Injuries are the biggest worry for professional athletes and for Hawthorn captain Luke Hodge, they are something he knows all too well.
Despite having a relatively lucky run for many years, both time and age have caught up with him. A once fearless warrior, Hodge is spending more time in the medical room than on the field. Unfortunately for him, 2013 doesn’t look any more promising.
Hodge was taken with pick 1 in the 2001 National Draft which was affectionately known as the “Super Draft”. Selected ahead of now ex-Carlton skipper Chris Judd and former Saints captain and current Magpies workhorse Luke Ball, Hodge had a weight of expectation on his shoulders. For many years he was considered one of the most courageous players in the AFL, always diving under packs and going back with the flight to take a goal saving mark. That now seems a distant past for the man who managed only 10 games last year, the lowest season total of his career.
Since debuting in 2002 and playing 45 games in his first three seasons, Hodge only played less than 20 matches once, that being in 2009. At 28, he has 205 games to his name and whilst at one stage it looked like he might push 300 games, the tough midfielder may struggle to eke out 250.
He represents everything that is the Hawthorn side – tough, uncompromising and loves a battle. Alongside the underrated Brad Sewell and ball magnet Sam Mitchell, the Hawks’ fearsome on-ball brigade was watched in awe by fans and critics alike.
Luke Hodge took over the captaincy from Mitchell who was unfairly maligned by a number of critics who believed Hodge was the appropriate choice from the beginning. When Brownlow Medallist Shane Crawford retired after the 2008 premiership, Mitchell was elected by Hawthorn officials as the next in line. Many journalists responded harshly, questioning why Hodge, considered a ‘spiritual leader’, wasn’t chosen.
Mitchell went on to win the 2009 Peter Crimmins Medal, Hawthorn’s best and fairest, which made the talk simmer. However, it reared its ugly head within 12 months with Luke Hodge having a sensational 2010 which culminated in Mitchell handing over the captaincy just before the Medal count. Hodge went on to win the Peter Crimmins Medal whilst Mitchell did what he does best – rack up possessions.
With the captaincy saga no longer lingering, Mitchell was able to go about his business and notch up his two best years statistically, winning both best and fairests and further earning the respect of all those questioned his leadership. Unfortunately, Hodge did not manage to match Mitchell’s total of 47 games in two seasons, adding just 32 to his total after a horror 2012.
For Luke Hodge, a man who was once considered almost invincible, another season of frustration may be looming as Hawthorn tries to contemplate whether or not to rest its captain for the opening game of the 2013 premiership season. Hodge will take no part in the NAB Cup and is keen to be fighting fit for Round 1, but Alistair Clarkson and his selection committee are coyer about the issue of Hodge starting.
Hawthorn will face bitter rivals Geelong in the first round and the Hawks would want nothing more than a fit Hodge to lead them to their first victory in five years over the navy blue hoops.
Unfortunately for both Hodge and Hawthorn, the fearless ageing leader is no longer the spring chicken that could play through any injury or misfortune cast upon him. He must try and return from a disappointing year that had him sidelined for most of it, but as of now, it doesn’t look promising.
Although the Hawks will back their man, you must wonder how much of a captain Hodge can be when he’s consistently on the sidelines.