Wodonga Raiders' coach Jarrod Hodgkin claimed the Morris Medal on Monday night with The Border Mail's Andrew Moir catching up with the midfielder.
AM: Your uncle, league Hall of Famer John Smith, won the medal in 1973, what's it mean to you and the family?
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JH: Yeah, it means a lot, he was obviously one of the better players to play in the league, I've heard so many good stories about the type of player he was. To achieve something that he's achieved obviously means a lot to my mum and dad and my family as well. To have someone in the family win the Morris Medal again, that's nice.
AM: What impact has John had?
JH: We're pretty close as a family, we're close to both sides of the family. John's always taken a pretty big interest in our footy, he gets down to a few games and gives us a couple of bits of advice every time we play. He's been a good part of our lives.
AM: You spoke after the win about taking your play to its highest level in the second half of the year. You're 28 next month, has the penny dropped?
JH: I'd say it has and it's probably a little bit frustrating looking back, but I suppose it's the same with everyone that's probably taken this long, but I now feel right on top of my game. In saying that, I've been pretty consistent over the last four or five years, but the feeling going into the last half of the year, my confidence level was at a level it had never been before. It's just the little tricks that you pick up in the midfield. I'm still only 27, so I'm looking to improve a little bit more as well.
AM: What held you back from playing your best football prior to this point?
JH: I've always been a competitive guy who's worked really hard, but probably just taken that to another level. I now really understand that when I go into a game I work as hard as I can and really hand myself over to the team. And even when I got tagged, I really look forward to those times to really make it personal with that tagger and see how hard you can work. You might call that a bit of maturity, but it may be me developing as a player. My fitness also went to another level compared to what it has been. My year at Wodonga (2017) was pretty good, but I wasn't as fit then so my defensive side was probably pretty poor, whereas in the last couple of years I've improved my fitness where I can work both offensively and defensively.
AM: So you actually have to find a way to enjoy being tagged?
JH: You do and that's probably where I got myself to in the second half of the year. You just have to accept it's coming and once you accept it, you embrace it and make life hard for him instead of him making life hard for you. If you can get on top early, you can try and break them. I found I was able to handle that tag pretty well this year.
AM: Who was the best tagger you faced?
JH: I actually got tagged very hard this year by Chris Hyde (Albury), who probably did the best job on me. I was surprised, I thought I'd get someone that day, maybe Michael Duncan, but 'Hydey' completely sacrificed his game and didn't even try and get a kick at all, just tried to shut me down. He was the one that was as strong mentally as any of them and just always in my face, always running with me and it was pretty hard to break. Blake Parker (Myrtleford), he had a few tactics that I got a little frustrated with, but he's a nice fellow to go with that. Again, I didn't have too much trouble finding the footy, but had a limited influence, again with scrappy kicks and handballs. They were the two standouts.
AM: You joined illustrious company to win the medal while coaching (AFL Hall of Famer Bob Rose did it at Wangaratta Rovers in 1958 and 1960), was coaching more time-consuming than you thought it would?
JH: The actual football side of things was what I thought it would be, but moreso the recruiting side, signing players, the amount of work that goes into that is incredible. There's a lot of phone calls, a lot of meetings, that's been an eye-opener, but I'm young and enthusiastic, so it's certainly not wearing me down yet.
AM: You've had a flying start for 2020, do you expect any more profile recruits?
JH: We've got 'Joffa' (Steve Jolliffe) and the two Neagle boys (Jydon and Jaxon), we rate them as profile and realistically we'd be happy to get two more. Ideally we'd love a centre half-back and a big forward as well. Jydon can probably fill that role, but you'd like to play Jydon everywhere on the ground. We're looking at bringing in between five to 10 really strong and young Hume and Tallangatta league players that can play senior footy. It's important you don't just bring in the profile players.
AM: Raiders lost five of their best players over summer and many experts felt you would drop out of the top five, so it was a great effort to play finals. What does the club need to take the next step?
JH: Like most clubs, we need to improve across the board. We've got pretty high expectations and high standards. We need to continue to be harder on ourselves, our leadership in particular out on the ground is something we need to improve. We're a quiet team, you look at Lavington and Myrtleford (in the preliminary final last week), they're very aggressive with their voice. The recruits that we've got are going to help in that area, with Jydon and 'Joffa'. A lot of people probably forget we're still a very young side (Raiders didn't have a player in their 30s in the elimination final against Myrtleford) and we've still got a lot of development internally for this year's list.
AM: Who are the confirmed losses for next year?
JH: The Rouse boys (Jordan and Zach) will definitely return to Melbourne after studying at university up here. Floyd Bollinghaus and Will Donaghey were at Coburg this year and had us at their second club, but I think they're looking at their options for next year. After Monday night, you try and move on as quick as you can, I've got a job to do at Raiders and we've got meetings with other potential recruits.