Hawkins keeps getting better and better – but only to Cats’ benefit

Tom Hawkins, it can be said, resembles a part of the veritable furniture ensemble at the Geelong Football Club.

Now in his 14th AFL season, all with the Cats, he has seen and experienced his share of team and individual honours with the club.

Two AFL Premierships, one VFL flag, 267 games, 578 goals, the club’s leading season goalkicker in each of the last eight years, a two-time All Australian (in 2012 and 2019), and recipient of the Carji Greeves Medal as Geelong’s Best and Fairest in 2012.

Amid other possible honours, what’s missing is a Coleman Medal. Something which Hawkins definitely deserves to have a shot at, given his raw skills either at full forward or on the half-forward flank, his abilities to take a strong mark and launching high-arching kicks at goal that could bring down rain.

At this writing, Hawkins – after the first 11 rounds of the start, stop, start again AFL season – and West Coast’s Josh Kennedy each sit atop the Coleman Medal leaderboard with 24 goals apiece. And it would stand to reason that with six games to go in this shortened season, winning that honour may very well be a realistic expectation for the 32-year-old Hawkins.

What makes his current 24-goal tally even more impressive is that Hawkins only had three goals after the first three rounds, with his 21 goals since then being among the 79 goals that his team has struck through the big sticks overall.

But Hawkins, who would downplay any array of honours and statistics as the hallmark of his worth and legacy over his career, brings other tangible and intangible qualities that go beyond statistics.

If Hawkins’ main position of full forward required a position description akin to that being required for a job application, then once being a go-to athlete for a “kick it long and mark it high” tactic would be it, complete with kicking big bags of goals as a measurement for KPI’s – even when he made his AFL debut in Round 2 of the 2007 season.

But fast-forward to 2020, and the position has evolved to the point where with the way Hawkins, a quintessential team player, plays the game within coach Chris Scott’s system, a five-goal haul like he enjoyed in the Cats’ 59-point demolition job against St Kilda on Monday night may be as close to a virtual “bag” of goals as one may ever see from him. Such is the case with forwards in the modern game as well.

And if that – along with running tirelessly and effortlessly up and down the ground, setting up teammates who may be in better positions to advance the ball downfield and/or kick goals, and applying the one-percenters that ultimately help win games – has prevented him from winning a Coleman Medal, then he and his Geelong teammates may be fine with that.

The putting of team achievements ahead of personal honours has been a part of the Geelong culture for the last 20 years, first under Mark Thompson and now under Scott.

And Hawkins’s career has spanned the gospel of both coaches, after having made his debut in Round 2, 2007 – earning plaudits from opposition coaches after playing very impressively from the outset, drawing comparisons to the likes of Tony Lockett, Wayne Carey and Chris Judd, such has been the class of his overall game from early in his career.

Some would say that even with all of his time at the top level, Hawkins is just getting better and better, with hopes and suggestions that the best is yet to come.

“I’ll let people outside comment on that [best run of form], but I'm really pleased with the shape I’m in, the way I’m playing, the way I’m moving and the way I’m feeling,” Hawkins modestly told AFL.com on Tuesday.

One of those aforementioned one-percenters isn’t actually translated as being on the footy paddock, according to the observations of Scott, as few people outside of Hawkins’ family and long-time teammates know him better than the coach.

Scott maintains that Hawkins’ dedication to leadership and fitness has set him apart at this stage of his career, and those qualities possess benefits to everyone around him, even amid the Cats’ current busy run of matches during the AFL’s pandemic-influenced fixture congestion, including another top-of-the-ladder blockbuster for the Cats against Port Adelaide, on Friday night, and on all of four days’ rest.

“It was never a part of the plan to chop Tom out – that’s a part due to the position that he plays, and the way he looks after himself as well,” Scott said after Geelong’s – and Hawkins’ – dominant performance against the Saints.

“Over the years, as he’s taken a leadership role within our group, he’s given himself a chance to prepare himself in a way that allows him to play late into games and later into seasons.

“He’s in better shape now than when I started coaching this club. That dedication is obvious for all around the club to see,” Scott added.

Despite some ups and downs over the first five years from 2007 to 2012, Hawkins’ career has evolved and ascended to the point that he prefers the consistent output over mere glimpses of excellence, no matter how high of a level of his excellence is happening at present.

“The way our team players certainly helps me is a key… I’ve got used to playing with a lot of players who play in the midfield and half-forward,” Hawkins said on Monday night.

“I feel really good, and I’ve put a lot of work in, so I feel like the footy I’ve played the last few years has been as consistent as what I’ve put out.

“I went through periods in my mid-to-late-20’s where I would have a good season and drop off a little bit the following year.

“So, personally, I’ve always strived to be a consistent player – play at a high level where I can, but consistency is the key.

“That’s hard to do as a key forward, and I feel like I’ve been relatively consistent the last couple of years,” Hawkins added.

Whether Hawkins can help lead the Cats to another Premiership – and provide one more flag for the road of Geelong’s glory days holdovers such as captain Joel Selwood, Gary Ablett, Mitch Duncan and Harry Taylor, among Scott’s mix of seasoned veterans and hungry younger players – remains to be seen.

And while Hawkins remains in contention for his first Coleman Medal, that honour will not define a key forward who keeps getting better and better, even if he fails to secure it. Because for Hawkins, it is not about the output he gives the team, it is how Geelong benefits from his influence.


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