NFNL cubs become Tiger legends

Published on Monday, September 30, 2019

Richmond’s 2019 premiership team featured seven players who played junior football with NFNL clubs.

The Tigers romped to victory in Saturday’s grand final – thrashing Greater Western Sydney by 89 points to claim their 12th AFL flag and second in three years.

Dual premiership skipper Trent Cotchin is among the group of Tigers who began their football journey in the NFNL, along with Josh Caddy, Dylan Grimes, Kane Lambert, Dion Prestia, Jayden Short and Nick Vlastuin.

Cotchin, Caddy, Grimes, Lambert, Prestia and Vlastuin were also part of the 2017 premiership side that handed Richmond its first flag since 1980, while Short lived out a redemption story on Saturday after watching on as an emergency two years ago.

Cotchin entrenched his place among Richmond’s all-time greats when he lifted the premiership cup with Damien Hardwick for the second time. In doing so, he became just the fourth player in the club’s history to win two premierships as captain.

The 2012 Brownlow medallist and three-time club best and fairest played junior football with West Preston-Lakeside and Reservoir, before moving on to Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School (PEGS).

Cotchin overcame persistent hamstring injuries throughout the year to lead the Tigers to victory on Saturday.

The skipper played a defensive role in the grand final, with the highlight of his 15 disposals being a long range goal to the Punt Rd end in the fourth quarter, which drew a massive roar from the Tiger Army.

2019 was a season to savour for Grimes, who also earned selection in the All Australian team for the first time in his career.

The versatile defender kept Coleman medallist Jeremy Cameron to just one goal in the grand final, in a match-up that proved crucial to the final result.

A product of Hurstbridge, Grimes played his 150th game in the preliminary final win over Geelong and this year elevated his game to a new level to cover the absence of injured full back Alex Rance.

The premiership triumph also capped a career-best season for Vlastuin in his seventh season at AFL level after being drafted from Eltham.

The courageous defender was a standout across half back right throughout 2019. He played all but one game and racked up a career-high 459 disposals. That included 22 disposals and 12 marks in the grand final.

For Caddy it was a second premiership triumph in three years after joining Richmond in 2017, following stints with Geelong and the Gold Coast Suns.

It was an extra special occasion for the former Eltham junior, who also celebrated his 27th birthday on grand final day.

Caddy spent time further up the field throughout the 2019 campaign after kicking 67 goals in his first two seasons at Richmond.

He was a key player in Saturday’s triumph and amassed 19 disposals and an equal team-high six tackles.

Prestia also claimed his second flag in just three seasons with Richmond after joining the club in 2017 following 95 games with the Gold Coast Suns.

The former West Lalor junior is a leading contender to take out the club’s best and fairest award, the Jack Dyer Medal.

The strong-bodied midfielder was one of just two Tigers to play every game this year and averaged 27 disposals per match.

He ranked No.1 at the club for tackles and contested possessions and was picked in the 40-man All Australian squad.

Lambert has proven to be one of the ultimate rookie success stories after forcing his way onto the Tigers list in 2015.

The ball magnet has finished in the top-three of the club’s best and fairest in each of the past two years and was again ultra consistent in 2019.

Lambert’s link to the NFNL extends back to 2011, where he spent the season with West Preston-Lakeside’s under-19 team.

After being forced to watch on from the sidelines in 2017, Short was able to add his name to the elusive list of AFL premiership players on Saturday.

Short overcame an early-season elbow injury, which sidelined him for close to three months, to work his way back into the senior team by Round 15.

He played each of the final 12 games of the year – all of which the Tigers won en route to their 12th premiership.

The rebounding defender played his junior football at Mill Park, before making two appearances for Bundoora’s under-19s during his time with the Northern Knights.

Despite not featuring in the grand final, an eighth former NFNL player also appeared for Richmond during the 2019 premiership campaign.

Derek Eggmolesse-Smith played two games late in the home and away season and was a member of the club’s VFL premiership team last week.

Eggmolesse-Smith was the club’s first-ever selection in the Next Generation Academy Program in 2018, after featuring for the Fitzroy Stars in 2017.

GWS also had two former NFNL players in their line-up, with Heath Shaw and Aidan Corr featuring in the Giants’ team for the club’s inaugural grand final appearance.

A former Diamond Creek junior, Shaw was one of the Giants’ best in defeat. The veteran defender accumulated 29 disposals, the second-highest tally of any player on the ground.

A premiership winner with Collingwood in 2010, it was Shaw’s fourth grand final appearance after playing in three grand finals for the Magpies.

The grand final was Corr’s 83rd game for the Giants after being recruited with pick 12 in the 2012 AFL Draft.

Corr played on star forward Tom Lynch in the grand final and managed to restrict the Tigers’ leading goal kicker to two majors in the heavy loss.

Picture courtesy of AFL Photos

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