Liam Baker in action during Richmond’s clash with Melbourne in round 20, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

LIAM Baker was overlooked in two drafts, in part due to his height.

Seven seasons on, the former rookie is a fan favourite – his courage, endeavour and a dash of cheekiness impressing all – and an integral member of Richmond’s new generation of leaders.

The departure of triple premiership coach Damien Hardwick, former captain Trent Cotchin and vice-captain Jack Riewoldt last year was the clear demarcation of the end of the Tiger dynasty.

Now, it’s up to players like Baker, who were lucky enough to begin their careers with flags, to guide Richmond through the next era, along with new coach Adem Yze.

“The facts are ‘Cotch’ and Riewoldt left, so blokes like myself and my age group, we need to step up and be leaders around the club with our voice and stuff and drive this new group,” Baker told AFL.com.au.

“It’s exciting for myself, ‘Shorty’ (Jayden Short), Jack Graham, Tylar Young as well. He’s only in his second year, but he’s got a wise head on his shoulders and he’s a similar age to me (25 to Baker’s 26).

Liam Baker celebrates a goal during Richmond’s clash against Hawthorn in round 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

“It’s a lot for us to pick up, but it’s exciting for the Tiges.”

The ever-versatile Baker – who stands at 173cm – seemed to be Hardwick’s favourite ‘break glass in case of emergency’ player, deployed to whichever line was in the most trouble throughout a game.

But the departure of Cotchin – and the possibility of Shai Bolton spending a greater percentage of time up forward – looks set to allow Baker, Jacob Hopper and the developing Thomson Dow more time on the ball. 

“We’ll have to wait and see as always, but I’ve been training in the mids and playing the practice games in the mids. It’s good, I’ve been working with Chris Newman and Jack Ziebell a lot,” Baker said.

“Obviously it’s a new role for me. I’ve been there for bits and pieces, but it’s been a first full pre-season (in the role), so something different but I’m really enjoying it at the moment.

“Hopefully that’s my spot for the season and I can just stay there. Ideally, it’d be good to become a leader at one position, but you look around the midfield and there’s a lot of stars in there. I understand it’s not about picking your best midfield, it’s about picking your best team, so someone has to give.”

Baker was full of praise for Dow – who played the last three games of 2023 – and the tenacious Rhyan Mansell, identifying the pair as top performers over summer.

“[Dow’s] contest work, his body work and footwork around stoppages, in and around traffic is really impressive to watch,” he said.

“He’s just springboarded off a couple of games last year, which is good for us. This is his chance to hold down that midfield role, and I think he’ll do it very well.

“Rhyan Mansell has been another one. He’s been playing that (pressure) forward role, which he played a bit last year, but a nice pre-season in that role has been real good for him, and his contest work is unbelievable, he hits hard. 

Rhyan Mansell looks on during Richmond’s clash against Fremantle in round 13, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

“Kane McAuliffe and Liam Fawcett, they’ve come in as our draftees, and they’ve gone really well on the track. They’re showing glimpses of some good stuff in their first pre-season, which is exciting.”

Baker and the Tigers have spent the past few days on community camp in Mildura, the north-western Victorian town a traditional recruiting heartland and current Next Generation Academy zone.

Liam Baker pictured during Richmond’s community camp in Mildura in February 2024. Picture: Richmond FC

“It’s been really good actually. We have great support up here. The fans came out for a clinic, there were kids everywhere, and then the schools have been really inviting as well,” he said.

“We’ve had a great time up here. I know it’s the first time we’ve been up in a while, so they were pretty excited to see us. We really appreciate the support we get from up this way. Hopefully, it’s not too long till we come back again.”