We know the story.
As the 2001 draft approached, Geelong Falcons coach Damien Christensen and regional manager Michael Turner were asked to ‘sell’ their prized pupil to interested party Hawthorn.
While their pitch convinced the Hawks to select Luke Hodge with their first pick in the upcoming draft, the man himself had already selected where he wanted to go.
“Leading up to the draft, Luke was ringing me to make sure he was going No.1,” Turner told Aflplayers.com.au.
“He was saying ‘I want to go No.1 to Hawthorn’, that’s a big thing for a kid to do. He’s only player that’s ever said that to me or told me he wants to be No.1.”
A fresh-faced Hodge had the initiative to do whatever he could to be the best. It’s a theme that ran right through his AFL career, particularly after establishing himself as a footballer.
Hodge was always talented. He had all the skills as a teenager and a rough exterior that recruiters, teammates and coaches enjoyed.
He was the first of two players Turner ever saw play in the Falcons’ TAC Cup side as a 16-year-old, debuting in 2000 after dominating senior footy for Colac in the Hampden Football League.
And it didn’t take long for the much-hyped youngster to make an impact, coming off the bench on a wet day against Calder to gather the ball at the front of a pack and leap over an opponent similar to Tim Watson’s 1981.
The future Hawthorn premiership captain then launched a torpedo goal from 50 metres out to stun then Falcons coach Christensen as well as recruiters around the ground.
“Chris Pelchen, who was recruiting for Port Adelaide at the time, came to me just before half –time and told me to get him off the ground and hide him back where he came from,” Christensen said.
Hodge’s 2000 season was one that ultimately led to the teenager being on AFL clubs’ radars for the following season.
There was the skill, the toughness and brave efforts such as playing with injuries, which Turner believes Hodge is the best in the business.
Leading into the first final in 2000, Hodge had a bad corkie and probably shouldn’t have played. He took to the field and believed he was still capable as a midfielder when the coaching staff considered moving him forward for the second half.
Similar to game day, Hodge didn’t always burn up the track – he didn’t have too – but he was as competitive as any player once he stepped onto the field.
That 2000 Geelong Falcons squad was full of driven young footballers – unlike anything Christensen had seen in his coaching career.
They would cut the queue at training and would skip ahead of each other during specific drills. They all wanted to get involved as much as they could – little wonder they won the flag come season’s end after not many predicted they would impact, or even make, finals.
Off the field, it was no secret Hodge was a lad, a term which has been used prominently in the last week to describe the soon-to-be 300-gamer.
He loved spending time with his mates and sometimes it got him in a bit of hot water.
“One morning he called to say he went to debutante ball in Colac where one his mates got clocked,” Christensen explained.
“He was in emergency with him all night but was still keen on playing that day. He was just informing me of what had occurred, that he’d been up all night.
“I said ‘that’s great but were you out all night and why did you have to sit in emergency all night?’ He just laughed and still managed to play well. That’s Hodgey, he is all about friendships and mates.”
There were times when the coaches had to pull him inside to discuss his professionalism, which is a common occurrence in the junior system especially during a looser time.
But Hodge was relatable. He was a popular figure among his junior teammates which brought out his natural leadership qualities.
While he experienced injury troubles in his 2001 season, Hodge did enough to excite the Hawks despite mediocre draft camps results – although he did deliver on his promise to Hawthorn recruiters to pass a few on the last lap of the 3km time trial.
Where Hodge shone was on the field. He read the play better than anyone, which was eventually proven throughout his storied AFL career.
To put it simply, Turner said Hodge is the best player he’s seen come through the Falcons system.
“I’m proud of the fact I had something to do with him early days. We have a lot of revered Falcons players and he’s held in the highest esteem.”