This story was originally published in April.
Mitch Hahn was drafted by the Western Bulldogs in 1999 and went on to play 181 games in 11 seasons. He shares his thoughts exclusively to Aflplayers.com.au about getting drafted with Bob Murphy and watching him grow into a leader in the lead up to his 300th game.
I knew absolutely nothing about Bob Murphy when we were first drafted to the Bulldogs in 1999.
It was a great draft crop to enter the club with, as Bob, Daniel Giansiracusa, Lindsay Gilbee, Ryan Hargrave, Patrick Bowden, myself and Patrick Wiggins all arrived.
One of the first things that I heard about him was from Scott Clayton who drafted us both and he said that Murph had the potential to win a Brownlow. I’ll never forget that and for him to go on and play 300 games is a special effort — he’s had a fantastic career and has been an outstanding player and person.
I was in Brisbane on the day of the draft so I didn’t meet Bob straight away, but I can vividly remember my first encounter with him when they flew us down for the weekend and we stayed at the Crowne Plaza and roomed together.
We sat up for most of the night and chatted about how pumped we were to be drafted and discussed what we both knew about the Bulldogs at that time, which wasn’t a great deal for myself because I was from Queensland. Thankfully, Murph knew a bit more about it than me!
It was two teenagers who were full of excitement and wonder at what AFL was going to be like. We spoke about the dream that we had and the different backgrounds that led us there.
There was a really strong connection between us and a great level of respect straight away.
Looking at our careers, Bob and I were opposites in a way. He was incredibly skillful and skinny, especially early on, whereas I came in with a bigger body and my game was based on being aggressive.
If he had my aggression and size and I had his skill, we would have been a good match! His skills and decision making stood out at that age and when guys come in with those attributes you can tell pretty easily that they’ll be good players. He just needed some time in the gym.
From my perspective, Bob was very quiet and took everything in rather than being boisterous and outgoing in his first few years. He also went to school at Footscray City College in his first year so the fact he was still finishing year 12 off probably meant that he was a little shy and not the most outgoing kid.
That was an interesting challenge in itself and I thought that he handled it really well. To be able to finish off his schooling and still play three games in his first season is a brilliant effort. Footscray City definitely wouldn’t have been one of the easiest schools in Melbourne but it was close to the club.
I’d say some of those challenges with schooling may have also hurt him early on with the group because he wasn’t able to be around the club as much.
Every footballer is different and unique in their own way and Bob has certainly been that throughout his whole career.
He has been described as a little bit different or eccentric or however you want to put it, but what always impressed me was how he could morph between the different groups in the football club. That was one of his biggest assets because he could talk to any player and adapt his style to the situation.
The guys who were perhaps a little shy and didn’t really come out of their shell and just focused on footy he would interact a certain way around them, and then he knew how to communicate with the others who liked to play music or read books and were the real thinkers.
When we arrived at the Bulldogs there were so many great leaders like Scott Wynd, Luke Darcy, Brad Johnson and Chris Grant, so it’s hard to know whether or not I thought that Bob had the potential to be a captain.
I think a few of us viewed him as someone who had the potential to be a really strong leader, and the way he has developed and grown under the tutelage of those great leaders we had has been interesting. He definitely took what he liked from each of them and adapted to his style.
That’s the best thing about Bob, he has never changed his own style and his way. He has never changed to someone he’s not.
Bob has fantastic balance as a leader. The way he can knuckle down and choose the right time to be serious and the times when it’s right to play a practical joke and use his lighter side. That’s the beauty of Bob, he has that brilliant balance of understanding the situation.
He’s such an intelligent guy and you can tell that just by reading all of the articles he’s written in the paper. All the boys would read them and give him some stick but half the time we probably didn’t understand what he was writing about because it was above our IQs!
Prior to the successful period we spent together in 2008, 2009 and 2010, we’d had some really tough times. We all went through a few years where we may have only won four or five games in a season.
Then Rodney Eade came along and we began winning games. Going through the tough times steeled us and helped us to appreciate the feeling of winning and making it to those preliminary finals. It was a great time through that period and when you go through those patches you get really close as a group.
Conversely, when you lose, it strengthens you as a group so when Terry Wallace left and then Peter Rhode took over it galvanised the seven of us who were drafted in 1999.
At that stage we got some solid games into us and we became the next wave of leaders and were led strongly by Gia and Murph.
There’s always going to be that special bond between the seven of us that were drafted together, so I’ve continued to watch Murph’s story closely even after I finished.
With my role at the Lions now, I’m working with Ben Hudson who is also close with Bob and we came into a room together the day after he did his knee last season and were both quite sad. I felt sick for him and hoped that he would return because the team were on the right track and he was so close to 300 games.
I knew that he would make the right decision for the footy club, not himself, and he has done that. The way that he has come back and what he has been able to achieve has been remarkable. You can only stand and applaud him.
I was absolutely rapt on Grand Final day in 2016 to see the Bulldogs win it all, but the other thought I had in my head was a sense of jealously because I wished it was the group who had played in the three preliminary finals. I wish we could have done that for our supporters earlier.
To be at the ground and watch it all unfold was so special. To see those 22 players do it for the Bulldogs, I couldn’t have been prouder on the day. It was amazing to be a Bulldogs person.
I didn’t go in the dressing rooms afterwards because I felt that was time for the players. I did catch up with some past players later on and some of the coaches.
The entire football community felt for Bob and I did get emotional seeing him walking around the ground and seeing the tears streaming down his face, but I wasn’t just emotional for him, I also thought about Brad Johnson, Chris Grant, Scott West and those guys.
To be honest, I don’t know how Murph dealt with it but from watching him and seeing how he presented himself was truly incredible. Luke Beveridge handing him the medal showed how much of an impact he still had within the footy club.
The way other players spoke about him and his influence, I still feel he was a huge part of them winning that premiership.
Bob’s wife Justine sent a message to Ben Hudson and I because we work at Brisbane ahead of this week’s game to invite us to a celebration afterwards. Unfortunately, I’m involved with the reserves team so I won’t be heading down but I’ll be watching on from afar. It’s a pretty crazy coincidence that he’s playing his big milestone against us.
I said to one of our other coaches, ‘What a week it is for us at Brisbane to play the Dogs in Murph’s 300th!’
There’ll always be a soft spot for the Bulldogs and I’ll always have a care for guys I’ve played with, so this weekend I’ll be cheering for the Lions but hope Bob plays well.