Tom Hawkins celebrates a goal during the match between St Kilda and Geelong at Marvel Stadium in round 23, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

IT'S HARD to picture Geelong without Tom Hawkins.

A giant of the game – both figuratively and literally – Hawkins will represent the Cats for the 350th time on Monday, and all going to plan, will be the club's all-time games record holder in another six weeks' time.

He burst onto the scene during his draft year, an oversized boy with a slightly floppy haircut, rag-dolling hapless opponents half his size while playing for Vic Metro.

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Fast-forward 16 years, and Hawkins was shoving AFL ruckman Tom Hickey aside with ease at boundary throw-ins, booting the first two goals of the thumping 2022 Grand Final victory.


It would be easy to see the before and after and assume the intervening decade and a half was a straightforward trajectory to success.

The raw facts would suggest so: a triple-premiership player (quadruple if you count the 2007 VFL flag, which Hawkins went out of his way to acknowledge at his press conference), Coleman medallist in 2020, Geelong best and fairest in 2012, a five-time All-Australian and captain of the representative side in 2022, and an 11-time Cats leading goalkicker.

But that undersells the sheer hard work that went into the progress, let alone the external pressures that came with being a father-son selection after dad Jack's 182 games at Geelong, and the appointed successor to Gary Ablett's forward line by fans still pining for the legend's on-field exploits 10 years ago.

Teammate and now-assistant coach James Kelly witnessed one of those early under-18 games, played at GMBHA Stadium against Western Australia.

The kid from a farm in Finley, just over the border in New South Wales, was boarding at Melbourne Grammar and thus donning the big (u18) V.

Tom Hawkins poses with his Larke Medal after being awarded best and fairest in the 2006 NAB AFL U18 Championships playing for Vic Metro against Vic Country. Picture: AFL Photos

"He was obviously really highly touted. We watched that game and we were just like, 'oh my god, this kid's amazing, like he's a giant, and he can jump, and he can run, and he can move like someone who's half his size'," Kelly told

"When he came in (to Geelong), he was like any other key forward, he needed work and he needed help and he needed to learn how to prepare and all those sorts of things.

"But he never stopped trying to improve and try to work on those things, even when he was really young. He had a real desire to be better and get better.

"The energy he brought and still brings through our locker room is probably his biggest strength, really. He's always up and about, he's always happy, he's always out on the training track and that hasn't changed in his whole time in footy."

Hawkins played 19 games across his first two seasons, spending time in the VFL as he adjusted from being the biggest kid on the park to playing against men who were 10 or 15 years older.

He kicked two goals in the 2009 Grand Final (one of which just may have hit the post), but it was the 2011 premiership win that saw Hawkins stake his claim as one of the power forwards of the competition, kicking three third-quarter goals to create a game-winning break.

Tom Hawkins and Joel Selwood after Geelong's win over Collingwood in the 2011 Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

"When you're the big dog on campus, and the ball comes to you all the time, you don't have to learn a lot, you just stand in a spot and people will kick it to you," Kelly said.

"Then somehow you've got to learn to [adjust] with a player like Matthew Scarlett or Tom Stewart or Harry Taylor off your back as well (at training).

"I remember really vividly – one of the problems 'Hawk' was having was he was always trying to get the ball over the back, because he was always just big enough to push people under it. He's figured out a way to do that really well now, but in his early days, he tried to do that too much.

"He had to get taught to come at the football a bit more and lead up towards the ball. There was a session where 'Bomber' (Mark Thompson, former senior coach) had 'Hawk' out on the training track after training, kicking balls five metres in front of him, trying to get him to come forward to him.

"And it's the first time I've ever seen a senior coach do craft with the player. But I think the message sunk in, that's the way he had to play. It was good, but it was funny though."

Tom Hawkins kicks a goal during the match between Geelong and Melbourne at GMHBA Stadium in round 15, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The career of Hawkins – who turns 36 this year, with only Travis Boak and Todd Goldstein remaining of his draft class – has spanned two eras at Geelong, those early flags at the start of his career, and the rejuvenation of the list, culminating in a Grand Final appearance in 2020 and flag in 2022.

Hawkins' longevity over that period has been remarkable.

His career-best goal tally is eight in a match, which was recorded not when he was a sprightly 25-year-old, but last year against Essendon, monstering an undersized defence.


In the intervening years, there was the good: the seemingly endless victories over arch rival Hawthorn, including a winning goal from outside 50 in 2012, and the hundreds of goals given off to teammates – and the bad: debilitating back issues that affected his mobility around the field and a string of suspensions for ill-disciplined hits.

The most egregious brain-fade – a behind-the-ball swinging arm, collecting Will Schofield – saw Hawkins miss the 2019 preliminary final, which the Cats lost. He's since turned the corner, having not served a suspension since 2020.


Hawkins said the passing of his mother, Jennifer, in 2015 was the toughest portion of his career.

"He's a bit of a template for what we're trying to achieve with some of our more experienced players," coach Chris Scott told reporters on Tuesday.

"[The back problems] also occurred through a period of time where I think there was a sense that the game was changing, and that maybe the days of the big strong key forward were numbered.

"Certainly, the sort of the way that you know, the greats in previous generations played, the Dunstalls and Locketts, and maybe the game was moving further and further away from that style of player. Tom's having back issues at the same time, so it made a bit of sense that the game might get harder for him not easier.

"And he's just completely defied those expectations, and it's not through luck or circumstance. It's the adjustments that he made and the way he prepared himself. And he's evolved with the game."

While it's not quite the big Finley family farm, Hawkins and wife Emma – along with their three children, Arabella, Primrose and Henry – have settled on their own property in the Barrabool Hills, out the back of Geelong, the key forward with his own herd of cattle.

The tight-knit family attended Tuesday's press conference, three little blonde heads sitting in the front row, decked out in old-school woollen Cats jumpers (complete with No.26), big sister Bella leading toddler Henry in and out of the room as his attention waned, while Hawkins paid credit to Emma and his extended support network.

Hawkins has never had an official 'C' for captain next to his name through his AFL career, but has been part of leadership groups, recognising his work mentoring the next generation of Cats on the track, and his insatiable desire to win for his teammates.

"It was a pleasure to play with him and he's now a pleasure to coach. You don't have to go to the well with Hawk, you know he's always going to show up and play. When the game's on the line, he's been there for us," Kelly said.

"I think the biggest compliment I can give 'Hawk' in that respect is he hasn't changed. He's been five or six times All-Australian, he's been All-Australian captain. He's been our leading goal kicker 11 years, all those sorts of things.

"I walked back in the door a couple of years ago (after a stint playing and coaching at Essendon), and he's just exactly the same guy.

"That says more about him than anything, is that while he's had all this success and all these accolades, everyone knows who 'Hawk' is and people fall at his feet a bit – he's just still a really empathetic, gentleman competitor. For me, that's the strength of him. He's still the same person."

Tom Hawkins and wife Emma with children Arabella, Primrose at GMHBA Stadium on March 26, 2024 ahead of Hawkins’ upcoming 350th match. Picture: AFL Photos

Hawkins joked he always comes last in time trials, but has helped build his longevity by focusing on his strengths of reading the play, working with teammates, being quick off the mark and winning one-on-one contests.

Kelly said Hawkins is the best forward of his generation, but his legacy at the club will be around how he made people feel, that the football side of things will take care of itself.

Hawkins himself is simply enjoying every moment left in his career, however long that may be.

"I know I'm not going to be in the game forever. I love my environment. It's what I wanted to do as a kid – I often would tell, whoever asked what I wanted to do, [it] was to play AFL football and play for the Cats," Hawkins said.

"I think that that's the motivation. I've loved the period of time in my life where I've had kids and they've been able to enjoy the journey with me. There's lots of factors – having success and being a successful organisation. They're probably the things that keep me going."