Joe Richards is tackled by Elijah Tsatas during the VFL R5 match between Collingwood and Essendon at Victoria Park on April 27, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

FORMER Ovens and Murray Football League star Joe Richards will complete a stellar rise from country football to the AFL when he makes his debut for Collingwood against West Coast on Sunday. 

The 24-year-old was recruited from the Wangaratta Magpies via pick No.48 in the 2022 AFL Draft, after winning a third best and fairest and second premiership. 

After playing 14 games in the VFL last year – his first season of state league football – Richards has been on the cusp of senior selection for the past month since slotting six goals against Brisbane on Good Friday, a week after kicking three against Sandringham.

But with Jamie Elliott officially ruled out on Friday morning, Richards will finally get his first opportunity at the highest level against the Eagles at Marvel Stadium. 

Collingwood will be forced to make four changes to the side that beat Carlton at the MCG last Friday night, with Brody Mihocek (hamstring), Beau McCreery (concussion) and Lachie Schultz (suspension) all unavailable for selection. 

It means for the second week in a row, the Magpies will hand a debut to a mature-age recruit who has been forced to do it the long way, after pre-season supplemental selection period signing Lachie Sullivan debuted against the Blues. 


Richards played for the Murray Bushrangers in 2017 but chose to return to his local club after not being drafted, where he quickly established himself as one of the best players in the powerful Ovens and Murray League. 

The former teacher's aide from Wangaratta District Specialist School moved to Melbourne at the start of 2020 to join Carlton's reserves, where Collingwood's head of development Josh Fraser was coaching at the time, but returned home when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the VFL season.

After starting his senior career as a forward – he kicked 11 goals in his third game at the age of 16 – Richards starred as a midfielder in 2022, but Collingwood recruiting boss Derek Hine picked him as a small forward after watching him play a handful of times that year. 

Joe Richards in action during a match simulation between Collingwood and North Melbourne at AIA Centre on February 21, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Richards played in a premiership under former Collingwood key defender Ben Reid that year, but the Ovens and Murray League stripped the club of the flag six months later after finding Wangaratta breached its salary cap. 

Reid, who played in Collingwood's 2010 Grand Final win over St Kilda, started fielding calls from recruiters halfway through that season and recognised recruiters watching on at games in the second half of the campaign. 

Nearly 10 clubs reached out to Richards or his management that year, before the Magpies swooped. Now the country star will get his first shot at the big time.