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Captain Cotch — a focused and selfless leader

When Trent Cotchin was drafted to Richmond in 2007, he lived with club captain, Kane Johnson, but that wasn’t the first time the pair met, with their history dating back to a 15-year-old Cotchin. In an exclusive column, Johnson shares his earliest memories with the Richmond’s skipper after he was voted by his peers as the AFL Players’ Association’s Best Captain, presented by the Vintage Football Jumper Company.

What makes a great captain? It is a question that I was asked the other day, and one that can be difficult to answer succinctly, because there are so many facets.

Clearly, you have to be able to play the game consistently at a high level, be courageous, live the team values, be accountable, and be fair.

But you also have to say what is needed to be said at the right times, you need to ensure the playing group are right behind the vision and that everyone is connected.

Throughout my playing time, I played under some great leaders in Mark Ricciuto, Mark Bickley and Wayne Campbell. They were all hardball players who were committed to the contest, played well in big games, were well spoken in how they presented information to the group, and were elite with everything they did.

When you look at Trent Cotchin, he encapsulates that, and he did so from a young age.

I remember he came on a pre-season camp with us as a 15-year-old and he won a fair few of the competitions that we had, and I thought, ‘Who is this kid? Where has he come from?’ He was only 15 and he was beating us in a lot of the short sprints and the things we were doing on that camp.

Everyone knew that he was going to be something special and that he was different to most kids.

Trent has always been very mature for his age, and when we first met him as a 15-year-old, he could have been 25 given the way he presented himself. He was very poised, very balanced and very well spoken.

Sure, he was shy and reserved, but there was a confidence there at the same time. Straight away, you could tell he was a natural and someone who knew what they wanted out of life and football.

From an early stage, it was apparent that he was committed to his cause and there was no swaying him. His values were set very early in life — to build a football career and to build a family.

He has been successful in both.

When he was drafted in 2007, he moved in with me and had many injury issues to deal with as well as being out of home for the first time.

His Achilles was consistently breaking down on him, so he was going through challenges physically to get himself up on the field, and mentally to cope with the frustration of not being able to prove himself after being the second selection in the draft.

Despite dealing with so much so early in his career, he was always great to be around. Something that stood out was that he was already settled in the elite athlete life and not chasing nights out, rather keeping things simple while remaining concentrated on being the best footballer he could be.

Trent was always open to learning about the game and asking questions. He wanted to learn about what it took to get to the top, and not just in football but also in life, which led to us having some great conversations.

I would describe him as a life learner, which is a real credit to him and makes him the holistic person and captain that he is. He was always looking to improve and be the best version of himself.

Sometimes that meant that he put too much pressure on himself with perfection being the only option, but that’s who he was and I know he has gone through a lot of inner work to become more vulnerable in his life and with his teammates, which has transformed him into where he is today.

When he was named captain at the end of 2012, he was just a 22-year-old, which is quite young to have the weight of expectation that is associated with leading a club that hadn’t had a lot of success over a long time. However, if anyone could have been captain at that point, it was Trent Cotchin.

It took him a few years to grow into the role, and along with everyone at the club they have developed amazingly well together.

Early on, most people knew that he was a potential captain, but like anyone, you need to grow and learn to fulfill the potential that everyone sees.

Some of the scrutiny a few years back was taken out of proportion, but unfortunately, that is the norm when a club is under pressure. Conversely, when you become successful you’re viewed as a superhuman and put on a pedestal. Sometimes more balance is needed when judging our star players.

The way Trent has played this year and last year has been remarkable. He has stood up in the big moments.

I remember watching the finals in 2017 and his attack on the ball was first class, and that is the sign of a great leader. When the ball is there to be won in the big games, you need to set the standard and he did that. I have noticed a real shift in him in that sense and the rest of the group have followed.

To see where he was a few seasons ago, to where he is now, I am so happy for him and for the football club. Being there during a difficult period, I have seen the struggle, and to come out the other side and have the ultimate success is a credit to Trent and everyone involved.

He’ll be tremendously satisfied with this accolade, too. Knowing that his peers have recognised him as the best leader in the game is one of the highest honours bestowed on a footballer.