Phenom, Disappointment, Inspiration: The Many Lives of Trent Cotchin

Trent Cotchin has already lived more football lives than seems healthy or reasonable. Initially, he was the saviour, a young phenom tasked with piecing a broken club back together. Early Cotchin was majestic, an athletic force of pace, agility and supreme balance. He did things in tight spaces that only Gary Ablett Jr could replicate.

But then his body started to abandon him at just 23, degenerate knees sapping his otherworldly quickness, transforming him into a depressingly earthbound player. An age of disappointment followed. The statistical output remained solid, but the magic was dead. He was just a midfielder now, devoid of anything enchanted.

The jokes started. He became an easy target, a captain of a massive club who wasn’t a superstar. Nick Maxwell in the middle of the ground, with more pedigree but no premiership. He opted to kick into the wind against Port Adelaide and had nine touches against North Melbourne. His hair is an odd rhombus and he looks like something between a pen salesman and a well-dressed waiter, a loose white shirt, tired smile and broom away from being the kid in American Beauty, after the party.

His football career looked like leaking away at the end of 2016. Richmond missed the finals in inglorious fashion and Cotchin’s impact and influence on matches were decaying, despite accumulating as much of the ball as ever.

2017, though, has been an unlikely rebirth, for a team and its captain. The 2016 Tigers were a group oddly absent an identity – a few excellent players playing alongside a large number of not excellent players. There was no cohesion, no vitality. This year, though, the team is defined by being the most cohesive in the game – the most alive as well.

Cotchin has been the architect of that life. And he orchestrates it by ending the lives of his opponents. From exquisite phenom to weary disappointment, we have now entered the new phase of Trent Cotchin as Maniac and Bad Man.

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Cotchin has played the year with infectious fury. He is relentless and devastating, a more presentable Glenn Archer thrown into the midfield. He scampers around the ground with magnetic violence, chasing with intent, punishing without compassion. His raw accumulation of the ball hasn’t been this low since he was a teenager, but his influence has perhaps never been greater. His tackles are at a career-high, and so, marvellously, are his free kicks against. A player who was prone to anonymity is now one of the most emphatically present in the game. He’s become Richmond’s tone-setter, a player who, despite the presence of arguably two of the five best players in the game elsewhere on the list, is more integral to the identity of the Tigers than anyone else.

The pen salesman is dead. A force is in its place. Cotchin’s menace, his pressure and tenacity, set Geelong and GWS alight. His speed will never be the same but he’s playing at greater pace than ever before, a rollicking fireball that builds momentum until it finds someone or something to charge through, be it an opponent or an open goal, as was the case with that extra-terrestrial gather and finish in the final quarter against the Cats.

Dustin Martin is Richmond’s best player and Alex Rance is arguably their most valuable. But Cotchin is their most inspirational, and a recipe for triumphing against the Crows begins with him, at the first centre bounce, blood in his eyes, verve in his step once again.