THE Mullet didn't need to touch the ball. He didn't need to take a mark or knock someone over. All the Mullet needed to do to be taken to the bosom of the braying voices of the Punt Road end was to run out onto the ground and shake his lustrous half-mane.
The Mullet is a cult hero. More than that, he is a Richmond cult hero. There might be no bigger thing in football. To date he has been a silent action hero. Talking is for others.
Fortunately, there are plenty of others happy to do the talking. The Mullet's mullet has its own Facebook page, ''Ivan Maric's Mullet''. There are web talkfests on it ''The Ivan Maric Mullet Appreciation Thread'' - just Google, and you'll find it - and the poser: ''Does Ivan Maric have the best mullet in Australian sport?'' (at the moment, yes). He and it have drawn favourable comment from rival players: Ricky Petterd tweeted his respect; ''loving Ivan Maric's mullet''. Doubtless Lynden Dunn's moustache would also approve.
The Mullet: Ivan Maric and his hairstyle are loved by crowds, coaches and players alike. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Maric opened the door to cult-hero status at Richmond for these reasons, but it was the fact he could get his hand to the ball, knock people over and take a mark that brought him such rapid affection in the stands and the coach's box.
The Mullet had never been a star at Adelaide and is unlikely to be at Richmond, but he is an honest competitor. Which was what Richmond wanted. They knew he was shorter than most modern rucks and would lose many hitouts but they also knew he would knock in and create a contest, that he was big- bodied and aggressive in his approach.
''I love playing aggressive,'' Maric told Inside Football when he left Adelaide last year. ''They want me to be physical and block for the smaller guys, and I love doing that.''
Footballers who went their own way. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
They love him doing it, too. Damien Hardwick's blueprint is to bring in good people and competitors. They got what they sought in Maric. It was apparent as early as a pre-season game when there was a boundary throw-in on the wing and a ruck push-and-shove. Maric not only kept his feet but pushed the other ruck backwards, then sat a midfielder on his backside. The coaches above in the stand looked at one another with a ''so that is what it is like having a ruckman'' sort of smile. Having laboured with raw young rucks for several years the Tigers had almost forgotten what it was to have a player physically take it to the opposition.
Last week, against the AFL's two best rucks, Dean Cox and Nicholas Naitanui, Maric was good. Naitanui had two superb moments when he force-fed midfielders at the centre bounce in the second quarter and they scored, but Maric does not stand condemned for that, for he is not alone in being jumped over by Naitanui. But Richmond is not being monstered in the ruck now.
Interestingly, Richmond insiders say, the cause and effect of Maric's arrival is that Angus Graham and Andrew Browne have significantly improved. Graham, maybe because a place in the senior team is harder to come by, is now said to be dominating VFL games in a way he had never done before.
''Ivan coming in had the potential to be a bad thing for Angus, but he is playing much better footy this year than he ever has, but he obviously isn't able to get in the senior team yet. That is a good thing. They keep pushing each other,'' a coach said.
Ruck coach Brendon Lade said: ''We think Angus Graham and Andrew Browne have potential but while they are a bit young and developing Ivan is a good, aggressive ruckman.
''At Adelaide he had a good relationship with Scott Thompson and he has not yet got that single relationship or understanding with one of our midfielders but he is getting there. We have gone from last in hitouts last year to top eight this year.
''He has been solid at helping out the backs and marking the ball around the ground. We would probably like him to go forward more and kick a few more goals now.''
Ivan Maric is a quiet man and his own man. Players knew, or were warned, even before he arrived that he pronounced his name EEE-varn not EYE-van. A few new teammates tried him out calling him EYE-van. He didn't speak, just fixed them - only half in jest - with the cool stare. They stopped.
His quiet self-confidence - as evidenced by his choice of hairstyle - generates respect reflected in the fact he was in Adelaide's leadership group and will likely soon be in Richmond's, for when he speaks others listen.
He arrived at Richmond and quietly went about his business then, in a pre-season training session, suddenly let loose.
A teammate had cut the cones in a running session, an offence for which the player had previously been singled out by the coaching staff, so when the player did it again it was not the coaches tackling him but big Ivan.
Short cuts - perhaps save for those on the side of the head - were not to be tolerated and he let the players know it. The coaches swooned.
''The boys love him. He doesn't say a lot, but when he does they listen,'' Lade said.
Maybe it's the allure of the mullet.
WE COULD BE (CULT) HEROES ... FOOTBALLERS WHO WENT THEIR OWN WAY
PAUL BULLUSS Tiger fans loved him. Understood to have once turned to a teammate after Francis Bourke (not then coach) came into the rooms for a word at half-time. Bourke left and Bulluss turned to a teammate and asked “who was that old ----?"
STUART DEW Ex-Port premiership player who came back after a solid donut diet and won a premiership with Hawthorn.
BRUCE DOULL The Blues' flying doormat. Headband but balding. Huge talent, understated. Barely uttered a word.
PETER "SPIDER" EVERITT Former St Kilda and Hawthorn favourite, it was surely the dreadlocks and the spider legs.
MARK "JACKO" JACKSON Melbourne, Geelong and St Kilda's showman forward. He did handstands on the ground, he pranced like a peacock, he hit people. He had a face like Dunlop volleys left out in the sun. He did an Energiser ad and recorded a song. Then did a TV series.
ALLAN JAKOVICH Crazily talented, enigmatic. Had a thick 1980s mullet. Didn't get along with a number of teammates for reasons best left unsaid.
PETER "CRACKERS" KEENAN The name said it really. Brought his peculiar brand of madness to Melbourne, North Melbourne and Essendon.
JAMES MANSON Wild-eyed Collingwood and Fitzroy player with an unorthodox but effective style. Played in a rock band.
AUSTIN McCRABB Geelong coach Malcolm Blight stood him away from the huddle at Waverley one day in frustration. He used to just take off on his pushbike in the off-season, sleeping rough and turning up in all manner of places.
MICK NOLAN North Melbourne's "galloping gasomoter". Had the physique of a wood chopper.
LUKE (RHINO) O'SULLIVAN Took 10 years to play 50 games, and finally did so wearing the duck-egg blue m&m jumper. A social convenor at Carlton who turned up at the airport for a footy trip dressed as Batman.
VAL PEROVIC The original woofa; there was a plaque erected in The Whale's Flinder's Street pub for his exploits.
MATTHEW RICHARDSON Emotional, spectacular. Son of the Bull. Everything emotionally recklessly endearing about Richmond. Famed for doing the outrageous and missing the easy.
DANNY SOUTHERN Western Bulldog who kept snakes. Had a mullet. Partially furnished mouth. An atypical player.
JOSH THURGOOD Short lived but loved at Hawthorn. Like Everitt, had the Sideshow Bob hair and stick-insect limbs.
DARREN "DOC" WHIELDON Kicked seven in his third game. Seven tribunal appearances for Fitzroy in three years, including one for post-shaking. Famously Kevin Sheedy's worst draft gamble.