The other Hawk that got away
Forget Trent Croad. The player that Hawthorn is really regretting losing is Luke McPharlin, writes Caroline Wilson.
Some of the most heartbreaking losses in football have no scoreboard upon which to record them. Just haunting and frequent reminders. One of which will take place at Subiaco this week when Hawthorn takes on a Fremantle team which includes "The One That Got Away".
It is not the loss of Trent Croad that has shattered the Hawks this season, and caused massive soul-searching, but that of the club's one-time smokey Luke McPharlin, one of the AFL's best young prospects running around in this year's outstandingly high-quality field.
The structure of the modern game dictates that stories such as McPharlin's rarely occur these days. Perhaps he is the last of them but, if that sounds like a cliche, the speedy 193-centimetre 20-year-old with classic footballer's hands is anything but.
McPharlin is a biomedical science student, follower of the Bahai faith, guitarist and singer-songwriter who has already released his first CD Calling, Waiting, Searching - the proceeds of which will go to charity. And his 10-man band has begun to pick up irregular gigs around Perth. He still swaps his music with the man who recruited him to Hawthorn, John Turnbull.
If McPharlin was Turnbull's biggest coup, then his loss to Hawthorn has now become his most shattering loss in seven years at the club.
Turnbull had been following the boy since 1996 and it was three years later that he slipped away from a WAFL game, and a host of his opposition talent scouts, to watch McPharlin contest a 200-metre sprint for Perth's Christ Church Grammar at an interschool sports day.
The teenager finished second and, at that time, had no intention of extending his football beyond schoolboy level. But to render him eligible for the draft, Turnbull had to persuade him to play one game for the East Fremantle colts side. "To be honest, I wasn't that keen at the time," said McPharlin.
"To be honest, I had to be pressured into playing. I'd drifted away from footy and I preferred basketball and athletics. Now I'm really glad I played that game."
By half-time of that East Fremantle game - McPharlin would not be readily identified because he had been forced to change jumpers at the last minute due to a size issue - Turnbull was close to asking the club to remove him as he had already kicked four goals.
By the time the draft took place, only Mick Malthouse, on behalf of Collingwood, had interviewed McPharlin, apart from Hawthorn. Melbourne had also shown some late interest.
So the nervous Hawks pushed him forward from pick No. 25 overall to their first pick, No. 10.
No one at Hawthorn would say so, but clearly the club believes that the loss of McPharlin will hurt the club more than the decision to trade Croad. And the Hawks are still emotionally bleeding at how relatively powerless they were in the letting go of a footballer they had so clearly outwitted 15 other clubs to select - and into whose future they had conservatively invested some $200,000.
You get the feeling that every senior performance McPharlin puts in for Fremantle - he lined up at centre half-back last Sunday and performed well in the first half against the Saints' Nick Riewoldt - plunges another knife into the still-raw wound.
Experienced club administrator John Hook watched only the first half of the match before turning off the television with a knot in his stomach. Turnbull watched the game highlights, periodically shaking his head.
"Neither West Coast nor Fremantle had shown any interest in him," Turnbull said yesterday. "It's the most distressing and frustrating situation personally that's taken place in my experience at Hawthorn. It still irks me."
There are so many elements surrounding McPharlin's departure that have upset the Hawks, to the extent that Hook penned a letter to the AFL putting forward a case for a free draft pick in return for the youngster's loss, given that it emerged after he had gone that Fremantle had serious salary cap problems.
The letter was never sent because the AFL's football boss Andrew Demetriou indicated to Hawk chief executive Michael Brown that the club would be wasting its time. But the letter has been filed in the offices of Glenferrie Oval anyway.
And under the new changes to the draft, 2001 wooden-spooner Fremantle would not have been guaranteed McPharlin, who admitted yesterday that his main reason for leaving Melbourne related to his family back in Perth.
This year he would have gone into a lottery open to the four bottom sides as long as none of them had won more than seven games. Had the new system been in place, McPharlin would not have taken the risk.
The Hawks, realising they had lost McPharlin, included him in the Croad trade for which they received the Dockers' draft picks No. 1, 20 and 36. But in effect they lost him for nothing because the Croad trade guaranteed top pick Luke Hodge anyway.
But what truly irks the club - and has caused some dissension - is that Fremantle convinced the player it would better manage his osteitis pubis. And it seems to have done a pretty good job of just that.
The Hawks had initially recommended major surgery, a prospect McPharlin's parents, Ian and Marion, refused to entertain.
The Dockers, through their highly regarded physiotherapist Jeff Boyle, told McPharlin he would not require surgery - simply rest and good management over a three-year course. The Hawks' diagnosis had been far more gloomy. Not that they ever wanted to lose him.
Struck down at the start of last winter after showing massive promise in eight of the Hawks' first 10 games, McPharlin became increasingly dejected at the prospect of not playing and was receptive to any positive messages emanating from back home. By the time Hawthorn realised what was happening, it was almost too late.
Still he wrestled with the decision, changing his mind several times in the final days.
"I really enjoyed living in Melbourne and I really enjoyed my time under Peter Schwab," McPharlin said yesterday.
"I came home because of my family first and foremost but I was also really confident about Jeff Boyle's program. I really thought I'd miss this entire season but I had a six-month rest and that, coupled with Jeff's program, seems to have fixed it.
"I sat down at the end of last year with (fellow-sufferers) Luke Power and Stephen Powell and we all had different ideas about the injury, but the pity is that no one really seems to truly understand how to cure it."
And the prospect of taking on the Hawks this week? "It'll be interesting but I'm pretty relaxed about it," said McPharlin.
"I just want to go out there and beat them."
©Copyright 2002, The Age (Australia)