It is no secret that Luke Hodge’s training standards weren’t up to scratch when he joined Hawthorn. He has said as much himself this week.
Former teammate Campbell Brown reckons the 2001 No.1 draft pick missed “16 of the 22 Monday sessions” in his first year at the club, adding, with a laugh, “they weren’t optional”.
“If you did that today, you wouldn’t last more than two years,” Brown told The New Daily, even if you possessed Hodge’s “obvious talent”.
So just how did the Hawthorn legend play for more than 15 years, accumulate one of the best CV’s in football and play 300 games, the milestone he reaches against Geelong on Saturday?
Brown’s answer is simple. Andrew Russell.
The Hawks fitness guru – so crucial in a sustained era of success – arrived at the club in 2004 and “drove Hodgey really, really hard”, he recalls.
“Andrew lifted his work ethic and standards big time. And in 2005, Hodgey won the best-and-fairest and was All-Australian. It all kicked off from there,” Brown said.
Brad Sewell, who won two flags and played 200 matches for Hawthorn, says Hodge changed his habits so much he ended up “one of the most professional players in the game”.
Hodge, who will retire at season’s end, starred in the midfield for Hawthorn but it was off half-back where he could combine his sublime foot skills, footy nous, toughness and leadership to best help his side.
“He is one of those rare players who combines that hard edge with absolute class. He is simply one of the greatest players of all time,” Sewell told The New Daily.
Brown, who regularly played in defence alongside Hodge, says his presence greatly improved his football.
“He is very, very vocal in every minute of every game,” he said.
“He’ll make decisions for you, telling you when to push up and drop off, because he was so good at reading the game. And he was just about always right.”
Peter Knights, made a legend in Hawthorn’s Hall of Fame earlier this year, compares Hodge’s impact on those around him to that of Leigh Matthews, widely considered the greatest player of all time.
“Leigh Matthews made his teammates walk taller and there’s doubt ‘Hodgey’ does the same,” the ex-Hawks star told The New Daily.
“Leigh’s actions did the talking, but Luke is such a general on the field as well. He is almost a coach on the field.
“He is very similar to Leigh – I consider them very, very equal.”
Brown – who says Hawthorn would not have won three premierships in a row without Hodge – hailed his ability to stand up in big moments, citing an example from the 2008 AFL Grand Final, in which he won one of his two Norm Smith Medals.
“Late in the third quarter, we really needed a goal. Geelong were coming, but he delivered. That summed him up,” he said.
Hodge’s 50m bomb triggered a five-goal burst that set up Hawthorn’s first flag since 1991.
But of the thousands of words written and said about Hodge this week – some coming from the likes of Andre Agassi and Novak Djokovic – a comment he made himself stands out.
“I will do anything for my football club,” he said.
Sometimes it meant he crossed the line, yes, but Hodge’s words summed up the side-before-self attitude he is known and loved for at Hawthorn.
Knights, who debuted for the Hawks in 1969 and still works for the club, said it is why Hodge will go down as one of the club’s all-time greats.
“I absolutely agree. Luke would do anything for Hawthorn,” he said.
Sewell is on the same page.
“He’s a genuine club man. He’s given up a hell of a lot for the football club … he really was the ultimate teammate,” he said.