IT’S funny, I was never a huge fan of Luke Hodge. Part of it was linked to the fact that he and his Hawks stole the best chance my Fremantle Dockers had at a flag. Another reason was because, partly from all their sustained success, Hawthorn was disliked for a long period of time by the casual AFL fan. In fact maybe they still are? Ok they are. As his career progressed and my knowledge of the sport grew though I started to realise that I couldn’t hate Hodge, especially after the profound impact he has had on football throughout his 299 career games to date.
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HODGE’S story began with his name being the first called on draft night in 2001. Of course I will remember that draft as the year Fremantle traded that #1 pick away for the likes of Trent Croad and Luke McPharlin, but enough about my shitty team. Hodge was the first name off the board in perhaps the greatest AFL draft of all-time, with household names like Luke Ball (2nd) Chris Judd (3rd), Jimmy Bartel (8th), Nick Dal Santo (13th), James Kelly (17th), Steve Johnson (24th), Sam Mitchell (36th), Leigh Montagna (37th), Gary Ablett (40th) and Dane Swan (58th) amongst the players drafted that night. It’s tough to separate any of these superstars, with Brownlow’s, All-Australians and copious club best and fairest’s between them. However, way Hodge separates himself from the pack is not by the four premierships he won with the Hawks, but rather the complete package he brings to the table.
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THE ultimate selfless player, Hodge sacrificed his game for the benefit of the team. His talent was undeniable and although he starred as a midfielder his move to the half back flank coincided with the Hawks greatest stretch of success. His ‘quarterback’ style of play helped spearhead Hawthorn’s dominance, all the while with Hodge acting like a second coach out on the ground for Alistair Clarkson. He was able to see things before they happened and demand the most out of his teammates, a massive factor that contributed to the Hawks going 171-1-72 from 2007-16. There’s no denying that other players before him have been great leaders, some have experienced plenty of premiership glory and a few have chalked up a ton of personal accolades, but Hodge may be the perfect mix of all three.
FOUR premierships are the highlight of Hodge’s 16 year career, with two Norm Smith medals for best afield performances in premiership wins (2008 & 2014). It comes as no surprise that Hodge played different roles for those two Norm Smith medals, but what may surprise you is that in every one of the Hawks premiership’s he polled votes for the best on ground medal. No other player in the history of the AFL has polled in four individual vote counts and since he entered the league he has 29 career Norm Smith votes, 10 more than the next closest over that time period (Paul Chapman, 19). Some may argue that Hodge was a beneficiary of playing in such an elite Hawthorn team that experienced so much success in the 21st century, but the reason they were so successful was because of Luke Hodge. He captained the team during their three-peat of flags (2013, 2014 and 2015) and also holds the dubious honour of being a captain of an All-Australian team in 2010 (his third AA selection). Couple those successes with two club B&F’s (’05 &’10), a three-time International Rules participant (’05, ’14 & ’15) and the AFLPA best captain award and Jim Stynes Medal in 2014.
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LIKE any AFL player there were times were Hodge wasn’t hailed in such great light. A few alcohol fuelled incidents over his life and his reckless abandon to attack the footy has seen him serve a handful of suspensions that won’t exactly feature on his highlight reel. That doesn’t detract from the prolific career of the Hawthorn great. You know that you must have had a decent career when the question is asked if Hodge is the greatest Hawk of all time. Names like Jason Dunstall, Leigh Matthews, Peter Hudson and Michael Tuck are mentioned alongside the greatest players to grace an AFL field and Hodge’s name could (and should) very well be mentioned in the same breath once he finally does hang up the boots. At his press conference he held on Monday, Hodge stated that he is still loving his footy and his body feels good, but once again, he made a sacrifice for a teammate, stating that it wouldn’t sit right with him if he played on and took a spot from a younger guy on the up.
WITH seven games remaining in the season and his career, Hodge’s farewell tour begins, with fans given one last chance to watch the star Hawk go about his business. Don’t expect him to make a big deal of his exit though. Just look for him throwing his body back with the flight of the ball into packs and ordering his troops around the way, like he has done for 299 games. It’s the only way Hodge knows.
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