HE WAS willing and eager to boo him during a game, but when CHRIS de KRETSER dealt with Hawk champion Luke Hodge off the field he could not have met a better bloke:
MUCH HAS been said about Luke Hodge’s prowess as a leader and player after he announced his retirement on the eve of his 300th game for Hawthorn this week. But what has not been so emphatically proffered in the many media tributes was the greatness of the man himself. Hodge was also a champion off the field. A straw poll taken among footy media was unanimous that Hodge was the best bloke in the game. A tough, uncompromising warrior during a match, but a warm, friendly fellow who you would love to have a beer with after the game.
As a passionate Essendon supporter there have been times when I have vehemently abused Hodge – the player who has led Hawthorn’s successful ability to play on the edge, often even crossing the line.
But I have been nothing but impressed by what a nice guy he is on the occasions I have had the privilege of meeting and talking to him.
The first time was when he was recovering from injury which required surgery in the pre-season after the Hawks surprise 2008 premiership in which he won the first of two Norm Smith Medals.
He was more than happy to don a silly chef’s hat and white jacket and pretend to cook at Crown’s massive kitchen for a promotional shot.
But he was equally happy to talk about his injury and give an honest estimation of when he would return to footy, the news every Hawk fan and even the opposition was keen to know.
And there were never any airs or graces about the reigning “Normie”.
Similarly, at the spring racing carnival following the Hawks horrid premiership hangover in 2009, he was just as forthcoming.
Coach Alastair Clarkson, filthy over Hawthorn’s performance, had supposedly banned his players from talking to the media or being photographed enjoying themselves in the Birdcage.
While Buddy Franklin and other Hawks hid behind the Clarko ban to avoid the media, Hodge was happy to be himself and have a chat, a snap and a beer with journalists.
He posed for another photo op, this time at home with his knee in a cast, after a knee operation which threatened to end his career at the end of the 2012 season.
Hodge talked frankly about his recovery and future. He came back to captain the Hawks to three flags in a row including a second Norm Smith Medal.
Hodge is a footballer’s footballer willing to do the hard yards and take the big risks for the team.
When he has stepped across the line either on the field or off, he has copped his whack without the slightest whinge.
It is no surprise that the Hawks hard man incurred several suspensions throughout his playing career,
He was also banned by the club as a confident young tearaway during his early years in the game.
And there was the shock drink-driving charge before the 2015 finals when he blew just over the limit after a couple of beers with mates.
Noticeably shamed by his actions, he was quick to fess up to the charge and readily accepted the punishment meted out by the law and his teammates.
The boy from Colac, who was No 1 pick in the star-studded 2001 draft when a year younger than most, has also worked hard to better himself for a life after footy.
While a media career, where he has already displayed proficiency, or coaching beckons, Hodge has also set himself up outside footy.
The devoted family man has found the time to do a business degree at Monash University.
Luke Hodge is a fine example of a player who has sacrificed greater financial reward for the betterment and success of his club.
He could have demanded the millions of dollars commanded by other stars in the open market, but instead led the way in club loyalty, choosing not to rock the boat at Hawthorn. He chose the ultimate success in football: premierships with his mates.
CHRIS de KRETSER was founding editor of The Sunday Sun and the first sports editor of The Herald Sun. He was also night editor and sports editor of The Sun and publisher of Sports Weekly magazine. He was Deputy Olympics Editor of the Herald Sun during the Sydney Games, editor of MX, picture editor of The Herald Sun and Sports Confidential columnist.