Danielle Hardwick is still grieving the break-up of her marriage to Richmond coach Damien but says she is ready to “put herself back into the draft”.
In her first in-depth interview since the breakdown of her 25-year marriage, Ms Hardwick said she was trying her best to remain dignified and “turn what felt like a negative into a positive”.
“I guess when you plan a life with your best friend, your partner who you’ve spent your whole adult life with … there’s a definite loss when that’s not there anymore. So I’m on my way to being, well, OK, for sure,” Ms Hardwick told Libbi Gorr on ABC Radio Melbourne.
Danielle and Damien, who have three adult children, had been together their entire adult life when the relationship fell apart last year.
Damien is in a relationship with Richmond head of stakeholder engagement Alexandra Crow.
“There’s certainly been every raw emotion that comes with this situation, but we all have a choice about how we will respond to these, and I wanted to respond with dignity and respect my children,” she said.
“In your darkest times when you’re incurring trauma, you really find out what you’re about.”
Young love bloomed into successful partnership
Damien and Danielle met in her home town of Sydney when she was a teenager.
“He was playing reserves when we got together, but planned on being an accountant – go figure,” she said.
Moving to Melbourne and the world of Aussie Rules football was a shock.
“I had to develop a love of football,” she said.
“I had no idea … I felt like it was a cult following in Melbourne, it was pretty confronting.”
Throughout Damien’s highly successful football career, including premierships playing with Essendon and Port Adelaide and three flags coaching Richmond, Ms Hardwick has been by his side.
She moved from Sydney to Melbourne, from Melbourne to Adelaide and back again.
To be involved with AFL at that level, Ms Hardwick said the whole family had to sign on to the job.
“It’s certainly not as glamorous [a job], as might be well perceived, but it requires all of us,” Ms Hardwick said.
Her efforts were publicly recognised when the Richmond coach mentioned her in a speech after the club won the 2017 flag.
“I think the reference to Mrs Hardwick throughout that successful period was a reflection of Damien and I being the ultimate team,” she said.
“The coaching role is a very lonely role, so if the guys … if they’re lucky to have a support system around them, and in particular a partner that can play to their strengths within that system, then I think it contributes to achieving the ultimate.”
‘Mixed emotions’ after losing best friend
With the pandemic, Melbourne’s lockdowns and the public unravelling of her long-term relationship, 2020 was certainly a difficult year for Ms Hardwick.
On the day of the 2021 grand final she is still feeling “a lot of mixed emotions”.
“There’s been a serious grief process for myself and my gorgeous adult children, and the grief is real,” she said.
Rather than reinvent herself, Ms Hardwick has decided to stick with who she is and what she knows — what she calls her “family philosophy”.
If you know who you are, take accountability, and treat other people how you want to be treated, she believes “you can’t go wrong”.
“Outside of the hardships that people get to incur through no fault of their own … it all just becomes pretty easy to live by that and life is a joy,” she said.
While winning flags is the ultimate success in AFL, what Ms Hardwick values most is the relationships she built.
Football gave her the opportunity to meet people from diverse backgrounds and hear their stories.
“We’ve had many young boys come and live with us from remote areas over the period and them bringing art and storytelling into our home has been such a delightful experience,” she said.
Now she wants to bring their stories to a wider audience.
Reclaiming ‘Ms Hardwick’ for good
After going back and forward about whether to retake her maiden name, Danielle decided on a much smaller change — from Mrs to Ms Hardwick.
“I wanted to have the opportunity to turn Ms Hardwick into a positive brand,” she said.
Now ‘Ms Hardwick + Co’ is the name of her new venture, which aims to give exposure to young Indigenous talent who might not otherwise get opportunities.
She said the business had given her a lot of positives to focus on and helped her give “less space” to the hurt.
She is also an ambassador for Need a Tutor, which aims to connect world-class tutors to remote and rural students.
While Danielle’s relationship with Damien may be over, she is not leaving football.
“Friday nights, you know, myself and the kids we still sit on the couch and watch football and order pizza and all those sorts of things,” she said.
“It’s a common language for all ages and stages of life, so I want that to be maintained.”
Today she is backing the Bulldogs to win by 28 points.Internet Explorer Channel Network