12/04/2024
Tom Hawkins will play game 350 this weekend. Picture: Daniel Cohen

Tom Hawkins will play game 350 this weekend. Picture: Daniel Cohen

Geelong Cats champion Tom Hawkins will celebrate his 350th game when his side takes on old rivals Hawthorn in this week’s Easter Monday showdown.

The 35-year-old is set to become only the 24th player in VFL/AFL history to reach the milestone, but he’s showing no signs of slowing down after a superb four-goal performance against Adelaide last weekend.

The three-time premiership player has kicked 786 goals and currently sits 14th on the all-time VFL/AFL goal-kickers list.

We take a look back through his decorated career and his footballing journey to reach this monumental milestone.

The father-son pick

Hawkins entered the AFL in 2006 as a father-son selection, taken at pick 41. His father Jack Hawkins played 182 games for Geelong from 1973 to 1981. As well as his father, Hawkins’ uncles Michael Hawkins and Robb Hawkins all played football for Geelong.

In that same draft, Geelong selected Joel Selwood with pick seven. The two would end up playing 305 games as teammates before Selwood’s retirement after the 2022 AFL premiership. This record stands as the second most by any pairing in AFL history.

Hawkins made his long-awaited debut in Round 2 in 2007, kicking three goals against Carlton.

He would then follow up with an even more impressive performance in his second game, kicking four first-half goals to help set up a victory against Melbourne, where he later earned an AFL Rising Star nomination.

Hawkins was being praised as the next big forward prospect for Geelong and had received a wave of hype and attention due to his size and power, coupled with his marking ability and speed off the mark.

A true Geelong stalwart

Playing for one club is a rare sight in modern-day football. Throughout his career, Hawkins has remained loyal to Geelong, choosing to represent the club in which he grew up supporting.

Hawkins recently re-signed with the Cats during the offseason despite a competitive offer from Melbourne which he decided to turn down.

Ever since Hawkins arrived at Kardinia Park, his passion and love for the game have been something to admire.

Former Geelong teammate James Podsiadly reflected on Hawkins’ character and how he’s a great person on and off the field.

“Hawk was just a gentle giant off the field,” Podsiadly told The Inner Sanctum.

“He was amazing at building relationships and on the field, he just loved the game and was super competitive on the training track as well as in games.”

Hawkins has achieved so much playing for Geelong including three premierships in 2009, 2011, and 2022.

He has also received five All-Australian selections, including one as captain in 2022, he is a Carji Greaves Medallist and a Coleman Medal winner, and an eleven-time leading goalkicker for the Cats.

Following Monday’s game, Hawkins will be just five games away from equalling Geelong’s individual game record of 355, held by former captain Joel Selwood.

Despite retirement conversations, Hawkins has shown no signs of slowing down and is looking likely to surpass 800 career goals.

When it comes to highlights, you could make a movie out of all of Hawkins’ clutch moments in his 18-year career thus far.

Podsiadly reflected on some of his best memories with Hawkins on the field and how he loves the fact he brings up this milestone against the club’s rivals.

“It’s funny that his 350th game is against Hawthorn,” Podsiadly said.

“I reckon there’s probably six to eight games where I remember him, and I played in that competitive era of Hawthorn versus Geelong… the one highlight that stands out is that goal from Hawkins after the siren back in 2012.”

Developing consistency

Consistency is the key to a long and successful career. In his early days at Geelong, concerns were being raised over Hawkins’ fitness and ability.

Hawkins did showcase strong performances in the VFL in his debut year which ultimately helped Geelong win the VFL Grand Final, their first VFL premiership since 2002.

Despite inconsistencies in Hawkins’ form he played 24 matches for the 2009, including the grand final, where he scored two goals in the game to help Geelong defeat St Kilda, earning himself his first AFL premiership.

Podsiadly talked about his time training with Hawkins and talked about how all players helped each other to become better.

“I got the chance to work with Hawk and help him hone his craft and he helped me hone my craft,” Podsiadly said.

“We were working with guys like Harry Taylor, Tom Lonergan, and Matthew Scarlett and competing against those guys at training and doing contested marking drills, which helped each other become better players.”

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In 2011, Hawkins delivered in spades when it came to the finals series. In the grand final against Collingwood, James Podsiadly sustained an injury in the second quarter, meaning Hawkins had to step up.

He ended up becoming the unlikely hero finishing the game with nineteen disposals, nine marks and three goals.

Podsiadly recalled his thoughts on Hawkins during that 2011 finals series.

“He took the game by the scruff of the neck which was so awesome to see. Seeing him dominant on the big stage was fantastic to see,” Podsiadly said.

“I do recall that year, Hawkins was left out of the team once just through form, but I reckon the last few rounds of the year both on the training track and in games, his confidence changed and what he could do on the footy field went to another level.

“Chris Scott needs to take a lot of credit because he really back him in at that time. The finals series that he had in the lead up to the grand final is where you could notice a build of his confidence and become the player he now is.”

Team first mindset

Hawkins is arguably one of the most selfless key forwards the game has ever seen. It’s not often a forward is willing to dish it off to a teammate, but reflects strongly on Hawkins’ playing style and more so his team-first mentality.

Hawkins is one of five Geelong players in the top 15 of all time for goal assists, which is yet another incredible statistic, especially from a big powerful key forward.

His personality and fun-loving nature comes out in his playing and has always puts his teammates and club first.

Hawkins has been able to demonstrate leadership skills in less commanding ways on and off the field which is something Podsiadly noticed whilst at the Cats.

“His influence has obviously grown as he has become more experienced, but still had a big influence when I was there,” Podsiadly said.

“I think he did have an influence, not necessarily this commanding leadership style that other people think leadership is, but I think he had a way about him where brought the fun to footy, and that in itself is influential, especially in a high-pressure environment.

Podsiadly also mentioned that without a doubt Hawkins was not only the best to play alongside, but most unselfish player the game has ever seen.

“Without a doubt, Hawkins was the best forward I played alongside in the handful of years I did play and train with him,” Podsiadly said.

“You definitely felt that he was a presence and someone who was going to have an influence on the competition for a long time.

“I think he’s the most unselfish team-orientated key forward the game has ever seen.

“He’s kicked hundreds of goals on top of that, but lord knows how many assists he’s given directly and indirectly to people who are in different positions.”

Geelong coach Chris Scott earlier this week praised Hawkins as one of the greatest forwards of his generation ahead of the forward’s 350th game.

“I think he’s been one of the great players in his position of a generation… it’s been a real privilege,” Scott said.

“It’s easy to get hung up on the on-field accolades and sort of miss the impact that he’s had around the place.”

AFL Chief Executive Andrew Dillon also expressed his best wishes on behalf of the AFL.

“Tom has been an all-time great of the Geelong Football Club and a central part of their successful era across the last 17 seasons,” Dillon said.

“The AFL congratulates him for this significant milestone of 350 games, achieved by so few players, and join with everyone across the competition in lauding the mark he has left on our game.”

Podsiadly says that even though there will be players similar to Hawkins, none will be quite the same.

“Hawkins is very unique,” Podsiadly said.

“Geelong, Chris Scott, and the environment he’s got there need to take some of the credit for Hawkins’ career as well.

“The fact they had a gameplan and a mentality of using players strengths, that’s needed to see a player like Hawkins in the future.

“You think there will be players similar to Hawkins, but I think the way the Geelong model works has helped him flourish and be a long-term contributor.”

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