Richmond great Trent Cotchin has revealed how the marriage breakdown between Damien and Danielle Hardwick impacted his former club and his own relationship with the mastermind coach.
Hardwick’s marriage ended in 2020 during the chaos of COVID. It was also the year Richmond won back-to-back flags and their third premiership since 2017.
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It was, however, a stressful period for the entire AFL industry and clubs were forced into ‘hubs’ to complete the season.
The triple-premiership coach had been with Danielle for 30 years and she had become somewhat of a cult figure at the powerhouse club.
In fact, Danielle was given the credit for Marlion Pickett’s famous grand final debut in 2019, and Hardwick would regularly reference her when he was in playful moods during media conferences.
Damien Hardwick and former wife Danielle at the 2017 Brownlow Medal. Credit: Getty Images
Now, in his new book, From The Heart, Cotchin has admitted that the relationship breakdown did affect the team.
“Was it a distraction for the group? In my view, at times it was,” Cotchin wrote.
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“Did it impact my relationship with Dimma? I would say yes, at that point, 100 per cent.
“We had built this culture on a platform of family, connection and love – and Dimma and Danielle’s relationship had played a big part in all this – so it was only natural to be worried about the potential fallout.”
Before the 2021 pre-season kicked off in earnest, Cotchin had a frank conversation with Hardwick the day after Christmas.
“The first (reason for seeing him) was to check in on him to see if he was going OK – the upheaval in his life was enormous,” Cotchin said
“The second was in my capacity as captain, because I was concerned with how what was unfolding might impact the team.
Cotchin and Hardwick with the 2020 premiership cup. Credit: Getty Images
“I wanted an understanding of how Dimma was going to address the issue with our playing group, to ensure that it wasn’t going to be a distraction or wasn’t going to derail our premiership defence leading into the 2021 season.”
But it did.
In 2021 Richmond missed finals and slumped to twelfth. They returned to the finals in 2022 but were bumped out in the first week.
And then, half way through 2023, Hardwick shocked the AFL world by announcing he was standing down as Richmond’s coach.
“I still loved Dimma and still respected him as a coach,” Cotchin said.
“(But) I am not sure my relationship with him ever got back to the level it had been before.
“For whatever reason, there always seemed to be a bit of a barrier between us. Maybe it wasn’t just the captain and the coach; maybe it was emblematic of the group’s connection that season.
“We didn’t lose the plot in 2021 but if I reflect properly, there just wasn’t the same insane connection between the playing group that had been our suit of armour from 2017 to 2020.”
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