwick says he never doubted his club’s culture during a rocky campaign that has left them one win away from a third AFL premiership in four seasons.

The Tigers endured one of the biggest scandals of the 2020 season when young players Sydney Stack and Callum Coleman-Jones were banished from Queensland in disgrace last month for breaking return-to-play protocols.

Further hurdles included allegations of inappropriate touching among teammates during the post-win song, staging controversies involving Dylan Grimes and Nick Vlastuin, who were both cleared, and heat on Tom Lynch for a series of incidents that brought about match review officer scrutiny.

But the Tigers have held up on-field and find themselves narrow favourites to beat Geelong in the two sides’ first grand final meeting in more than half a century.

“The one thing we pride ourselves on is our culture and how we cope as an organisation,” Hardwick said.

“The one thing you can always say is your organisation is really defined by those bumps.

“It’s easy when the road is smooth and you can just sit there above the water, but you learn a lot about yourself and a lot about your people when times are tough.

“We went to work, we were disappointed, we accepted responsibility, but we learnt from it along the way.”

Richmond captain Trent Cotchin and Geelong captain Joel Selwood with the premiership cup.(AAP: Darren England)

Both Richmond and Geelong have spent well over 100 days based in interstate hubs to complete the season in the face of unprecedented challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Cats left Victoria for Sydney in July before a three-week stint in Perth on the way to Queensland, where they have been based on the Gold Coast.

Several Geelong and Richmond players with families are sharing accommodation at Royal Pines, while the bulk of their travelling parties are based in separate hubs a few kilometres away.

“It was very, very difficult to predict when we jumped on a plane for Sydney over 100 days ago that we were still going to be away from home in time for the grand final,” Cats coach Chris Scott said.

“The teams and the players and the people that have just put one step in front of the other, have tended to be the ones that have sort of kept everything in perspective the best.”

Richmond were due to travel to Brisbane on Friday night as they treat the grand final as an away match, while Geelong will make the one-hour journey on game day.

ABC/AAP



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NRL 2020: Storm vs Panthers grand final, Cameron Smith retirement decision, Ryan Hoffman


Melbourne Storm legend Ryan Hoffman has hit back at constant speculation surrounding Cameron Smith and a decision on his future, while also revealing his “biggest fear” for the 37-year-old.

Hoffman, an operations manager with the Storm after playing 265 games for the club, took a swipe at “disappointing” coverage of Melbourne’s skipper.

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“He only listens to people that have value and credibility in our game,” Hoffman told NRL Tonight on Friday.

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AFL Grand Final 2020 | Trent Cotchin’s year of challenges and lessons


Cotchin has had a challenging year, on both a personal and team front, but it is a year that is concluding in another premiership opportunity. His team has had some issues – notably the Sydney Stack and Callum Coleman-Jones drama in Surfers’ Paradise, which Cotchin said offered a learning experience for the club.

‘‘I think when you’re always challenged as a group, and clearly there was a lot of people talking about what had happened with that situation, it was a public challenge that we faced,’’ Cotchin said of the kebab-shop incident that resulted in the pair being suspended and sent home.

‘‘What it does is encourage lots of great conversations that allow people to share how they feel.

‘‘As we’ve always said, our No.1 focus is to ensure that those two players receive the support and help that is required.’’

As captain, Cotchin seeks to balance pushing standards for the players with empathy.

‘‘I think you definitely have to have standards and values but I always try to treat every scenario with empathy,’’ he said.

Cotchin also had his own difficulties, when his wife Brooke’s sojourn to a beauty parlour resulted in the club copping a $25,000 fine for a COVID breach in Queensland as part of the draconian AFL rules for those in club hubs.

Cotchin, at first reluctant to discuss a situation that involved his wife, observed that it was not part of Brooke’s job to be in the spotlight like a footballer.

‘‘Yeah, it’s a challenge. It’s not her job to be put out in the public spotlight like we are as players.
‘‘So that was challenging but you know again we learned a lot through that with regards to our relationship but also the people who are always there for you.’’

Cotchin had also been among the players who had raised the possibility of leaving the hub, a fact that emerged in a comment from Jane Gale, the wife of Richmond’s chief executive.

‘‘It was more just about my family’s wellbeing, yeah,’’ said Cotchin of the ‘‘hub-aloo’’ that surfaced in August when the club was fined for Brooke’s beauty parlour trip.

‘‘I think every player that’s been in the hub has had times where they’ve been challenged, whether it be missing people from home or some of the restrictions – which is easy to say up here given what everyone’s been going through in Melbourne.’’

Cotchin’s three young children, including his school-aged six-year-old daughter, have been in the hub for 100-plus days, a situation that he found both ‘‘amazing’’ in terms of life lessons, but also challenging.

The AFL provided his daughter with teaching support that helped cover for not being at school, as it did for others within the Royal Pines resort on the Gold Coast.

‘‘The AFL provided a program which made a big difference and the club have been supportive as well.

‘‘There was quite a few families, whether they were from other clubs or AFL that were staying there.

‘‘Yeah, the people that have been looking after them have been fantastic.’’

Trent Cotchin.Credit:Getty Images

Cotchin agreed that the hubs were not a natural environment – ‘‘no, definitely not’’ – but says it was also a treasured experience that he and his family will not forget.

‘‘It’s certainly something that I think we’ll reflect on for years to come … you know, having the kids around and for the boys and Brooke, for that matter, just to get to experience what I get to experience every day back in Melbourne has been special and unique and has given them a total appreciation of, you know, what footy clubs are about, particularly our footy club.

‘‘Just some of the life lessons that they’ve learned just from spending time with guys, whether it’s out on the pitch out here or playing card games and so forth.

‘‘They’re all experiences that they probably wouldn’t have got, certainly not the age of six, four and one.

‘‘Yeah, we’re incredibly grateful for being part of this journey with them.’’

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan spoke with Cotchin a couple of times, just to encourage him, as with other captains, to do all that he could to keep the season going.

Did Cotchin think the season, about to be completed, would actually cross the finish line, as it will on Saturday night at the Gabba.

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‘‘To be honest, I had no idea. Once we got up here it seemed as though things were going pretty well but there was definitely times where I think the AFL was fearful.’’

Richmond’s aggression in games has been another discussion point this season, but Cotchin did not view it as an issue.

‘‘No, I think aggression’s a part of our make-up, just with the way, you know, we like to pressure the ball.’’

He felt his own hard-edged play, which has been evident for some years, was ‘‘just part and parcel’’ of playing footy.

‘‘I think we let ourselves down a little bit in the first final, just with regards to the 50 metres.’’
While the Tigers have been seen as the benchmark and even cast as the overdogs, compared to 2017’s insurgency and romance, Cotchin says they remain a team that hunts.

‘‘I think the way we play footy is very much about the hunting. I think that’s a core part of what we do as a team. ‘‘You know, we try to remain hungry and do our best every week.’’

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