RICHMOND and Carlton are two of the biggest clubs in the land and Bridgewater's Andrew Collins spent time at both during his AFL career.
In the next installment of the Time at the Top series, Collins reflects on his seven years in the AFL system at the Tigers and Blues, which yielded 36 games.
LUKE WEST: Andy, can you take us back to the Saturday in November of 2006 when you become a Tiger after Richmond selected you with pick No.73 in the National Draft. What do you remember of the day?
ANDREW COLLINS: "It was a listen-to-the-radio scenario back then and I had a bit of an inkling beforehand that I could have been off to Tigerland.
"As the draft was going on I was aware of all the picks Richmond had... Daniel Connors (Bendigo Pioneers team-mate) went to the Tigers at pick 58 and I thought, ripper, we might be a chance to join each other.
"Richmond then took Carl Peterson with its next pick and then they picked me at 73 and it was such a huge thrill, but it all happened really quickly and the next day I was off as a 17-year-old to start a new life."
Having been very much a country lad growing up on a farm in Bridgewater, how did you take to city life?
"Daniel and I moved straight into Shane Tuck's house in Abbotsford.
"Tucky and his wife Katherine had us for the first month or two and that's how our friendship and my great respect for Tucky came about because he looked after us really well when we first went down."
It must have been incredibly tough last month when you learned of Shane's passing.
"It was really hard to hear the news about Tucky. It has been real grief and hurt because there's just so much fondness when I think about what he did on the field and what he did off the field to help a lot of young players at Richmond. He was such a loved figure and it's an absolutely tragedy to lose him."
As well as Shane, did any other senior players in particular take you under their wing in those early days?
"It was a reasonably mixed group that got around a lot of players, but I can remember Kayne Pettifer and Will Thursfield coming around to Tucky's early to cook up a bit of fish they had caught for us.
"There was the connection with Nathan Brown being from Bendigo, so he looked after us a bit and had us around for dinner early and Nathan Foley was pivotal in my development and still remains a great friend to this day."
What were your early impressions of coach Terry Wallace?
"Plough was great for us early because everything we did, he'd give you a rating on so there was always a lot of feedback coming from Terry.
"I thought he was a really good coach. He didn't have the success he would have liked at Richmond, but he gave me my start and you can't help but think fondly of anyone who gives you a go in life.
"I learned a lot from Terry and really respect what he has to say in the media and the way he goes about it hasn't changed a lot from when he was coaching - he's clear on what has to be done."
Your debut didn't come until 2009. Can you talk us through how 2007 ad 2008 played out beforehand.
"I remember getting a game in the 2007 NAB Challenge where we played Sydney in Narrandera and the pre-season was going well.
"But then I started to develop a groin problem that needed surgery and I ended up missing all of 2007.
"I did my best to get back playing late in the year, but with an immature body I was getting sore all the time.
"I got back the next year and played a full season in the VFL with Coburg in 2008. I was emergency quite a few times in 2008 and nearly got a call-up against Hawthorn, but it never eventuated.
"Then in 2009 I was able to get into the side in round four and it went from there."
Do you remember much about being told you'd been picked to make your debut against Melbourne in that round four game at the MCG in 2009?
"I don't remember much about it, but I felt that I'd been getting closer, so I was probably hovering around the office a bit more hoping to get the call-up.
"I felt quite ready for it. I'd had a decent apprenticeship, got some hard training into my body over the years and kicked four goals in the VFL the week before, so I felt I was in good form."
It's a Sunday afternoon in front of a tick over 40,000 and both teams were chasing their first wins of the year. Did you start on the ground?
"I don't think I did... I remember running on and going straight through the centre square after a goal had been kicked and thinking that my feet weren't touching the ground.
"I saddled up next to Brent Moloney (playing his 73rd game for Melbourne) and it was a surreal moment.
"I was fortunate to kick a couple of goals that day and I have really fond memories of Richo (Matthew Richardson) having the last touch before the ball got down to me and playing a pretty selfless part in both those goals."
Tell us about your first AFL goal?
"It was from a set-shot. I wasn't far out, but I was on a bit of an angle and I remember there was a bit of a cross-breeze, so I had to aim it inside the post.
"I was a bit jittery, but I remember Plough saying afterwards that it showed good mental strength and concentration to be able to finish it off in my first game."
GAME NOTE - Collins had 20 disposals and kicked two goals in quick succession during the second quarter. Melbourne won 14.16 (100) to 13.14 (92).
"I remember Terry was under a lot of pressure and he didn't speak to us after the game. It was a strange feeling because I was rapt to have played a game of AFL footy and on cloud nine after kicking a couple of goals and getting a bit of the footy, but it was a bit sour as well because the mood around the club was quite tense."
I was rapt to have played a game of AFL footy and on cloud nine after kicking a couple of goals and getting a bit of the footy, but it was a bit sour as well because the mood around the club was quite tenseAndrew Collins on his AFL debut for Richmond in a loss to Melbourne
How big was the Bridgewater contingent at the 'G that day?
"There was a big group of friends and one of my grandfathers was there, which was really special.
"A lot of the guys who I later played in premierships at Bridgewater with were there that day."
Moving forward to next year to the game against Sydney at the MCG in round 14 of 2010 when you played a key role in the Tigers coming back from 33 points down in the third quarter to win.
You kicked three goals in the second half, but were also involved in a very nasty collision with one of the Swans. Tell us about that game.
"I felt I was playing some handy footy at that stage. I think I had kicked three goals three weeks in a row and was in good touch, but it just fell my way late that day against Sydney.
"I think it had been five years since we'd beaten Sydney and I was lucky enough after having a head-on with Sydney's Lewis Roberts-Thomson to kick a few goals late in the game and be influential in the win.
"But Jack Riewoldt was the star that day; he was becoming a champion and kicked five.
"It's a game that people still bring up, but I've got lots of other fond memories."
So at the end of 2010 you go from Richmond to Carlton in a trade. Why did that move come about?
"I was contracted for another year at Richmond. I had played 15 games in 2010 and finished second in the goalkicking behind Jack, so it had been a pretty good year.
"After that season Blair Hartley, who was doing the list management, was keen to get Shaun Grigg from Carlton into the club.
"Carlton was keen to get me and offered a three-year contract, so I had to weigh up whether it was best for me to stay at Richmond with another year left on my contact or take the three-year deal at Carlton.
"In hindsight, it's something I regret and I wish I had have stayed at Richmond, but at the time it was good financial security and Carlton was a reasonably good side at the time."
Fair to say it was a big game for you to make your Carlton debut in against Collingwood at the MCG on a Friday night in front of almost 90,000 in round three of 2011.
"Yeah, that was a big night and it was certainly a great privilege to be part of. Carlton v Collingwood is always a huge game and I remember playing that night as the sub, which was bloody tough because I remember feeling really nervous and came on late and got a bit of the ball, but stuffed a few things up.
"I did my left shoulder a couple of weeks later when I got tunneled playing for the Northern Bullants in a VFL game and that was my second reco in five months, so it put me on the backfoot.
"The next year I was able to string a few games together in 2012 and played some reasonable footy... I got some Brownlow votes (two v the Western Bulldogs) late in the season and then had a really good pre-season in 2013 when Mick Malthouse came to the club.
"I was super fit and felt it was my chance to make a decent impact at Carlton, but I hurt my ankle quite badly at the start of the year that required a couple of surgeries and that buggered up my 2013."
That must have been tough to endure in the final year of your contract.
"I was probably mentally buggered after giving it all I had and was really struggling to walk on my ankle, so I thought the best thing for me would be to get back to the farm at Bridgewater and enjoy a life that was a little less pressure.
"I would liked to have had it finish a bit differently, but I feel reasonably complete in that I gave it everything I could.
"I had some great times at Richmond where I felt entrenched in the side at times and part of helping to build something special, but it didn't work out at Carlton and now I'm really enjoying being back home and having some fun on the farm and playing country footy."
TIME AT THE TOP SERIES:
TIME AT THE TOP - Corey Jones' journey from Wycheproof to decade at North Melbourne
TIME AT THE TOP - Nathan Thompson's North Melbourne years
TIME AT THE TOP - Nathan Thompson's Hawthorn years
TIME AT THE TOP - Rick Ladson's journey from Bendigo to AFL premiership pinnacle
TIME AT THE TOP - Rowan Warfe's 110 AFL games with Fitzroy and Sydney
TIME AT THE TOP - Damien Lock's three years with Carlton
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