Luke Hodge was regarded as one of the best and most influential leaders in the history of Australian rules football. His booming voice rang in the ears of all which compelled them to do anything and everything for the jumper. Equally as pertinent, maybe more so were the silent acts by him which epitomized a willing sacrifice for the cause which gave all chicken skin inspiring rapidness for the cause as all grew taller in his presence.
A leadership succession plan for him was never going to be easy after he abdicated the captaincy. The difficulty in this has been seen in a lauded part of a successful era for the Hawthorn football club being lost in the diminished nature of the leadership which followed. As well as at times the distinct lack of it. The leadership group of Jarryd Roughead as captain with Isaac Smith and Liam Shiels as his deputies need to be thanked and lauded for the determination and whole hearted approach to their respective tasks but their tenures will be adjudged as largely underwhelming.
The new leadership team of Ben Stratton as captain and Jack Gunston as his deputy reeks of promise.
Stratton, while in many quarters seen as an unexpected choice is an inspired appointment. More than anything, Stratton epitomizes the true essence of the club. Rarely does his name occupy many write ups let alone headlines, nor does he ever seek such acclaim but he has been a true pillar of an era of great success at the club. In many respects he reminds of the aptly nicknamed ‘BP- the quiet achiever’ Chris Mew from the dynastic teams of the 1980’s. Like Mew, Stratton never plays a bad game and more often than not is pivotal in results. Particularly in the crunch time of the biggest matches. One only has to dust of replays of preliminary final epics for evidence of this.
The only time Stratton has come into focus during his glittering career for the club from the footballing fraternity was on donning a retro mullet to commence the 2018 season. This had an irony in the second half of the season. James Sicily seemed destined for an All Australian jumper by excelling as the 7th defender zoning off free in defence until injury saw him miss the second half of last season. Stratton assumed the role while adding completeness to it. He was as astute in the attacking aspect of the dual role while representing a more trusted and resolute figure in the defensive responsibilities than Sicily.
An exclamation mark came in the finals for his performance as a player and meaning to the team as a leader. The team was over matched against both Richmond and Melbourne but Stratton was a stand out. He resembled one with not enough fingers to block all the holes in the dyke in the first final. Yet he still remained a road block from the onslaught. Once he went out to injury missing the final against the Demons the rest of the team was swept away.
Stratton will be an outstanding success in the role. In ensuring this, Jack Gunston as his vice captain will represent the perfect lieutenant. Gunston in recent times has represented the teams’ Swiss army knife being so adept in multiple roles. While also resembling Stratton with his dexterity in the key moments of the biggest matches.
In looking at the present and future of the club it is to be commended how in a short period the seeming leadership gulf has been filled. To the point of now being a strength of the club. The likes of Smith, Shiels and McEvoy will play key roles as part of the leadership group. Then Jaeger O’Meara is seen as the pre-elect as the captain in the future with the likes of youngsters in Blake Hardwick and James Worpel also exuding leadership qualities