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High spirits for milestone man

Marc McGowan  April 15, 2018 8:37 PM

R4: Highlights v Melbourne Check out the highlights from the Hawks win over the Dees.

The music pumping out of Ben Stratton's headphones is a dead giveaway of the mood the quirky and multilingual Hawthorn premiership star is in.

And these days, Stratton – one of the game's most versatile defenders – is generally in a good, even buoyant one.

Read: Match report - Round 4

The 29-year-old, promoted to the Hawks' leadership group ahead of last season, is playing as well as ever after a knee injury sidelined him for all bar eight matches in 2017.

"I haven't enjoyed my footy as much as I have the first few rounds of this year, especially being out (for so much of) last year," he told AFL.com.au.

"It's tough at some stages, but I'm just having fun at the moment and so are the rest of the boys. It's good, having a younger group, that we can strive for something bigger.

"It's just a different stage of footy and my life … that block of my football (winning three flags) has been and gone, and now it's moving into a new stage, which I'm really excited about."

Stratton, who played his 150th game against Melbourne this Sunday, grappled initially with how to be a leader, but eventually helped usher in Hawthorn's wave of young talent down back last year.

James Sicily, Ryan Burton, Blake Hardwick and even Jack Gunston were among those to benefit from his wisdom.

Stratton himself turned to outgoing stars Luke Hodge and Josh Gibson for leadership advice.

"Last year was a bit of a learning year for me; being in the leadership group, I was still finding my way in there," he said.

"(Being injured) was originally what I struggled with and knowing what to do with my time at the club.

"As soon as I learned it was about teaching the younger backline … (and that) was what they needed from me, it helped me stay in the game and feel a part of the club."

Stratton's ability to defend players ranging from Eddie Betts to Patrick Dangerfield to Jack Riewoldt has long made him a key cog in Alastair Clarkson's machine.

His 25 per cent loss rate in one-on-one contests this season is ranked 17th of the top 50, and he is ninth for neutralising at 58 per cent.

But it doesn't bother Stratton that the external spotlight mostly misses him. In fact, that's how the East Perth product wants it.

He prefers to escape football in his downtime and put his energies elsewhere, such as growing a mullet, deejaying about once a month, learning Spanish and starting his own beer label.

Stratton and four others, including ex-Hawk Sam Grimley and Essendon's Joe Daniher, created Noble Boy, a pale ale served mostly at pubs in and around Fitzroy, Brunswick, Northcote and Collingwood.

It is all part of him trying to find the right life balance to perform at his best on the football field.

"You've got to get that balance right," Stratton said.

"I don't think about footy too much when I'm away from the club, but some guys need to think footy, footy, footy all the time to keep them engaged.

"It takes a few years to find the (right) balance … if I'm keeping myself busy off the field doing music or whatever it is, I'm usually playing good footy."

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