Former Geelong coach Malcolm Blight says Paul Couch will be remembered as a "jovial character" and one of the best midfielders of his time.
Couch, 51, had a fatal heart attack while riding his bike along the Great Ocean Road, near Apollo Bay, on Saturday.
Spurned by Fitzroy, he played 259 matches and booted 203 goals for the Cats from 1985 until knee issues contributed to his retirement in 1997, claiming an unexpected Brownlow Medal in 1989.
Blight told Fairfax Media on Saturday that Couch, regularly seen with a toothy smile, had always been fun to have around the club.
"He was a very jovial character, a real character around the change rooms, generally with a smile on his face, most times," Blight said. "For the majority of the time he was there, he was a really happy guy."
Under Blight's free-wheeling style, the Cats booted a string of high scores but would lose the 1989, 1992 and 1994 grand finals. Couch also played in the losing 1995 grand final, with the Cats at that stage under the direction of Gary Ayres.
"We had three midfielders, Garry Hocking, Mark Bairstow and Paul Couch, and they were why we made grand finals," Blight said. "Obviously, Paul had wonderful years and won best and fairests. He was a fantastic player."
That was evident in '89 when, in Blight's first season, the Cats vaulted from ninth spot on the ladder a year earlier to contest one of the greatest and toughest grand finals of all time against Hawthorn. It was also the year when Couch collected the sport's highest individual honour.
"It sounds funny, but I have always been of the belief that the team that rises up the ladder, does it quickly. If you look at the history of the game, that's because someone has usually had a pretty good year, and Paul had an outstanding year," Blight said.
He said Couch had been one of the premier midfielders of his generation and had been ahead of the curve in some ways. While he rarely, if ever, used his right foot, his disposal efficiency had been high - a key statistic in the game today.
"It's always difficult to compare but what put him in the top echelon was he could actually kick it really, really well. He mightn't have got 1000 kicks like someone [else] but he probably used it better," Blight said.
"That was the irony of him – he hardly ever got tackled. He just had that beautiful step. He was a perfect player – he learnt to adapt to what he had to do to play well and he was a beautiful kick."
Blight was known for his innovative coaching methods and tactics, and Couch featured in one of the more celebrated incidents when he and Bairstow began the first semi-final against Melbourne in 1989 on the bench, in a bid to upset the Demons' tagging plans.
The move worked a treat, with the Cats surging to a 63-point win, with Bairstow named among the best.
"They both came on and got 20-plus possessions each and we won pretty easily. They were both getting tagged. I just tried to throw a bit of confusion, as you could do in those days," Blight said.
In an interview on Fox Footy's Open Mike in 2014, Couch said he had moved on from the losing grand finals.
"(In) '89, we didn't really know what we were doing. When we won the preliminary final, everybody went out and had a few drinks like we did every other week, enjoyed each other's company. We just went out to play in '89," Couch said.
"We were probably more set in '92 - we had a few injuries going into the final. I thought we were ready in '92 - that was the one that probably got away from us," Couch said.
"(In) 1994, we just weren't good enough and '95, we probably played the best side all year. Carlton were unbelievable, they were a great side."