Ahead of his 250th game against North Melbourne on Good Friday, Travis Cloke’s former Collingwood teammate, Ben Johnson, discusses his rise from raw teenager to dominant power forward, exclusively to Aflplayers.com.au
I remember when Trav came down to the footy club for the first time after being drafted. He certainly wasn’t the big beast that he is now.
From the start he earned the respect of everyone because he trained so hard and gradually put all of that size on.
He wasn’t a big lifter in the gym at all, and at one stage, Dane Swan was the best on the bench press, but get Trav in a wrestle and he’d destroy you.
It’d be fair to say that he was pretty shy when he first got to Collingwood. He’s a bit old-school and he was keen to earn his stripes before he could start chirping like the rest of the group. When he did become a good player he was a really good leader for a lot of the younger players.
We had a few laughs when he came down to the club with his dyed hair, but he was always a great kid.
Obviously, it’s a lot easier to come to a place where your two big brothers are so he definitely felt comfortable when he arrived.
You’ve also got to remember that he went through both Jason and Cameron being de-listed so he went through some tough times, too. The whole family had to go through all of that, and the way Trav handled himself was fantastic.
Clokey became a pretty important player early on, and through our really good years and the premiership year, I reckon he was our most important player.
Mick was close with most of the boys, so he and Trav had a strong relationship. Most people probably wouldn’t believe this after what has happened, but Trav and Bucks had a good relationship as well.
In the end at Collingwood it didn’t work out that well, but you have to look back at the good times he had there. As soon as his career finishes, he’ll be going back and picking up his life membership.
Coming off half-back, I can remember moments when I was feeling under pressure but I knew that he would be there for that bail-out kick. That was his most important role — just being there and competing. He’d never get beaten one-on-one.
In 2009, 2010 and 2011, the bloke was a beast! If you had him one-out, he was going to mark that ball. He led the league in contested marks for a few years in a row. At his peak, he was the best power forward.
Even when he wasn’t getting best on ground, he was still our most important player. When Swanny and Alan Didak were at their best, they weren’t as important to us as Trav.
There was no doubt in Mick’s mind about that, he would have been first picked and everyone knew that. Without him, our structure wasn’t the same.
We used to enjoy watching Clokey speak to the media. Some of his interviews were all-time classics.
The sayings that he used to run with and frequently butcher were hilarious. Heath Shaw was non-stop with his jokes about it, and Scott Pendlebury also liked to remind him. The boys had a good laugh, that’s for sure.
Sometimes we’d put it up on the screen before a team meeting. To Trav’s credit, he always took it very well. He could have a joke about himself.
Honestly, Trav was so quiet that he wouldn’t have ever sledged anyone but he probably didn’t need to.
Heath Shaw, Didak, and Swanny were always on top of that. Didz would have been the funniest because he’d come up with some inappropriate stuff at times. When Swanny was up and about he’d be borderline arrogant with his little jabs to the opposition.
We had the ‘Rat Pack’ at the Pies, and then Trav, Tyson Goldsack, Cameron Wood and Alan Toovey came up with ‘The Beaks’ to have a bit of fun because they all had big noses.
They classified themselves as a bike gang and a few had bikes and Woody might have had a Moped. They created it to have a laugh after all the attention we used to receive with the ‘Rat Pack.’
It was pretty frustrating to be classified as this group that were rebels and described as being on our own. At the end of the day, we were best mates with everyone at the club. Socially, we pushed the boundaries sometimes but when it came to the footy club, and on game day, there was no small group.
We weren’t disrupting meetings and not training hard, when we got to the club we trained incredibly hard and got results. If there was a problem, we all wouldn’t have won a premiership.
I’ve kept a close eye on Clokey’s performances so far with the Western Bulldogs. He’s doing for them what he did for us — he’s creating a different avenue for them with that big option. Sometimes he takes two defenders and he opens up chances for other forwards. They’re going to be very good again this year.
The way the Dogs move the ball suits him, and if he’s one-on-one he will tear apart some games. At his age, it’s hard to do it every week as a key position player but he’ll have some big moments.
I know for a fact that he’s very happy with where things are at with the Bulldogs, he’s enjoying his footy again. He definitely needed a change.
One of his issues throughout playing was his goal kicking, but as teammates, we never got into him about it.
At footy clubs, one thing the boys don’t give stick to each other about is kicking for goal or just general skills.
No one goes out there and tries to miss a goal. If anything, it was encouragement that we tried to provide him when he was struggling. You cop it enough from the supporters and the media as it is.
With Trav, it probably came down a little bit to technique, but the game is 80 percent above the neck. The media probably don’t have a great grasp of the mental challenge of goal kicking and how it can effect players. If that is what everyone is talking about, of course it’s going to be on his mind.
The first few shots he has in a game are crucial and I’m sure he’s nervous. The games where he was relaxed and he kicked a couple of early ones would really help him and then he’d bang them in from all parts of the ground.
Someone like Trav would run about 15km in a game, which is a lot for a big man and he’d charge up the ground to get the ball and no doubt that would fatigue him. The boys run a lot these days.
At the age of 30, and considering all that he’s achieved — a premiership, All-Australian honours and a best and fairest — I’m so happy that he has reached his 250th game.
Clokey’s one of the good blokes in footy.