Marlion Pickett with the 2019 Grand Final cup. Picture: AFL Photos

DAMIEN Hardwick was driving out of Ikon Park after the VFL Grand Final when he turned to Adam Kingsley in the passenger's seat of his car and raised the idea that had been bubbling away in his mind.

"I said to him, 'do you think Marlion could play in an AFL Grand Final in six days' time?' I reckon his jaw dropped, but that's where it all started."


Four months earlier, Marlion Pickett wasn't even on an AFL list. At that point, as Hardwick drove home alongside his midfield coach Kingsley, the 27-year-old had never played an AFL game.

However, that one question sparked one of the greatest stories in the League's long and illustrious history.

Here is how Pickett's remarkable Grand Final week unfolded.


Hardwick had set the pecking order, just in case.

Despite knowing Jack Graham would give his all to play in the season decider against the Giants, just a week after dislocating his shoulder attempting to tackle Tom Atkins in the preliminary final, the contingency plans had already been put in place.

Nathan Broad, who had suffered a concussion in the preliminary final, was another worry for Hardwick. However, undoubtedly, Graham was the biggest concern.

Nathan Broad is helped from the ground by trainers during the preliminary final between Richmond and Geelong. Picture: Getty Images

What happened if he didn't get up? Who would take his spot in the side? The Richmond coach got to work on ranking his deputies.

Kamdyn McIntosh and Jack Ross were tied in prime position. Both had played key roles throughout the season and appeared the most likely to step in. As a result, they would be pulled from Richmond's VFL Grand Final on the Sunday afternoon as a precaution.

Sydney Stack had been a revelation since joining the club on the eve of the season and was a genuine NAB AFL Rising Star contender after playing 17 games that year. However, still recovering from a syndesmosis injury, he was placed behind McIntosh and Ross in third.

Pickett was way back in the queue. In fact, he wasn't just fourth. In Hardwick's words, he was "a distant fourth".

"Then the VFL Grand Final happened," Hardwick told

Marlion Pickett in the thick of it during the 2019 VFL Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

After arriving at the club in May as a NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft recruit with a broken finger, the VFL Grand Final was only Pickett's sixth game in Richmond colours.

It was also his best.

He finished with 20 disposals, nine tackles and a goal to claim the Norm Goss Medal for best on ground, helping the Tigers to a thrilling three-point victory over Williamstown.

Marlion Pickett with his best-on-ground medal after the 2019 VFL Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

"Marlion just kept playing and he kept doing things that good players do," Hardwick said.

"You found yourself looking at him and he just put someone in space or he just did something that was quite special and you think, 'that's the difference between an AFL player and a VFL player'. He would do things that were AFL quality.

"That's when it really started to become evident that he could play."

But while McIntosh and Ross didn't have the opportunity to press their claims that afternoon, Stack's bid for a spot in the team was almost the polar opposite to Pickett's.

Playing just his second game in six weeks due to a syndesmosis injury sustained in August, the club's pre-season Supplemental Selection Period (SSP) signing struggled with the tempo of the match.

"Sydney just didn't look right," Hardwick said.

Sydney Stack in action during the 2019 VFL Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

"He didn't play as well as I would've liked. I'm a big Sydney Stack fan and I love what he can bring to the game, but he was still hobbling and didn't look fit enough.

"We put a line through him at half-time."


Hardwick had put the thought into Kingsley's mind.

Now, he just had to convince everyone else at Richmond that it was the right decision.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Tigers issued a press release officially ruling Graham out of the Grand Final. Like they had predicted, the tough onballer had given his all to be declared fit to play, but the clock had run out on his premiership dream.

By that night, with a decision on Graham confirmed, Hardwick was certain he wanted Pickett to play. However, he expected a few others to be harder to win over.

Jack Graham gestures to fans during a training session ahead of the 2019 Grand Final. Picture: Getty Images

McIntosh, Ross and even Stack were supposed to be ahead of Pickett. But not for long.

Members of the Richmond match committee had every right to be sceptical – after all, no player had debuted in an AFL/VFL Grand Final since Collingwood's Keith Batchelor in 1952.

Pickett would be a 67-year first.

So began the 36-hour process to get the uncapped Pickett into the club's Grand Final team.

"I probably knew in my own head on the Tuesday night," Hardwick said.

"But what people don't realise is that while the senior coach is a prominent figure in the football department, there are a lot of other people that have an incredible say and who are really important to how we operate.


"I, personally, was thinking that I was playing him. But then I had to make sure that everyone was on the same page from a buy-in point of view. It's a collective decision.

"I'll always probably have the final say, if that makes sense, but I love our people to know that they're part of the decision-making process.

"It took a little bit of time. I reckon 80 percent of our match committee were saying he was playing. Then there were 20 percent who will always ask the questions: 'What about this guy? Can he do the job better?' That was a challenge for us."

Ultimately, Pickett's place in the side wouldn't be validated by all of the relevant parties until Thursday morning. A few hours after that, the classy midfielder was officially told he would be playing in the game's showpiece event.

The rest is, literally, history.

Marlion Pickett with Sydney Stack during the Grand Final Parade. Picture: AFL Photos

Six days after winning a VFL premiership, Pickett played his first ever AFL game on the biggest stage of all in front of 100,014 people.

He won 22 disposals, had eight inside 50s, nine score involvements and kicked a maiden League goal that will never be forgotten. He also polled four votes in the Norm Smith Medal count, receiving votes from three of the five judges.

His blind turn into space out of the centre, sparking a run of nine consecutive Richmond goals on either side of half-time, is now widely considered the moment the Grand Final was won.

One game, one flag. It's not a bad record. 

Once again, Marlion gets a lot of credit for his game – as he should. But there are people such as Kamdyn, Jack Graham and Jack Ross who fulfilled their role in the bargain as well

- Damien Hardwick


While the footy world couldn't get enough of Pickett's remarkable journey, for every good news story during Grand Final week there is inevitably another hard-luck angle attached to it.

Graham, despite his bravery the week before, was one of them. McIntosh and Ross, who would miss the chance to play in both the VFL and AFL Grand Finals as a result of the situation, were the others.

McIntosh had played 16 senior games for the Tigers throughout the season and had proved a key member of the team that helped the club claim its drought-breaking flag in 2017.

Ross, the younger of the two, had still broken through for seven AFL games that year and had played an important part in a team decimated by injury earlier in the campaign.

Knowing the crucial roles they could play in the week ahead, Hardwick opted to sit both of them down as early as possible to break the news – holding the conversation on the Saturday morning after the preliminary final.

"It was really tough," Hardwick said.

"I just said I had some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that you won't be playing in the VFL Grand Final because we have two injuries in Jack Graham and Nathan Broad. The good news is that you might be playing in an AFL Grand Final.

"I said I couldn't guarantee they would, but that there was a possibility they would."

Were they disappointed? Of course they were. Everyone wants to play in a Grand Final, no matter what the level

- Damien Hardwick

Broad, who finished the preliminary final victory over Geelong on the bench due to concussion, was declared fit to play early the next week. It automatically meant heartbreak for at least one of McIntosh or Ross.

When the decision was made that Pickett would play, the unlucky fate of both players was confirmed.

"Both of those boys, to their credit, understood completely," Hardwick said.

"Even to this day, they don't hold any grudges and they completely understand the decision we made. Were they disappointed? Of course they were. Everyone wants to play in a Grand Final, no matter what the level. But the fact of the matter is they're Richmond people.

"They took it on the chin and they did what was best for the side."


Hardwick dates it back to the Chris Newman days.

But his leadership group last season – led by captain Trent Cotchin and vice-skippers Jack Riewoldt and Alex Rance – have grabbed the tradition of being a 'Richmond person', evolved it and made it theirs.

The idea of being a 'Richmond person', of putting the club before any individual, was something these leaders – and indeed every member of the club's premiership sides of 2017 and 2019 – holds incredibly dear.

McIntosh and Ross, in this instance, embodied that.

"This is what Richmond people do … this is who they are and this is what they do," Hardwick said.

"It's become really important to the existence of our football club. Where it's grown … it's not only our football department, it's our whole club in general. It's started to become this Richmond people mentality.

"Once again, Marlion gets a lot of credit for his game – as he should. But there are people such as Kamdyn, Jack Graham and Jack Ross who fulfilled their role in the bargain as well."

Had it not been for the selflessness of those Richmond players throughout the season – and, in particular, McIntosh and Ross in Grand Final week – Hardwick is unsure whether the end result would have been a second flag in three years.

 "Those sorts of things are what makes footy clubs," Hardwick said.

"I don't want to say this flippantly, but most clubs from a talent point of view … there's not a lot that separates first from twelfth or thirteenth. But there are things in footy clubs that become special.

"We've managed to grasp something that I feel has made our boys the side they are. Don't get me wrong, they're talented. But they've also got something that is theirs and it's unique to them.

"Sides will try to replicate that and try to be the same, but it's what they've become that is really important. That's what makes them a great side and it's what makes them great to coach as well."