By Jarryd Barca
From John Foord Oval to the MCG, Richmond’s most recent AFL debutant got the surprise of his life when the AFL’s most recent premiership coach gave him a call that ended in tears.
A former Corowa Rutherglen Roo, Ryan Garthwaite’s childhood dream was realised when ‘Dimma’ (Richmond coach Damien Hardwick) rang him just 24 hours out from the Tigers’ clash with Geelong at the MCG in Round 13.
When asked what the feeling was like stepping onto the colosseum-like stadium, just one word was stuck to the 19-year-old’s mind, “surreal”.
“It’s honestly stuff you dream about when you’re a little kid. When the call came through I shed a few tears, but quickly got myself back together,”Garthwaite told The Free Press.
“My family just packed their bags straight away and came down because it was such late news, they weren’t originally coming down for the weekend.
“Running out onto the MCG was a dream come true, every week as a youngster and now you watch footballers run out there, the boys I’m playing with now and against, I was watching them as a little tacker as well. Running out there was an amazing feeling.”
It’s fair to say the Tigers have high hopes for the former Yarrawonga, Wahgunyah and Lavington junior, instantly throwing him into the deep end to play alongside Geelong spearhead Tom Hawkins.
The Cats premiership forward is one of the strongest players in the game and had booted 460 goals from 221 career outings, compared to Garthwaite’s zero.
But it was a ‘challenge accepted’ feeling when the former Murray Bushranger found out who he’d be lining up on in Richmond’s line meeting.
“I just saw it as another opportunity to improve and get better, obviously he’s a great player and we all know that he’s a premier forward of the comp. He’s a big boy,” Garthwaite said.
“The way we play at Richmond, it’s a real team defence so we have our man who we start on but for the majority of the time we’re really shifting around and helping each other out, that’s the way we want to play.
Hawkins was prominent early, scoring two goals in the opening quarter before Garthwaite was able to nullify him and contribute to Richmond’s tight win.
“I was trying to play him my way, trying to take his strengths away from him. He kicked two goals in the first, but that was a bit of me getting too high up the ground and not covering the back spaces a little bit, I learned from that quickly at quarter time,” Garthwaite said.
Albeit being the only Tiger to register a 100 per cent disposal efficiency for the entire match, a major sign of things to come and highlight of Garthwaite’s game came in the second quarter, when he made a desperate lunge to smother the ball off Geelong forward James Parson’s foot.
What would have been a certain goal to the Cats, Garthwaite said it’s an act that came instinctively and is well celebrated at Richmond.
“I got a nice push from Rancey (Alex Rance) in the back which propelled me onto the ball nicely,” he said with a laugh.
“I think that’s a big part of my game, I’m a competitive person in general and on the field I try to use that as one of my strengths.
“At Richmond as well we really celebrate the one-percenters, the little finger tips and smothers and things like that, it’s what we’re really big on. With our team defence style as well, it’s all ingrained in us.”
Garthwaite was drafted with pick number 72 in the 2016 AFL National Draft and has spent the vast majority of his time on Richmond’s list producing strong VFL performances.
Despite having to endure a full season and a half of VFL football, Garthwaite’s previous exposure lining up on bigger bodies held him in good stead for his first senior AFL game.
“Making my debut for the Corowa Rutherglen seniors at the age of 15 was a great experience, I remember lining up on Setanta O’halpin and a few boys like that, and at a young age it’s good to and couldn’t have hurt to have that exposure and experience under my belt,” Garthwaite said.
“We train every week together so I’m training with Alex Rance, David Astbury and Dylan Grimes and then playing on Jacob Townsend and Jack Riewoldt so I’m learning so much every day and just know how to play on different opponents. I’m continuously learning which I’m loving.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Alex, David and Dylan, they’ve been fantastic teachers for me and really good mates.”
When reflecting on the routine Gatorade shower a player often cops after his first game, win or milestone, Garthwaite couldn’t speak highly enough of the culture at Punt Road.
“We all want to be around each other, and we’re all connected, which is a big word with us,” he said.
“We want to know each other on and off the field and I think that connection off the field also translates to game day.
“Everyone is so close, you know to just play your role and we all love each other at the end of the day so it’s good that we’re all teammates.”
Ryan’s father, Rod, couldn’t be prouder of his son, praising the perseverance of the young defender.
“It was an extremely proud time of my life,” he said.
“He’s always had big aims and great ideas of making big heights, and to see that come to fruition was amazing, I had a tear in my eye, I don’t cry much, but I certainly had a tear in my eye.
“We’re proud because he’s always had a great will to make the grade and now he’s done it.”
Richmond prevailed in the match, breaking away late from Geelong to win by 18 points and solidify its spot on top of the AFL ladder.
The Tigers will host the Swans tomorrow night in a Thursday night blockbuster at Etihad Stadium.