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Proud Hawk Bateman calls time

THERE'S a saying at Hawthorn that coach Alastair Clarkson drums into his players "you lose one soldier, you replace him with another one".

Yesterday the Hawks lost one of the greatest warriors, Chance Bateman, who quietly announced to his teammates he was retiring after 177 games.

And Bateman firmly believes Clarkson's mantra rings true, particularly where he's concerned.

Recruited at pick No.48 in the 1999 AFL draft, Bateman became only the third indigenous player to don the brown and gold. The first was Cyril Collard, who played 13 games in 1957-58, followed by Willie Rioli, the younger brother of Maurice, who was recruited in 1990. But Bateman changed the club forever, becoming the first indigenous player to make 50, 100, then 150 games at Hawthorn, not to mention be inducted as a life member.

The club now has seven indigenous players on its list, including superstar Lance Franklin, Cyril Rioli and Shaun Burgoyne.

"The thing I’m most proud about is helping the club develop and co-ordinate programs which embrace the drafting of indigenous players, and then once they’re inside the club, supporting them," Bateman said.

"It fills me with pride."

Bateman, 31, hopes to continue to promote and work with indigenous communities. Although he is not sure whether that will be back in his home state, Western Australia, or Melbourne. He said now was the right time to retire after struggling with injuries in the past two seasons.

‘‘You have it in your head that you just want to get out there and train and play, but sometimes your body is just not up it,’’ he said.

‘‘I had a few ankle issues last year and calf issues and this year I had surgery on my AC [joint], which kept me out for a big chunk of the year and I just thought to myself that now is probably a good time to call it a day and not go around next year.’’

Bateman said the Hawks had learnt much from their disappointing seasons in 2009 and 2010, where they struggled to build on the success of the 2008 premiership. Many commentators asked if that win was just a temporary alignment of the stars, with Hawthorn winning just 21 of its next 45 games.

‘‘There was a whole range of reasons why we didn’t have too much success in 2009. There were personnel issues. We had a lot of injuries through that year and some guys who were playing really good footy in 2008 maybe didn’t reach those same levels in 2009.

‘‘But there’s a real belief within the group that if you lose a soldier you replace them with another one.

‘‘That’s been something that Clarko’s been talking about for a few years now. When someone goes down it’s not catastrophic, it’s ‘right someone else is coming in to play that role and we know who can get it done’.  I’ve spent a little bit of time on the sidelines and been able to watch, and it’s just been a really good system and really good professional unit.

‘‘We started off with a really solid pre-season and early in the year we were in pretty good form. Ever since then it’s been a case of  ‘all right that’s a game out of the way, don’t think too much about it, don’t celebrate it too much’ and then if we lose you don’t get too down about it.’’

The last piece of the puzzle, it seemed, was captain Luke Hodge's return from injury, which had restricted him to playing only a handful of games in the dying rounds.

‘‘I think he came in at a really good time. If you leave it too late, maybe you don’t get enough games before finals time, but he had enough time to come in and play a good chunk of footy before the finals rolled around,’’ Bateman said. ‘‘[Hodge’s return] was pretty important, not just in terms of playing, but if you could hear or see just how much organising and how much voice he has, he’s a courageous player as well and sets an example for all the boys.’’

Bateman is continuing to train in the Hawks’ finals squad.

‘‘We’ve got about 30 blokes in the squad that will train until the season’s over. Whether that’s the prelim or the granny, I’ll still be around for the next two or three weeks and will be training, and just in case someone goes down, I might be called up and fill a role for the side.’’