THE MAN known as 'Mini' is now in a massive job.
Andrew McQualter's rise as an assistant coach has been done largely out of the spotlight until now, with the Richmond right-hand man to be installed as the Tigers' caretaker coach for the rest of the season after Damien Hardwick's shock exit.
Hardwick's phenomenal three-premiership, 14-season, 307-game coaching career at Richmond has come to a quick end, with the Tigers handing the reigns to interim coach McQualter, an under-the-radar operator who has bit by bit built his coaching resume to be ready for his next step.
He was on Carlton's shortlist for its senior position when Michael Voss claimed the role at the end of 2021, going deep into the process, but the 36-year-old now has his first taste of the hot seat.
The former Saint, nicknamed 'Mini' as a kid when he was a smaller version of his older brother, was one of Ross Lyon's much-loved role players throughout his 89-game career at St Kilda, which included playing in the 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals.
He was selected as a first-round draft pick, having captained Vic Country at under-16 and under-18 level as well as being the skipper of his school team Caulfield Grammar, where he was a boarder having grown up in Traralgon. But things didn't come easy.
After 23 games and three seasons with the club, he was delisted by the Saints at the end of 2007. He kept chasing an opportunity, training at Hawthorn in an attempt to get a second chance, before the Saints surprised by re-drafting him as a rookie selection. Again, he fought his way onto the senior list to become a consistent member of a star-studded midfield as the Saints came so close to clinching an elusive premiership.
So tight is McQualter with Lyon that last year, when Lyon resumed the role of Saints head coach, his former player was one of his first targets as he assembled his new coaching panel.
McQualter knocked back that advance, and those from other rivals as well, to continue at Richmond, where he has served as a key lieutenant throughout the Tigers' magical premiership run.
Though he has done it without the spotlight of other rising assistants, McQualter's coaching path has been mapped out. He joined the Tigers' VFL team in a coaching and playing role in 2014, before taking on the midfield stoppage position for Richmond's senior side for its 2017 season.
He was central in getting the Tigers humming in their breakthrough flag campaign that year, working with midfield superstars Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin and fitting recruit Dion Prestia into the mix seamlessly, but has had a number of other portfolios throughout his time at Punt Road, having also focused on offence and the forward line.
McQualter will go into the senior seat with eyes wide open. He has worked under Hardwick, Richmond's greatest ever coach, for a decade. He has also worked alongside Craig McRae (Collingwood) and Adam Kingsley (Greater Western Sydney) at Richmond as fellow assistants. Former Brisbane coach Justin Leppitsch was also on the Tigers' coaching panel, as has been Port Adelaide premiership coach Mark Williams.
He will also have recent senior coaches Ben Rutten and David Teague alongside him, fresh from their exits at Essendon and Carlton, with Hardwick tapping into the experience of ex-coaches for his panel.
McQualter is the 10-year 'overnight success', having built his reputation at Richmond on some of the qualities that embodied Hardwick's approach: loyalty to his players, good humour, dedicated work ethic and a strong view. He now gets his shot.