“We both debuted in the same game and I remember watching him talk to the media before I did and thinking he was a nice big giant but then in the actual game after I kicked a goal he came storming towards me pumped up and after he kicked a goal he just turned into this beast and that’s why I think he’s become so successful. Just a big competitor.”
That’s the essence of responses you get when you ask people about Lynch. Mild-mannered, quiet and polite off the field, but ferociously driven to the point of crudeness on the park.
The Richmond spearhead has been the aggressor in five separate incidents this year to have drawn the ire of match review officer Michael Christian. None have been significant enough to earn Lynch even a week’s suspension, but the string of offences – most recently dropping his knee into the neck and shoulder area of St Kilda’s Dougal Howard – have cumulatively battered Lynch’s reputation amongst the masses, at least those who don’t barrack for the Tigers.
Graeme Yeats, who played 182 games for Melbourne including the 1988 grand final, coached Lynch in his under-18 season with the Dandenong Stingrays.
Yeats’ first memory of Lynch is the youngster doing a running drill with eventual Greater Western Sydney star Nick Haynes. For kids in his program, Yeats was less fussed about sheer ability – they all had it – and more focused on work ethic.
“I just remember Tom with his head down, really working hard. He was just a big, big, big kid who just attacked the ball really hard. He threw himself at everything, and given his size and his athleticism, he could turn and run, a good pair of hands. It was pretty obvious in time he was going to be a force.” Yeats said.
“He was a really, quiet respectful young man. A really mild-mannered kid, very respectful person. He’s a great kid, he’s just a ripper kid.”
He has no recollection of Lynch having a dirty streak back then.
“I absolutely never saw that [tendency to do the undisciplined things]. I remember him being a real competitor, someone who would just fight tooth and nail in a contest,” Yeats said.
“I think his competitiveness comes through in everything he does. Watching him over the years, he runs straight, he takes no prisoners, he attacks the ball really hard, he’s a strong first-effort player and that’s why he’s an AFL star and opposition clubs obviously put a lot of time and effort into trying to quell his influence.
“He’s probably treaded a really fine line and he’s kind of going to have to learn at some stage. Hopefully it’s not too late that he can sort of overcome those frustrations and be able to deal with it in a better way. But in the heat of the moment, a lot of things can happen and a lot of it goes on.
“He’s probably done it a few more times than most.”
Lynch’s coach of today, Damien Hardwick, has been ultra-protective of the star forward this year, to the point he engaged in a nasty and personal war of words with David Schwarz. So too has Richmond chief executive Brendon Gale, who earlier this year likened the criticism directed at Lynch to that aimed at serial killer Ivan Milat.
Hardwick was again unapologetic when discussing Lynch this week ahead of Friday night’s preliminary final against Port Adelaide.
“That’s what Tom brings; he brings aggression,” Hardwick said.
“If someone wants to take his space, good luck. The very best sides will play the hardest brand of footy and we’re going to overstep the mark sometimes.”
Yeats said he doubted Lynch would be overly fussed with the criticism coming from media and fans.
“I wouldn’t have thought he’d give it a lot of thought,” Yeats said.
“He gets good protection from his coach in the media.
“He looks like someone who’s just more frustrated than anything. He cops a lot of treatment. He probably can deal with it a bit better.
“It probably got the better of him over the years, blokes whacking him behind the ear and punching you in the back of the head. I’d get pretty annoyed as well. But that’s not his character.”
Daniel is an Age sports reporter