HAWTHORN captain Luke Hodge will enter his seventh finals series feeling as good as he has for three to four years, quashing any thought of retirement as his contemporaries leave the game.
After a season of speculation regarding Chris Judd's future and the retirement of Luke Ball
, Hodge said he had reflected on the famous draft class of 2001 and realised the end of his career was drawing closer.
The topic of Hodge's future drew a laugh from coach Alastair Clarkson, who said, "He's hanging in there, the old fella, he's doing well".
But the 30-year-old, who is contracted for next season, said retirement was the last thing on his mind as he entered yet another September campaign after a timely one-week rest.
"I'm feeling as good now as what I did three or four years ago," he said on Monday.
"I know 'Clarko' was laughing before, but I'm not aiming to hang the boots up that quickly.
"Everyone knows it's going to finish at some stage, but it's the last thing on your mind, especially when you're coming into a big finals series.
"At the moment I'm enjoying my football, my body's pulling up really well, so I guess it's year by year."
Hodge played just 10 games in 2012 because of knee and calf injuries, and Clarkson said he might have been expected to retire ahead of Judd and Ball at different stages of his career.
However, after playing 23 games last season and 19 so far this year, the 2008 Norm Smith medallist doesn't appear to be slowing down yet.
Hodge said the Hawks' ability to move players between the midfield, half-back and half-forward had given him the ability to play a less demanding role when needed this year.
"With the team that we've got at the moment, it's good having the flexibility [where we can play] a few blokes that can rotate," he said.
"That does give your body a bit of a break. At this stage I'll take it as it comes."
However, he said that was "immaterial" in the grand scheme of Hawthorn's season and it had helped illustrate the club's professionalism and culture, with assistant coach Brendon Bolton filling in.
"If one bloke goes down for whatever reason … we've got others that can step into the breach and carry us forward," he said.
"It's the sign of a really strong club that we were able to do that.
"Whether it's Sydney, Fremantle, Geelong, all of those clubs, [including] us, have had to cope with adversity through the season.
"But they can still forge on because they've got a really good culture and a really good understanding of what's required to win big games of footy."
Hodge and Clarkson both paid tribute to dual premiership midfielder Brad Sewell, who is due to play his 200th game this week.
After Sewell missed 10 matches because of three hamstring injuries this year, Hodge said, "You can tell a lot about a bloke when he gets a few knockbacks".
"To get to his 200th game is a super effort for someone who has given absolutely everything to football," he said.
Clarkson labelled the 30-year-old a big-game performer who was "at his best when the stakes are the highest".
"We're hoping that's the case on Friday night too," Clarkson said.
"He's been a real warrior for our footy club.
"Not just being able to play good footy in finals, but really show us the way when our club was down and out early on."