Hodge says Hawks ready in AFL

Not for the first or the last time, captain Luke Hodge has batted away the pessimism of Hawthorn preparing for the AFL season opener without five of their premiership contributors.

Hodge said the Hawks had the talent to cover their losses as they aimed for a historic fourth straight premiership.

“We’ve got a lot of blokes who have played three or four years in the reserves (VFL) who are just waiting for their chance,” the defiant skipper said.

Hawthorn will confront arch-rivals Geelong on Easter Monday without injured pair Jarryd Roughead and Liam Shiels.

Also from last year’s premiership team, Brian Lake and David Hale have retired and Matt Suckling is at the Western Bulldogs.

Hodge does not have to go back far to highlight Hawthorn’s dogged resilience and talented reserves.

He recalled how they won the 2014 flag without Sam Mitchell (hamstring) for seven rounds, Josh Gibson (chest) for eight rounds, Cyril Rioli (hamstring) who missed 13 games and Brian Lake (suspensions and calf) who managed just 11 appearances.

Coach Alastair Clarkson also was sidelined for five weeks with a serious illness.

“One thing we’ve always prided ourselves on is the depth at this football club,” Hodge said on Thursday.

“Through the middle part of 2014, we had Mitch, Lakey, Gibbo and Cyril all miss for long periods of time and it didn’t affect us.

“I think we won four of the next five (matches).

“So, you’ve got to adapt with the personnel you have and we have confidence in the blokes who are coming in.”

Hodge reeled off a list of young players, including Tim O’Brien, James Sicily and Jonathan O’Rourke, as ready replacements.

“We’ve got a good group of younger guys who can step up and play the role they need to,” he said.

As the Hawks try to equal Collingwood’s record of four straight flags, pundits point to their veterans as another potential weakness.

Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Shaun Burgoyne and Josh Gibson – all still key Hawthorn players – are 30-plus.

“A lot of people worry about age and I’m not sure why,” Hodge said.

“Clarko has always said it doesn’t matter about your birth certificate – it’s what you can do on the field and around the football club.

“And, if you look at the form of the older guys, they’ve been pretty consistent the last few years.

“I can’t see any of them retiring soon.”

Hodge would talk only in general terms to acknowledge the urgent need for on-field innovation.

“Every team has to tweak certain things from the year before because we found, after 2008, if you keep things the same, teams are going to overrun you,” Hodge said.

“We’ve done the same this year, just tweaked a few things that, hopefully, give us an advantage during the year.

“If you sit back as a group and think what worked last year will work again, it’s not going to be the case.”

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