AS HE rested at the end of last season, rundown and a little unwell after the adrenaline wore off after another premiership campaign, Damien Hardwick turned to an unlikely source of inspiration as he flicked his mind onto 2021: Ozzy Osbourne.
The Richmond coach spends his summers engrossed in books, some related to sport and football, and others not. One on Hardwick's reading list after last year's commanding premiership win over Geelong was The Breaks of the Game, an insider's account of the Trail Blazers' NBA season 30 years ago.
That told the tale of how a championship side fell apart two years after its title, itself providing some lessons for the Tigers coach.
But another was Osbourne's autobiography, charting the ups and downs of the inimitable rock star, lead singer of heavy metal band Black Sabbath and original reality TV show icon. Hardwick was gifted the book by an Amazon crew member who tracked the Tigers' premiership campaign last year and it struck a chord.
THE DIMMA DEAL Why Hardwick doesn't want to do it like Matthews and Barassi
"There's this fascinating story about Ozzy being in this band and there was the lead guitarist (Tony Iommi) who was the superstar at what he did but they obviously at that stage had no money," Hardwick told AFL.com.au.
ABOVE: Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi and Ozzy Osbourne in 2004. Picture: Getty Images
"This guitarist was filling in for a sheet metal worker because he needed the money, and he took off the top of one of his strumming fingers. So the guy thought that he'd never play guitar again.
"But he was that determined to get back and play the guitar well that he ended up getting his mum's thimbles and refined a thimble over the course of a number of years to make sure he could get back to playing at his very best.
"It was a really good lesson for us that you need to consistently evolve. The game will challenge you in different ways."
>> LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW IN THE PODCAST BELOW
As for the other chapters? "A lot of Ozzy Osbourne's other stuff is probably not to be taken on board – I don't want my players to be reading his book, put it that way," Hardwick said.
Hardwick knows the Tigers need to keep evolving if they are to make (more) history under his watch.
After their drought-breaking 2017 premiership, and the following year's shock preliminary final exit, the Tigers have claimed back-to-back flags. Last year's, Hardwick said, was the sweetest, with Richmond bringing the 'COVID Cup' back to Victoria after more than 100 days on the road in Queensland, several off-field scandals and the pressures of the pandemic.
EYES ON THE PRIZE Off-field distractions 'no issues' for Cotch and Dimma
"It was probably the most satisfying, but it was also the most disappointing, in the fact that our family, our friends and our fans weren't there to be a part of what was I thought such a significant achievement," he said.
"I have still been screaming out to get down to Swan Street at some stage after we win a cup and take it down there, so hopefully there's one in the not too distant future to do it."
The late October finish to last season meant Hardwick didn't have long to bask in the glory. Two days after the comprehensive under lights win over Geelong at the Gabba, the Tigers did their exit meetings in their Gold Coast hub. After that it was straight into the Trade Period and then the NAB AFL Draft, and soon enough Hardwick was back at Punt Road in January.
On the first morning back he addressed the players about his marriage split with wife Danielle and new relationship with a member of the club's administration staff, a topic that has dominated headlines in recent weeks, filled press conferences involving leaders Trent Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt and that all are adamant will not become a distraction.
Now three weeks from Richmond's season-opening clash against Carlton, Hardwick is energised to do it all again.
"I take inspiration from other people who have done wonderful achievements, or businesses that have done wonderful things, and I've got to re-inspire myself first. Because the fact is us as coaches, as CEOs, as boards…our players reflect our energy," he said.
REAL AND ACTUALLY SCARY Why Dusty could be even better in 2021
"So if we come in lacking energy or enthusiasm or not being driven, our players are going to reflect us. We continually ask our players to improve – we've also got to improve."
Earlier this month the Tigers continued their trend of finding a theme for their season as they aim to become the first ever Richmond side to claim three flags in succession, although Hardwick's famed gift-giving (he has handed out presents such as T-shirts or vinyl records to each player weekly in recent years to align with the theme of the club) could be another casualty of the smaller football department soft cap.
"Dimmies is shut down, hasn't it? That will be a little bit challenging," Hardwick said.
The challenges were everywhere last year. The peak of those came when Sydney Stack and Callum Coleman-Jones were banned for 10 games and sent home from the hub after breaching COVID-19 protocols and being involved in an altercation on Gold Coast's night club strip in September. Hardwick admitted that the Tigers' brand had been tarnished.
"It was incredibly challenging for us because it didn't really reflect who we were. We're the first club to put up our hand and say 'We made mistakes'. There's no doubt about that. But the fact of the matter is what tends to happen is people start to make assertions that that is you and your brand. But that wasn't us," he said.
"(Philadelphia 76ers basketball coach) Doc Rivers every year, one of the great coaches, walks in and says, 'Guys, my name is Doc Rivers and I am human, I will make mistakes'. And that's us. But we felt it didn't define us. It brought us closer together as a group.
"So from every obstacle you can look at it one of two ways. It can be an obstacle or an opportunity, but we looked at it as an opportunity for us to galvanise and come together."
While Stack remains in Perth after spending Christmas in jail due to a COVID breach in his home state, Coleman-Jones is a big part of the Tigers' plans.
With Ivan Soldo out for most of the year with his knee reconstruction, Toby Nankervis will shoulder the ruck duties with Coleman-Jones, and first-year big man Samson Ryan, as back-ups. Hardwick has been "blown away" by the 207cm Ryan's development already, with the Queenslander among a troupe of young Tigers ready to step up.
Hugo Ralphsmith has bulked up – "Bigger body, bigger mullet," Hardwick said – and is being groomed as a potential replacement for Bachar Houli off half-back, while tall midfielder Riley Collier-Dawkins has refined his physique and added power as he searches for a debut in his third AFL season.
Thomson Dow impressed in the Tigers' intraclub on Saturday, Hardwick likes Jack Ross, and he's confident that the ball-carrying Patrick Naish can impact at the top level with his kicking. Then there's 'Biggie' Nyuon, a late draft pick from 2019 who has infinitely grown his game in the past 12 months and recently played on Jack Riewoldt in match simulation.
"He did a great job. He's incredibly athletic. He's dynamic in his movements, he reads the play well and we think he's got some upside," Hardwick said. "There's a lot of players I could name who I'm very excited about them playing some footy for us this year."
The familiar faces will lead the charge to extending Richmond's period of dominance, though, with Dustin Martin enjoying an "incredible" pre-season and Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt set for their third year spearheading the forward line. Noah Balta and Shai Bolton, two of the huge forces in last year's flag having emerged as young stars, are others ready to take their game up another notch.
"Our guys are incredibly driven," said Hardwick, who is out of contract at the end of this season but in talks for a multi-year extension.
"The biggest thing is we can sit there and talk about the possibility of winning three in a row, but the fact of the matter is that doesn't really help us."
Not that he hasn't thought about what it would mean to add a fourth premiership as coach (along with his two as a player with Essendon and Port Adelaide) to his CV.
It would rocket Hardwick into coaching's all-time elite, alongside Tom Hafey, Kevin Sheedy, Leigh Matthews and his former mentor Alastair Clarkson, with whom he started his coaching journey as an assistant at Hawthorn in 2005. Even if another premiership would mean it's Hardwick's shout at the pub.
"We always catch up at the end of the year and I've always made him (Clarkson), after he's won his flags, buy me the round of beers, so I've bought him the last couple which is good," Hardwick said.
"We consistently talk to our players to look forward and keep moving forward and as soon as you start to reflect on your plaudits and what you've actually achieved, that's when it's time to finish up.
"I'm very fortunate that our footy club is incredibly driven to move forward."