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I always saw myself as a little bit like Jonathan Brown

Date

Greg Baum

Tom Hawkins thinks he has far to go in his football development.

Tom Hawkins thinks he has far to go in his football development. Photo: Pat Scala

RECENTLY, Tom Hawkins drew up a list of the best 10 centre half-forwards he has seen. He apologises that it does not include Carey, Brereton, Kernahan or Lyon; at 23, he is too young to have known their heydays. It does include Brownless and Stoneham: Geelong by birth and raising, their names were synonymous with football in his awareness.

Of course, it features Lance Franklin, who is everything Hawkins knows he cannot be. “That goal he kicked against Essendon,” he marvels. “How he kicked that, I really don't know. On the run, after a 100-metre effort .?.?.”

Travis Cloke is there: Hawkins admires how he has learnt to use his strength.

But at the top is the man who will be at the other end of the Gabba to him tonight. “I didn't idolise Jonathan Brown, but I just loved the way he went about his football,” Hawkins said. “I always saw myself as a little bit like him.”

As a teenager, his affection was purely visceral. Since, he has heard from Tom Lonergan and Matthew Scarlett how difficult Brown is to play on, and his admiration has deepened. “He'd run from one wing to the other, then back, then back up to the ball, then run back and take one [mark] running with the flight of the ball, and kick a goal,” he said. “He's inspirational. I love watching Browny.”

But Hawkins has trodden a decidedly different path to Brown. At 22, Brown had won three premierships and was a dominant, intimidating figure in the game. At 22, Hawkins had played an incidental part in one premiership, but was on the fringe of the Geelong team. Not quite a forward and not really a ruckman, he appeared lost in and almost to the game. Then, as now, he was a gentle giant, a compliment in life, a question mark in contact sport.

No one at Geelong said explicitly that he was on his last chance, but Hawkins felt it. “I'm sure they were thinking that,” he said. “It's something you get told [by outsiders] and it's hard to hear.”

Suddenly, in last year's finals, Hawkins exploded to life. In the grand final, he was the game-breaker. That form has spilled into this year: he is averaging career highs for marks — especially inside 50 — kicks and goals per game. For the first time, he is as formidable as he looks. Hawkins said there was no road to Damascus moment; rather, it was metamorphosis: boy-man becomes man, becomes behemoth.

“I can't put it down to any one thing,” he said. “But I think confidence is a big part of football. It's something I've struggled with a little bit. Growing up, I was always a big kid. You're confident because you're big. Then coming and playing against big men, who push you around, you can lose that confidence.

“Finding it again and playing with the confidence that you can take a mark, you can kick straight at goal: that's the biggest thing I've dealt with over the last 12 months.”

The salutary lesson he has drawn from it is that football is as much mental as physical. “Football's taught me a lot over the last 12 months,” he said. “You can't take anything for granted. You have a couple of bad games, and mentally, you start doubting yourself. It could be just around the corner again. I don't want it to be, but that's just the facts of football.”

Hawkins is an avid, five-handicapper at golf, with Steve Johnson, the best at the club. He sees parallels. “I marvel at how golfers can play the way they do, under the pressure they're under,” he said. “Tiger Woods is the best example. And it's exciting.” He cannot imagine which would be more frightening to face: a two-metre putt to win the US Masters, or a 40-metre, post-siren kick to win the grand final. In either instance, you know Johnson would be nearby.

Hawkins at Geelong is to the manor born. It is a distinctly Geelong tradition. His father, Jack, was long-serving, high-leaping and popular. Hawkins was not born until five years after his father retired, and so knows his football exploits only from scrapbooks, snippets and club lore.

A preceding name can be burden or bolster to a young footballer, but Hawkins has a simple take on it. “I barracked for Geelong. I love the Geelong Footy Club. And if it wasn't for dad, I wouldn't be playing for Geelong. It's a massive advantage when you look at it like that.”

Hawkins likes to think he has returned the favour by helping to deliver the success that eluded his father (who played in two losing preliminary finals), doubling the enjoyment for both. He says his father's chief virtue is his humility, and agrees that his role in his career has been pastoral rather than supervisory. He is a farmer, after all.

Hawkins grew up on the family farm at Finley and boarded at Melbourne Grammar. In all ways, he loomed large in recruiters' minds, but already was off limits. He admits now that he read his own pre-publicity and was not grounded when he arrived at Geelong. “I came into the game as a big kid,” he said. He was strong for his age, but not for open age. He was carrying puppy fat.

He felt inhibited. His role models were supposed now to be his mates; it was all too soon. One was Cam Mooney. “As a kid, I used to love watching him play; the 'big hairy Cat', running around,” he said. “But, no disrespect, I didn't think he was as good as he was until I got down here.”

There were so many others in this emerging champion team, leaving room on the edges. It shaped him. “2008, '09, even a bit of '10, I probably played more like an in-and-out player,” he said. “Waiting for the ball to be kicked. Moving out of space for someone else. Just waiting, really.

“That's a confidence thing. Then you want the ball kicked to you. You want to run to the right space. You want to be in the contest. You want to help your team win. Then you become a better player.”

The coach changed, but the message did not: Hawkins had to impose himself at the contest. He shed weight and added strength, and the effort continues: belying appearances. Trent West, Scarlett and Harry Taylor all are still stronger than him in the gym. But Hawkins began to play stronger, which is not the same thing. Cloke was his exemplar in how to throw his weight around.

Hawkins is pleased, but not deluded. He thinks he has far to go in his football development. But Geelong, still half-city, half-town, suits him. He is relishing football's simple joys. “I love training. You go home and you feel so good about yourself,” he said. “I love the couple of days leading up to games. I really get excited and nervous about every game. I love that feeling. I don't really like recovery. But it's part of football. I love winning games. I just love playing football on the weekend.”

As late as the eve of last year's finals, Geelong coach Chris Scott was in two minds whether to back Hawkins or Mooney. Ultimately, it was doubt about creaking Mooney rather than conviction in his faith in Hawkins that decided it. It proved serendipitous.

At half-time in the grand final, Mooney pep-talked Hawkins, saying that with James Podsiadly out of the game, it was up to him to be the big man. Minutes after the final siren, Mooney caught Hawkins in a bear hug and said he was at peace, because he knew that he could no longer do what Hawkins had just done.

That final siren remains powerful in Hawkins' memory. For 10 seconds or so, he was under a spell, until a teammate's embrace broke it. He cannot imagine a better feeling. “To now be part of this successful side,” he said, “to be privileged enough to come to Geelong when I did .?.?.” Words trailed off. Deeds, at last, had spoken.

5 comments

  • As a Collingwood supporter I can't share the warm glow of his 2011 Grand Final memories, but I always love that moment when talented young players finally 'realise' what they can do. Sometimes, there is a visible moment when their raw ability and enthusiasm intersects with the often savage demands of professional football, and it is gratifying to watch. It is even more gratifying when the young player in question has been as maligned as Tom Hawkins was, and much as Jack Watts is now.

    Commenter
    Days to Come
    Location
    Here and There
    Date and time
    April 28, 2012, 10:43AM
    • Hawkins didn't play an 'incidental' part in the 2009. He kicked a clutch goal in the final quarter, as well as a goal (that wasn't) in the third quarter. Important contribution.

      Commenter
      JezCan
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      April 28, 2012, 11:15AM
      • Yeah, nothing shattered me more than seeing Ben Reid beaten in the grand final after he was so awesome all year and gave Collingwood such a great service. But I can't help but like Tom Hawkins anyway, and felt for the amount of criticism he received as a young player. It is great for him that his play is now being lauded rather than critiqued. I hope he goes on to be in the same class as Jonathan Brown, who is an absolute AFL legend in my book.

        Commenter
        Agreed
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        April 28, 2012, 11:31AM
        • Tom Hawkins has kicked goals in last halves of two premierships. That is plenty.

          Commenter
          JRM
          Date and time
          April 28, 2012, 12:40PM
          • He looked like he was headed the way of Clive Waterhouse for a while there. Glad to see he is finally starting to reap some reward for the hard work. Doesn't have the natural talent of a Carey or Franklin but some of the greats didn't either.

            At 23 he has his best football is still ahead of him, I think he's only going to get better each year.

            Commenter
            Paul
            Location
            Fremantle
            Date and time
            April 28, 2012, 2:08PM
            Comments are now closed

            AFL 2015

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            MEL 115 vs GCF 89 13:40MCG
            SYD 72 vs ESS 60 16:35ANZ
            BRI 74 vs COL 86 19:20G
            WBU 97 vs WCE 87 19:20ES
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            STK 78 vs GWS 87 13:10ES
            ADE 140 vs NTH 63 15:20Adelaide Oval
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            GCF 76 vs STK 104 19:20MS
            PTA 44 vs SYD 92 19:40Adelaide Oval
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            NTH 133 vs BRI 51 16:40ES
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            CAR vs GWS 16:35ES
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            GCF vs COL 16:35MS
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            MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
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            RIC vs GWS 13:40MCG
            GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
            WBU vs CAR 19:20ES
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            ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
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            ESS vs MEL 13:40MCG
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            GWS vs STK 13:10Spotless Stadium
            HAW vs FRE 15:20AS
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            NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
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            GEE vs WBU 13:45SS
            GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
            COL vs WCE 16:35ES
            SYD vs HAW 19:20ANZ
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            MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
            PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
            STK vs RIC 16:40ES
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            CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
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            GWS vs GEE 13:45SO
            ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
            RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
            ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
            BRI vs NTH 19:20G
            Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
            WBU vs COL 13:10ES
            MEL vs STK 15:20MCG
            WCE vs SYD 16:40Domain Stadium
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            Round 18
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            HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
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            GEE vs BRI 13:45SS
            COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
            SYD vs ADE 16:35SCG
            CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
            GCF vs WCE 19:20MS
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            ADE vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
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            COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
            WBU vs PTA 14:10ES
            BRI vs GCF 16:35G
            GEE vs SYD 19:20SS
            WCE vs HAW 19:40Domain Stadium
            Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
            MEL vs NTH 13:10MCG
            GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
            STK vs FRE 16:40ES
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            Round 20
            Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
            SYD vs COL 19:50SCG
            Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
            ESS vs ADE 13:45ES
            NTH vs STK 14:10BA
            PTA vs GWS 16:35Adelaide Oval
            GEE vs HAW 19:20MCG
            BRI vs CAR 19:20G
            Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
            RIC vs GCF 13:10MCG
            WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
            FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
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            Round 21
            Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
            HAW vs PTA 19:50ES
            Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
            COL vs RIC 13:45MCG
            GWS vs SYD 14:10Spotless Stadium
            GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
            STK vs GEE 19:20ES
            ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
            Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
            NTH vs FRE 13:10ES
            CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
            WCE vs WBU 16:40Domain Stadium
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            Round 22
            Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
            GEE vs COL 19:50MCG
            Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
            GWS vs CAR 13:45Spotless Stadium
            HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
            NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
            ESS vs RIC 19:20MCG
            GCF vs PTA 19:20MS
            Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
            ADE vs WCE 13:10Adelaide Oval
            STK vs SYD 15:20ES
            FRE vs MEL 16:40Domain Stadium
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            Round 23
            Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
            COL vs ESS 00:00MCG
            RIC vs NTH 00:00ES
            HAW vs CAR 00:00MCG
            GEE vs ADE 00:00SS
            SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
            MEL vs GWS 00:00ES
            BRI vs WBU 00:00G
            PTA vs FRE 00:30Adelaide Oval
            WCE vs STK 02:00Domain Stadium
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            AFL 2015
            Overall standings
            Team P W L D % Pts
            Fremantle 5 5 0 0 151.10 20
            Collingwood 5 4 1 0 147.53 16
            Western Bulldogs 5 4 1 0 104.75 16
            Hawthorn 5 3 2 0 149.86 12
            West Coast Eagles 5 3 2 0 145.92 12
            Sydney Swans 5 3 2 0 118.26 12
            Adelaide Crows 5 3 2 0 111.40 12
            GWS Giants 5 3 2 0 102.87 12
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