By: Dan Campbell nfl.org.au
LACHIE Richardson first walked through the doors at Eltham Senior Football Club in 1998 as a fresh-faced 18-year-old.
This weekend, some 18 years later, Richardson plays his 250th game, with the milestone to add to an already illustrious football CV that includes two premierships, three best and fairests, life membership and club captaincy.
On Richardson’s arrival in 1998, the Panthers were the reigning Division 2 premiers, with a host of stars in the line-up.
It wouldn’t be long before Richardson would stake his claim as a future leader in an already great side, and all-time great of the Eltham Football Club.
At just 20 years of age in 2000, Richardson would be part of Eltham’s Division 2 premiership win against red-hot favourite, Watsonia.
“There were a lot of really good Division 2 players in that team – a lot of blokes we could really look up to. It was just awesome to be a part of it,” Richardson told NFL.org.au this week.
“For me, the ultimate success would be a divvy one flag, but nonetheless it’s great to win the Division 2 flags, and they’re a lot of fun when you do win them.”
Two years later, the still-young Richardson, at 22, was bestowed with the Eltham co-captaincy with Craig McKay.
Richardson saw an opportunity to lead the club through sheer hard work and determination, where he would hold the captaincy for the next eight years.
“We went up to Division 1 in 2001 and didn’t win a game. We went back to Division 2 (and) a few of the boys who were the leaders of the club like Mark Minney, Steven Kilby, Lucas Paul didn’t want to take up the captaincy in 2002,” Richardson said.
“There was an obvious gap and a need for a few of the young blokes to come through and put up their hands for leadership.
“Over that pre-season I put my head down and had a really good pre-season. The coaches were kind enough to give me a look-in. That was my first stint in a leadership position in 2002, and held onto it for eight years.
“In 2009, I handed over the captaincy, because I just wanted to enjoy my last two years and those two years have gone on a lot longer than I expected.”
Richardson would not only captain the club at 22 years of age, but would become a premiership captain as the Panthers went on to defeat Mernda by 22 points in the grand final to claim the 2002 flag.
Choosing between the two premierships is a tough ask for Richardson, although one does stand out over the other.
“In 2000, Watsonia was probably favourite and we knocked them off, (but) 2002 probably does stand out above the other, purely because in one of the semis against Mernda, they flogged us by ten goals,” he said.
“We had to do it the hard way, and then we met them again in the grand final and they were obviously favourites by a long shot because they’d beat us by 10 goals earlier in the finals series. That one stands out for me.”
Lachie Richardson has never been about self or individual honours, however three club best and fairests in 2000, 2002, and 2012 are a true testament to the player and leader he has been over the past 18 years.
And to win the best and fairest award in a premiership year is said to be one of the great individual honours in football. Richardson has achieved that honour – twice.
“Winning them in a premiership year definitely stands out,” Richardson said.
“But I won one in 2012, 10 years later, when I was 32. (That) does stand out, purely because it was in Division 1. It was nice to win one in Division 1, so that one means a lot.
“They’re individual awards and team success is what everyone plays for.”
Richardson believes his longevity in the game is due to his consistency each week over 18 years of senior footy.
“One thing I’ve tried to be is consistent,” he said.
“Some blokes are brilliant one week and you don’t see them the next. That’s what I’ve tried to base my game around, just being a consistent performer, week in, week out.”
Eltham has seen many great players pass through the doors in its 113-year history.
But since the late 1990s when Richardson burst onto the senior footy scene, two players stand out as the best he has played with.
“Mark Minney and Adam Contessa, those two have been the best,” he said.
“(But) in the later years, a bloke like Gav Connelly, it’s been awesome playing with him – he won three best and fairests in a row.”
Family and coaches past and present have been among the greatest influences of Lachie Richardson’s career.
“Family has definitely been a massive influence on my career,” Richardson said.
“I’ve got an older brother and a twin brother. (I played) plenty of footy with those blokes in the backyard (and) both played at Eltham – my twin (Tom) played 180 senior games. They were both big influences.
“From a coaching perspective, Phil Maylin who coached us for six years from 2003-2008, and Mario Bandera in the last three years as well.
“I was really close to retiring three years ago. (Mario) talked me around to playing another year and I’m still playing three years later. Mario has come in and been a positive influence.
“Each week now I just try and help contribute and hopefully provide a bit of experience for the young guys.”
At 36 years of age, Richardson believes 2016 may be the last season of his career.
“I think this’ll be the last year, (I’m) pretty sure of that, but you never say never,” he said.
“I’ve been saying that for the last three or four years. I’ve got a young family now but my wife’s very supportive of me playing.”
Richardson plays the milestone game when Eltham travels to Bill Lawry Oval to meet Northcote Park on Saturday.
A win would improve the Panthers’ standing to 6-4 and could propel them back into the top five as they aim for their second successive finals series, following last year’s third-place finish.