One of my earliest introductions to Hawthorn’s ‘family club’ culture was back in the late 1970’s at a primary school in Dandenong West. A young kid, wearing a long sleeved jumper and holding a football, was standing in the middle of the school playground, oblivious to the other children enjoying their lunch break around him, transfixed by a plumber who was working in the nearby school hall. The plumber completed his task and came out, smiled at the kid and offered him a handshake. The boy passed his football to the plumber, together with a biro and asked him to sign it and his jumper which adorned the number 17. That boy was my son and that plumber was Michael Tuck.
It soon dawned on the other children who this man was and it wasn’t long before ‘Tucky’ was leading a fast growing mass of kids to the school oval where he played kick to kick, gave tips and happily signed autographs for everyone. When the bell sounded to end lunch, all the kids pleaded, “Kick a torp, Tucky, kick a torp…” The man known as ‘Friar’ duly obliged, seeing the Ross Faulkner traverse the whole oval and nearly lob into the ‘fish and greasy’ shop across the road.
Such acts as this one embodied Tucky’s endearing charm and led him to become one of the game’s most beloved figures on and off the field, with a legendary career that included over 400 games and an amazing 7 premierships (4 of these as captain).
Almost 30 years on and Jarryd Roughead – another sincere and shy country lad landed at the same club. The similarities between Roughead and Tuck do not end with their personas. Tuck rose to prominence, becoming one of the best players in the game. He began as a tough and skilled ruck rover in the mid 1970’s and then showed his talent and calibre as a player by operating in many roles, including as a very effective undersized centre half forward during the early 1980’s. In his later years Tuck was a proactive midfield tagger and a very clever rebounder off half back.
Roughead was recruited at number 2 during the 2004 national draft as the quintessential big key forward at Hawthorn. He achieved great success in this role, kicking 529 goals from only 253 games and in 6 of his 13 seasons at the Hawks he has scored an impressive 50 goals or more. He was the king pin of Hawthorn’s forward line due to his multifaceted nature which saw him just as capable of taking big pack marks as excelling at ground level. Before being struck by an achilles injury in 2011, he was also succeeding at playing a 2nd ruck role, which he approached in old style ruck rover manner. I have no doubt that this was the inspiration for playing undersized types as 2nd rucks, which seems to be all the rage in today’s game. After Roughead’s return from injury, Hawthorn’s genius coach Alastair Clarkson employed him more regularly in bursts in the midfield. This move boosted the Hawks’ midfield, with Roughead impressive in both clearances and smashing lanes for his smaller teammates to operate and excel in. He was also deadly dangerous drifting into attack in transition, due to his impressive tank. One only has to watch the later stages of the epic preliminary final in 2015 against Fremantle in Perth to witness Roughead’s immense effect in this role.
The cruel hands of fate also link the two players, with Tuck suffering an eye injury in 1985 with a detached retina and Roughead being diagnosed with melanoma early in 2016. Both instances ripped at the heartstrings of the faithful, people selfishly feared they would never see these beloved figures on the field again and more selfless thoughts centred around the long term wellbeing of both. Roughead’s plight also brought back the raw emotions of Peter Crimmins’ death from cancer in 1976, an event that devastated all at the time and still lingers in the minds of many old time Hawks fans.
Both Tuck and Roughead prevailed to play again but there was some shadow of doubt surrounding whether they could recapture their former glory, especially considering that both were in their 30’s. The club showed the ultimate faith in both players, giving them the captaincy role; Tuck after Leigh Matthews retired after 1985 and Roughead after Luke Hodge relinquished the role in 2017. Tuck took to this role like a duck to water, supported by many great onfield leaders such as Gary Ayres, Chris Langford, Russell Greene, Jason Dunstall, John Platten, Robert Dipierdomenico, Dermott Brereton amongst others. During Tuck’s 6 year tenure as captain, between 1986 and 1991, the club won 4 flags.
With the club being in a period of transition after a long period of glory, the circumstances in the infancy of Roughead’s leadership have not been so kind. Despite Liam Shiels and Isaac Smith being named as Vice Captains, both of these deputies for Roughead were new to this role. This lack of leadership experience was further compounded by club legends Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis leaving the club, denying Roughead and the entire team of their leadership skills and immense onfield support. Other respected onfield leaders Ben Stratton and Grant Birchall also went missing due to injury for large chunks of 2017. As we look towards the 2018 season, the departure of Josh Gibson and most importantly, the ‘General’, Luke Hodge will add further pressure to Roughead as the team’s skipper.
This raises the question of whether or not Roughead has it in him to rise to the challenge. This was brought into focus during the 2017 season, as some wondered whether it was wise to entrust him with the captaincy role after nearly 18 months out of the game, especially when things were so in flux. Maybe it would have been better to acclimate him back into the game’s new demands before bestowing the added pressure of leading a team that is in transition whilst lacking the support of many of its leaders. His appointment as captain seems to have had a negative effect on his presence on the field as a player, an issue which looms large for the Hawks’ prospects in the upcoming season.
The irony of this situation is that both problems could be possibly remedied in a ‘kill two birds with one stone’ action. The game has shifted away from a focus on big forwards and embraced smaller, defensive-minded, quick types supported by versatile mid-sized players, exemplified by Jack Riewoldt’s role in the Tigers’ flag last year. This is combined with the reverse in the midfield, with big bodied types all the rage. This scenario offers Hawthorn with the perfect blueprint as they could shift to playing Roughead full time in the guts in a 70/30 rotation between the midfield and forward line to enable him to rise again in prominence as a player as well as impress in his leadership role.
Let’s hope we can soon make another comparison to Michael Tuck with Roughead facing all the challenges set before him to ascend and garner respect as a great captain of the club.