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Hodge 250: How Clarkson transformed the Hawks skipper

Hodge honoured to be a Hawk at game 250 Luke Hodge speaks to HawksTV about playing his 250th game this weekend against the Swans.
Luke Hodge of the Hawks in action during the AFL 2014 Second Preliminary Final match between the Hawthorn Hawks and Port Adelaide Power at the MCG, Melbourne on September 20, 2014. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Luke Hodge of the Hawks in action during the AFL 2014 Second Preliminary Final match between the Hawthorn Hawks and Port Adelaide Power at the MCG, Melbourne on September 20, 2014. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)

RESPECTED as one of the game’s most professional and courageous players, even Hawthorn skipper Luke Hodge had to learn what it takes to make it in the AFL.

Training and lifestyle standards in the lead-up to matches is just as critical as game day preparation in the modern era and Hodge, a dual premiership player, premiership captain, three-time All Australian and dual best and fairest winner admits to struggling with the demands of AFL in his first few seasons at the game’s top level.

Drafted with the number one pick in the 2001 National Draft, Hodge admits it took years and a number of conversations with coaches and fitness staff for the message to sink in.

“I was a country boy who probably enjoyed handing out with my mates who weren’t play football a little bit too much early on,” Hodge told ahead of his 250th career game.

“It probably took until my fourth or fifth year to understand and then until my sixth or seventh to consistently live the lifestyle in terms of diet, recovery that you need to play consistent AFL football.”

Hodge’s transformation into one of the game’s best coincided with the appointment of Coach Alastair Clarkson, who assumed the reins at the end of 2004.

When Clarkson replaced Peter Schwab and brought with him close friend and fitness guru, Andrew Russell

The Hawthorn skipper, who took over from 2008 premiership captain Sam Mitchell at the end of 2009, says Russell has played an integral role in his development into one of the game’s most respected players for his professionalism, courage and leadership.

We head-butted a lot of time no doubt on how professional he was and how professional he wanted me to become but I’m that thankful that he continued to push,” Hodge said.

“I owe a lot of that to Andrew Russell.

“Now I’m 30 years old, about to reach 250 games and if I had have not listened to his advice and to that of others at the football club, I don’t think I’d be sitting here now.”

But it was Clarkson who had the most impact in transforming the way Hodge approached football.

When he became coach Hodge was just 20 years of age and had his own agenda.

Focused on getting a game and a kick, the wins and losses didn’t mean as much to him as they do now.

It was Clarkson’s one in all in and team-first mantra that had a significant impact on the then Hawks youngster.

For Hodge, there was one message that stuck true and eventually led to him becoming captain of Hawthorn.

"The mindset and the team bonding he has brought to the football club of playing for one another (had an impact)," Hodge said of his coach.

"I was drafted at 17 and when you're a kid you come in and all you want to do is play football, and that's where early on whether you win or lose, it doesn't really matter than much to you. It's about you playing football and enjoying it and getting a kick.

“One thing Clarko taught me from when he got here was if you’re going to be successful you have to have the team-first mindset,” Hodge said.

“He said early on many times that if I didn’t have that, I’d never captain the footy club.”

Luke Hodge and Alastair Clarkson celebrate the 2013 Premiership.

Now, as he prepares to play his 250th career game on Grand Final day, you couldn’t of any player more professional, committed, courageous and selfless than Luke Hodge.

So it’s with that in mind that the skipper, who will lead the Hawks into battle against the Swans on Saturday, isn’t thinking about his own personal milestone but the opportunity that lies ahead for Hawthorn Football club players, coaches, staff and fans.

“To play 250 games, especially for a quality club like Hawthorn is exciting,” he said.

“(But) it’s probably more something you look back on when you finish football and say it was a great achievement to have played for so long and to get to so many games.

“I guess at this stage, there are a few more things that sit at the forefront of my mind than 250 games.

“We’ve been in a few in the last couple of years and there’s no better feeling than running out on Grand Final day.

“The reason why you play and the reason why the football club has worked so hard is to play for this weekend.”