Leigh Matthews is a massive fan of Luke Hodge.
Leigh Matthews is a massive fan of Luke Hodge.

Lethal: ‘Unbelievable’ Hodge an exception

THE question is coming: Will Luke Hodge play next year?

The answer is not needed yet. In fact, the question won't be asked until after the season, but bet your last dollar, the question is coming.

As we write, the answer is almost certainly no.

Asked last week if the door was slightly ajar to him playing next year, Hodge largely dodged it because he does not like making headlines.

"I'd say it's a very slim possibility,'' he said.

He dead-batted reasons as to why he should play again.

"That's a lot of hypothetical there,'' he said.

"You know I'm very boring, I don't give any headlines, I'm a dull old man.''

Luke Hodge and Lions coach Chris Fagan talk tactics at three quarter time against North Melbourne. Pic: AAP
Luke Hodge and Lions coach Chris Fagan talk tactics at three quarter time against North Melbourne. Pic: AAP

It won't be a case of Brisbane deciding.

"It's up to him,'' Lions chief executive Greg Swann said this week.

"Ultimately, he makes the call, not us.''

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Leigh Matthews does not have a say - this despite him being the Lions legend and current board member - but does have a suggested plan.

"There's no other Hodgey, he's the exception to the rule, and what he's done at the Lions has been unbelievable,'' Matthews said.

When Hodge departed Hawthorn at the end of 2017 and joined the Lions, in the face of consternation about his body being all banged up, the understanding was that he would play 15 or so games a year.

Luke Hodge shakes hands with Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson after announcing his retirement on the eve of his 300th game. Pic: Getty Images
Luke Hodge shakes hands with Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson after announcing his retirement on the eve of his 300th game. Pic: Getty Images

Not for the first time, the boy from Colac was underestimated.

He played in 19 games last year and has played 15 this year, with finals to come.

Matthews believes Hodge could play next year and miss a game in every five.

"Is that possible in the modern salary-cap age?'' Matthews asked.

"If he played like he did this year next year, the price of that probably is giving him the week off every fifth week.

"As a general principle, every club has to look at their own salary cap, but you're asking about Hodgey.

"Would it still be valuable if you've got a unique experienced player who gives so much to the group and to the club, on-field and off-field?

"He's amazing, he has a fantastic football persona, Hodgey, he's just unbelievable. But the price is you have to give him the week off every month or four or five times a year.

Hodge has helped turn the Lions into a genuine contender. Pic: Getty Images
Hodge has helped turn the Lions into a genuine contender. Pic: Getty Images

"It's not my choice, I'm not part of the decision-making process at the Lions, but Hodgey is unique enough and if that were the price, it would be worth paying.''

It is said with a hint of humour, but widely acknowledged as truth, that Matthews only rates two footballers: Wayne Carey and his three-time premiership captain Michael Voss.

But clearly Matthews is enamoured with Hodge.

"It's the manner in which Hodgey goes about it,'' Matthews said.

"He just doesn't walk into a footy club and say, 'just follow me'. He's a bit like Fages. They're not bombastic, they're not over the top.

"He's got enormous credibility and when he decided to extend his career up here, he gave the club an instant sugar-hit of credibility.

Hodge celebrates Colac's under-18 premiership in 2000.
Hodge celebrates Colac's under-18 premiership in 2000.

"There's only been one Luke Hodge in my time in footy.

"He's a unique, unique football person. I'm an enormous fan of him for what he did as player at Hawthorn and what he's doing up here. He's a beauty.''

Adulation won't influence Hodge. It never has.

He was recently compared to Melbourne Storm great Cameron Smith in the sense that superstardom has not changed them.

But moving to Queensland after 16 eventful years at the Hawks - which was punctuated by four flags, two Norm Smith medals - has indeed changed him, according to his manager Paul Connors.

"He's less grumpy,'' Connors joked of the 35-year-old.

He says Hodge has taken up golf - he plays most Wednesdays with teammates - and the country kids at the club keep him young, even when they prank him by bringing a walking stick to training.

"I don't think he ever dreamt of how good the winters are, Lauren (his wife) loves it, a lot of the kids at the club are country kids and I think they've kept him a bit younger,'' Connors said.

Leigh Matthews says Hodge’s worth means the Lions should consider offering him another playing contract. Pic: Colleen Petch
Leigh Matthews says Hodge’s worth means the Lions should consider offering him another playing contract. Pic: Colleen Petch

Connors reckons Hodge will retire this year, but admits he said the same before former Hawk figure Chris Fagan made a phone call at the end of 2017.

"The betting was way against him enhancing his legacy and reputation by going to Brisbane, but he's done it in spades,'' Connors said.

"He'll make up his own mind. My advice is, 'he's done a wonderful job, an amazing job for two years, and I think the time is perfect for him to retire the legend he is'.

"But that's my opinion, it's completely up to Luke.''

The footy world thought Hodge was retiring when he and Bob Murphy played in the final round of 2017. Pic: AAP
The footy world thought Hodge was retiring when he and Bob Murphy played in the final round of 2017. Pic: AAP

The Lions being a realistic contender this year, and perhaps more importantly next year, will not be a decisive factor in Hodge's decision.

"I don't think that matters,'' Connors says.

"The Lions are close, and you know what, you never say never. That's what he might say, 'I'll play 14 games next year and be happy'.

"Yeah, that could be a plan, but it's not the plan at the moment, though.

"He's smart enough and older enough to make these decisions, not by himself but with Lauren."

Connors also pondered the remarkable opportunity in front of his player.

"God forbid they win a premiership this year,'' Connors said.

"It won't be long before he's in the Hall of Fame and getting into legend status.

"You know, he will always be a Hawthorn legend, but like Kevin Sheedy and Sheeds is good on this, what Hodgey is doing is bigger than just him.

2001 draft class Chris Judd (pick 3), top pick Hodge and Luke Ball (pick 2).
2001 draft class Chris Judd (pick 3), top pick Hodge and Luke Ball (pick 2).

"He's grasped the game of Australian rules, he will have a lovely soft spot for Brisbane, be an advocate for the national game. He's an AFL legend.''

The Lions are hopeful, but not confident about next year.

"It's more unlikely than likely, but it won't be decided until the end of the season,'' Lions CEO Greg Swann said.

He said Hodge's form was strong as was the body. Like Matthews, Swann believes Hodge is a one-off.

"He's a God in football, he's done everything,'' Swann said,

Hodge poses with the Hawks’ 2013, 2014 and 2015 premierships. Pic: Getty Images
Hodge poses with the Hawks’ 2013, 2014 and 2015 premierships. Pic: Getty Images

"It's interesting when people talk about the Suns and finding experienced players, which they should, but there's only one Luke Hodge.

"They won't get someone like Luke Hodge. They will get someone, but they can't get Luke Hodge because there's only one Luke Hodge.''

And that's why the question is coming.