It has been a torrid couple of weeks if you are a Hawthorn fan. A CEO sacking, a president’s resignation, and an unexpected return that polarised the supporters and club members alike. Yet, all this pales in comparison to the news that has been delivered today, that Luke Hodge is officially a Lion at least for a year, if not two. The champion was farewelled only recently, and received a rousing ovation in his last game against the Bulldogs. It turns out that it will only be his final game in Brown and Gold, as he reunites with Chris Fagan in what he hopes to be an eventual entry into coaching and management.
What does this mean for Hawthorn?
If you couldn’t tell, Hawthorn fans are more than just a bit upset. While the reason for the staggered trades/retirements of their legends typifies the team-first approach that the Hawks stand for, no other news would have stung the Hawthorn faithful as hard as this one has. What will hurt even more is the knowledge that the young Hawthorn backline could’ve benefited from Hodge’s leadership for one more year.
But to assess the situation fairly, one must look at both sides of the story. In all likelihood, he was tapped on the shoulder to make a decision about his playing future so the club could plan ahead. After having missed the opportunity to farewell Sam Mitchell due to a similar trade last year, the Hawthorn leadership group may have ensured that The General gets his farewell, and the deserved plaudits from Hawks fans before he moved into this next phase. Assuming the alternative that neither Hodge nor the club knew of this impending decision, it is fair to say that Hodge has given the club everything he had. Football is a fickle game, and once you are retired, you are long retired. An opportunity to transition into a coaching role in such a competitive arena is not one any player should pass up that easily.
In terms of the logistics of the trade, the positive for Hawthorn is that they have room in the backline to blood an additional youngster in 2018, while still leaning on the leadership qualities of Shaun Burgoyne. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, imagine what the side would’ve looked like in 2 years if Mitchell, Lewis, Hodge and Burgoyne had all retired at the same time. Even the staunchest opponent of Hodgey’s move would have to agree that Hawthorn would have fallen a lot harder if this was the case. In terms of compensation, it looks like Hawthorn will receive Brisbane’s last pick, which could be pick 73. This is not exactly the compensation a champion like Hodge would be let go for under normal circumstances.
What does this mean for Brisbane?
There are winners and losers in every trade, it is just the degree that varies. Brisbane are huge winners here. Having Hodge shore up their inexperienced backline will stop them from leaking goals, and will also provide them with structure and vision. The amount of experience Hodge brings to this team is beyond question, and the likes of Daniel McStay, Harris Andrews and Darcy Gardiner will benefit from his leadership and on-field coaching. It will also allow Daniel Rich to play more in the midfield where his presence is valuable, especially in the event of Tom Rockliff leaving. The Lions have been brave through the corridor this year and played attractive attacking footy. The flip side is that they have paid the price when caught by the oppositions counterattacks, and this is mainly due to inexperience. The presence of Hodge in defence will help them resist counterattacks more adequately, and is a leap forward in completing their game plan under Fagan.
Fagan’s relationship with Hodge, and his excellent man management skills will mean that he will get the best out of his star acquisition. It also means that he can be open with Hodge about areas that he feels Hodge can help with. The trust and the relationship already exists here, and that is half the battle in moves akin to this. Hodge is someone who leads by example, and is undoubtedly one of the most courageous players to play the game in recent times. The effects of having this on display, and its role in motivating a young playing group is stuff they teach in management 101.
The Lions can expect plenty of this when Hodge takes field.
As a Hawthorn supporter, I would be lying if I said I am not disappointed to see Hodge in any other guernsey other than Brown and Gold. However, the reasons around it and the circumstances under which Hodge would’ve accepted such a deal are understandable. The best we can do is enjoy watching him play for another season, and thank him for the countless memories he has provided Hawthorn fans with over the last 16 years. Good luck, General.
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