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The mystery man who kept Hodge moving

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Luke Hodge credits Mark McGrath for his football longevity - ${keywords}
Luke Hodge credits Mark McGrath for his football longevity

THE MOVEMENT coach responsible for guiding Luke Hodge's body through his last six seasons says the retiring Hawk was "almost the best he's been" last week.

Four-time premiership player Hodge will play the 305th and final match of his storied AFL career against the Western Bulldogs at the MCG on Friday night.

Mark McGrath was the name some may not have recognised as Hodge thanked a shortlist of people during his retirement announcement in June. But Hodge credits much of his longevity to McGrath, with whom he spent three sessions a week in-season since 2012.

"He's got me doing some interesting things that the boys have some fun with," Hodge said at the time. "Mark, you've spent so much time with me to continue playing football, so a massive thank you for that."

There was much mirth among Hawthorn players and staff when Hodge mentioned McGrath, owing to his off-Broadway techniques, but the man himself is deadly serious about posture, movement and gait.

He mixes dynamic neuromuscular stabilisation with some yoga principles, a philosophy borne out of the famed Prague School of Rehabilitation.

"The DNS approach is built on infant development, so the first 15 months of life," McGrath told this week.

"What's really interesting about that is no-one taught us any of it – in other words, it was the maturation of the nervous system. Every single one of us in development followed that program, and it brought us to upright and walking.

"When we go back and practice those milestone postures from the first 15 months, it's like every single time we're rebooting it."

McGrath worked at the Victorian Institute of Sport with the Hawks' elite performance manager Andrew Russell until early last decade, and now consults for Hawthorn. He began doing some work with Hawks footballers in 2008, coinciding with the first of the club's four premierships in eight seasons.

McGrath's sessions with Hodge range from half an hour to 90 minutes in duration, and have transformed the brown and gold champion's physical condition. He no longer has to travel a day before his teammates to interstate games to give his back time to recover.

"Footballers are really motivated when they're injured, because playing is so important to them, but then some drop off once they get themselves right," McGrath said.

"Hodgey, being a bit older, realised he had to keep going … it's always just been super easy and enjoyable with him."

McGrath expects Hodge, who is preparing to run the New York Marathon on November 5, to continue working with him post-football.

"He's a young man and he's got three, four, five decades of activity ahead of him," McGrath said.

"It's the same for all of us. The more we can hang onto our function, the better. Lots of people walk post-30 or 40, but you really should keep sprinting for as long as you can, because it's so much harder to get it back than it is to maintain."