Last night was all about sending off our immortal ‘General’, Luke Hodge, in the appropriate fashion. The Hawks players rose to the occasion to honour their legendary teammate in a display that encompassed all the skill, grit, intensity and passion that was a fitting testimony to the beloved icon.
In the dying minutes of the game Hodge was almost channeling Josh Gibson with a superb spoiling attempt that helped steady the Hawks when the Bulldogs were threatening to take the lead. As the seconds ticked down on the game it was hard not to get caught up in the emotion of knowing we would never again get to feel that all too familiar ‘chicken skin’ when witnessing the class and completeness of Hodge. It made me think of other heart wrenching moments I’ve experienced in following the Club since coming here from Derry, Ireland in 1971:
-The hushed grief of a packed Glenferrie Oval back in 1972 after seeing Peter Hudson carried off the ground after blowing out his knee;
– Peter Crimmins ripping all our brown & gold hearts out with his cancer fight and untimely death in 1976;
-Lethal getting carried off during the 1985 Grand Final after us getting smashed by the hated ‘filth’, Essendon;
-Not being afforded the opportunity to say ‘goodbye’ to the much beloved Michael Tuck after the Club disgracefully refused to allow him to carry on playing in 1992 despite his desire and capability to do so. Instead they replaced him with Austin McCrabb from Geelong in a move that for me represented an end to the true essence of Hawthorn’s ‘Family Club’ motto;
– The battle against extinction in 1996, with the associated thoughts of what could have been;
– The sad departure of Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis at the end of 2016;
Watching the game last night, I was reminded of another heartbreak, that of the untimely passing of premiership player and past Hawthorn coach Ken Judge in 2016, however I drew comfort from watching Judge’s God-son Harry Morrison absolutely shine in his first game for the Club which would no doubt have had Judge smiling down on him from on high.
This fabulous debut by Morrison placed an exclamation mark on the youth-inspired turn around the Club has experienced this season. After the first few matches of 2017 many were celebrating the end of the great Hawks era and rejoicing in the likelihood of Hawthorn having a prolonged period as cellar dwellers due to the perception that the Club had an absence of talented youth. I must confess to being one of the many doubters, but I’ve never been so happy to be proven wrong.
The re-invented defence this year has been a stand out. The backline was a vulnerable element for the Hawks this year with many of their defensive players missing due to injury, however James Sicily’s move to defence has proven a successful one and despite an embarrassing display last week, last night he was completely switched on and proved that when his head is right, he exudes star potential. Another player who has played in a different role this season is Jack Gunston who has enhanced his elite standing in the game since being moved off half back.
Last night, players such as Hardwick, Howe, O’Brien, Glass and Brand all showed glimpses of being the cornerstones of the next Hawks dynasty. Add in the absent Ryan Burton, who should be the unanimous winner of the Rising Star Award and Kieran Lovell who when fully fit will be a midfield gun and Hawthorn’s future looks bright.
With defensive mainstays James Frawley, Ben Stratton and Grant Birchall set to return in 2018 it not only sets up a brilliant defensive line-up, but also gives the coaching team the opportunity to utilise the aforementioned youngsters in other areas around the ground. Last night’s game highlighted a return to Jarryd Roughead starring as a key forward with him kicking 5 goals. Ben McEvoy was immense once more in the ruck and Isaac Smith was back to his form from 2015/16, where his pace and associated line breaking ability had him in All Australian reckoning.
Jaeger O’Meara also looked fabulous last night. With a solid pre-season next year, he will be primed to live out his destiny as a star of the AFL.
On behalf of all Hawthorn supporters, words cannot adequately express the level of appreciation I feel for Luke Hodge and Josh Gibson for everything they have given us. They depart our Club as superstars, but will forever be in the hearts and memories of all who have had the privilege of witnessing all their great games for Hawthorn.