Trent Cotchin dispelled any lingering doubts about his ability to perform in AFL finals when he led Richmond to a stunning preliminary final win on Saturday.
The Tigers skipper was outstanding in the pulsating 15.13 (103) to 9.13 (67) win over Greater Western Sydney that set up a grand final clash against Adelaide – Richmond’s first since 1982.
Cotchin has carried the burden of two sub-par performances in losing elimination finals in 2014 and 2015.
But he was integral in the qualifying final win over Geelong and backed it up against the Giants in front of 94,258 fans at the MCG.
Emotional coach Damien Hardwick was glowing in his praise of Cotchin’s inspirational 26-possession, nine-tackle effort.
“I thought he was best-on-ground again … I thought he was outstanding,” he said.
“There were just a couple of contests where he shouldn’t have been anywhere near it and he either halved it or won it.
“I see a lot of things that others don’t but he’s an incredible player. He’s taken his game to a new level, which is hard to say when he’s a Brownlow medallist.
“I’m just so glad to have him with the way he leads our club. I get a bit emotional speaking about him really because of the way he plays.
“He’s been incredible this year.”
The coach would not be drawn on a first-quarter incident that could see Cotchin in trouble with the match review panel that left Dylan Shiel concussed.
The Tigers led by just one point after a torrid first half, but Hardwick was delighted with the increased intensity of his players after the main break.
Daniel Rioli and Dustin Martin were key factors in a telling six-goals-to-one third quarter burst, with Rioli kicking a career-high four goals.
“It was good for Daniel to get some reward on the scoreboard, but he’s a valuable player with his pressure and ability to turn the ball over in the forward half,” the coach said.
“(With Martin) I’ve got a chess piece there that I can move at various stages.
“I thought he was really important in the second half when we needed him to be a presence up forward.”
The Tigers won’t have any injury concerns ahead of the grand final after they escaped unscathed against the Giants.