Luke Hodge

 

In 2013, Kate Birrell produced this painting of Luke Hodge for the cover of The Footy Almanac 2013. Tim Boyle wrote a foreword to give some insight into the Hawthorn skipper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Tim Boyle

 

We could see Luke Hodge from our huddle on the forward flank in Camperdown, Victoria, where we all stood shivering in the shadow of Mount Leura and listened to the coach’s quarter-time address. Hodge, born with a veteran’s gamesmanship, was moving across to the centre square early, just to make us feel late when we arrived. He walked with his chest out and his weight shifted forward in a fashion that made him bounce slightly on his toes. He looked at us briefly with glacier-blue eyes, wolf-eyes, which seemed always to promise a wild fight. When he stopped in the circle, his hands rested on his hips and he looked bored, chewing on his mouth guard and waiting.

 

The year was 1998, and the game was the last trial match for selection in the Geelong Falcons U16 squad. It was a narrow gateway to the big time through which so few of us would squeeze, and we were all very nervous to be finally pitted against each other. These matches, it seems, were the last of our childhood, and the last of the dreamy days when the future still bubbled in our minds and football had a safe and thrilling place in it. Hodge, however, was ready for the future before it was ready for him.

 

He had done what he pleased in the first quarter, moving about easily and looking untroubled with the ball, or without it. If we were in his way he knocked us over, or nudged us out of place with a boxer’s timing, so that as the ball came toward him we were moving away from it. He baulked often then, but as a reflex to find space, never to humiliate his marker. He was 15, as we all were, but he wasn’t one of us.

 

“Look,” our coach explained with a grin, “you’re playing against a guy who’s going to play league footy.” This was a strange thing to hear in a trial match; the opposition was reduced to a single person. We all wanted to play league footy and it was unhelpful to have one spot in the team eliminated with such finality by one of its selectors. Anyway, we knew Hodge was only waiting to be older, and we all envied him for it.

 

Despite being five months older, I arrived at Hawthorn one year after Hodge, who was snatched away before every other player. Hodge and I saw different things on the field. I worried about things that he didn’t. We played junior cricket together too, and despite a wary distance in our conversations, I always liked him. It gave me confidence to see his face amidst the group of senior Hawthorn players, who looked like giants to me as I stood nervously being introduced by an official. Hodge shook my hand and laughed. I don’t think he was surprised to see me, but he knew I’d worried about things.

 

Having played with and watched Hodge for years, I realise that he has always drawn declarative statements from people. More than most, he’s earned people’s trust when they’ve needed someone to lean on, or rather, someone to cheer for when things on the field are getting grim. Hodge has been reliable before he’s been spectacular and this, it turns out, is his major talent.

 

There would be few people who watch the sport that have not appreciated Hodge’s sharp football wits, his straight effectiveness, and most of all, his hardness. Usually, if a player possesses one of these traits, and he’s healthy, he can play league football with a bit of luck and effort. If he possesses two of them, and makes the same effort, he’ll be a star. But if, like Hodge, he has all three, then he’ll be mythologised, probably be prone to boredom and lapses in effort but ultimately win trophies.

 

Even when struggling in average fitness, Hodge has been able to neutralise better athletes. Always he’s achieved this with an air of nobility, which he gains by dismissing all of his own efforts as unremarkable, and then trotting off to the next job.

 

His now obligatory position at halfback for Hawthorn reflects all of this, where he is stationed faithfully to end problems that begin further up the field. He often returns those problems for the opposition with the creative hammer of his left boot, and the ceaseless work of his right index finger, which shuffles players about until they’re settled where he likes them. Somewhere at centre-back is his best position because the contest comes to him and being a bull of a man, he goes instinctively to meet it. Because he is still older on the field than his years, it also saves Hodge’s legs to respond to the play, rather than have to push into space and make it. He gets battered when he stands in the way of the high balls but, like a good prizefighter, he seems to grow when getting hit.

 

I watched Hodge in the 2013 Grand Final from a high tier in the Ponsford stand, surrounded by football writers taking notes on the match as it unfolded. The MCG felt very familiar and I attributed this to my vision of Hodge, who was standing in front of us at fullback and looking now, at the high-water mark of his career, as he had at the foot of Mount Leura 15 years earlier. I had a brief reverie about the next 15 years, which wobbled and vanished and left me looking down at Hodge, a pillar in the goal square, the number 15 on his back now luminous and strange.

 

Hodge’s left hand was resting on his hip in the final quarter while two Fremantle players gathered a loose ball 80-meters away and began organising themselves for an attack. Even then, isolated in the goal square and outmatched by the pure talent of Matthew Pavlich, Hodge looked comfortable waiting.

 

He has evolved to imitate the facade of the professional era, but Hodge’s disposition is of a more spacious time. What he has overrides professionalism, and even talent. What he has cannot be faked, and it’s what every sportsperson must have if they’re going to be really good at something—a terrible, quaking fear of defeat.

 

 

 

Copies of The Footy Almanac 2013 – and all editions of The Footy Almanac – are available HERE. (Scroll down to see all of the editions)

 

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. A terrific summation.
    Have loved watching Hodge in these two seasons with Brisbane, constantly marshalling the youngsters, encouraging, challenging, pushing and supporting them in every match. A true leader, respected, admired, listened to. He’s going to make one hell of a coach, am sure of it. Hoping he stays at Brisbane. Maybe, just maybe, ‘Pops’ Fagan will pass the mantle of Head Coach onto him around 2021-22. You read it here first folks :)

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