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Hawthorn's mystery man strikes chord with Dockers

By Scott Coghlan
May 01, 2004

HISTORY will view Hawthorn's left-field selection of Luke McPharlin with their first pick in the 1999 draft as an inspired decision.

Unfortunately for Hawthorn, Fremantle are set to reap the benefits of recruiting manager John Turnbull's wisdom.

It was Turnbull, then Hawthorn's recruiting manager, who convinced the club to punt on a raw young key position prospect who had played just one game of colts football in Western Australia.

It was a brave call, but, despite the fact that McPharlin managed just 12 games in two years because of osteitis pubis, the Hawks held high hopes that he would become one of their star players.

One call on McPharlin's mobile as he drove to Glenferrie shortly after the 2001 season changed all that.

McPharlin, who was in the sights of Fremantle, was about to inform Hawthorn officials that he had decided to stay when his father rang.

"I was fairly homesick and everything was going wrong, but I was still sitting on the fence about coming back to Perth and actually decided to stay with Hawthorn," McPharlin recalled this week.

"I got a phone call from dad just before I was going to tell (Hawthorn coach) Peter Schwab and that turned the cards for me and I ended up coming home.

"He didn't tell me to come home, but I realised it would be good to be close to the family at that time."

Weighing heavily on McPharlin's mind when he turned his back on the Hawks was Fremantle's conviction that they could cure his osteitis pubis.

"The physio here, Jeff Boyle, is an outstanding physio and I owe everything to him, really," McPharlin said.

Ironically, McPharlin refused to meet the Dockers before he was drafted by the Hawks.

"I was actually letting my dad handle my whole thing and was pretty intent on finishing my Year 12 studies," he said. "I told dad I was pretty happy with Hawthorn -- the way they dealt with my family and everything.

"I thought the experience of playing footy in Melbourne would be pretty good and when the Dockers came knocking dad shut them down."

Fremantle might have missed out initially, but they are now set to reap a rich reward for making a second play on McPharlin, who is a follower of the Bahai faith, studies biomechanical science and has just recorded his second CD of acoustic music with a few friends.

For just about the first time in his career, the 22-year-old is enjoying an injury-free run and, consequently, is playing superb football at centre half-back.

After playing 23 matches in his first two seasons with Fremantle, McPharlin has played in the first five rounds of 2004.

"The most positive part has been not having an injury," he said. "I've had four years of injury-riddled seasons.

"I'm developing the fitness and playing some pretty good footy at the moment. Everything ties in and I'm feeling pretty confident."

McPharlin is quick for his 193cm frame, but his biggest asset is his marking.

He is Fremantle's leading mark-taker this season with 43 in the first five rounds, and that puts him equal third in the AFL.

It was that ability which brought McPharlin to Turnbull's attention as he watched him play for Perth's Christchurch Grammar. Turnbull was once a house master at Christchurch and had been told a few years earlier there was only one highly promising young footballer at the school - but that he was barely a teenager.

As he watched a spring-heeled McPharlin dominate for Christchurch, it dawned on him that this was the youngster his mates had been talking about.

He set about wooing McPharlin, who nearly blew the cover when his only appearance for East Fremantle colts - necessary to qualify for the draft - saw him kick a swag of goals. Although Turnbull takes some satisfaction from the astute selection, it was ultimately a hollow victory.

"It was a gutsy move by the club, who backed my judgment," Turnbull said of McPharlin's initial selection in the 1999 draft.

"He was immature physically and still growing when we drafted him, but he's got tremendous athletic talent. He's a smart player and also very strong-minded, who when he sets his mind on something does it.

"It was frustrating from my point of view, and Hawthorn's point of view, we lost him."

There has been a widely held view that the inexperienced McPharlin, who joined the Dockers as part of the trade that saw Trent Croad leave the Hawks, was an afterthought to that deal.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Dockers saw enough in his dozen appearances at senior level with the Hawks to sound out his management midway through 2001 - well before Croad's name came up.

"Other clubs knew about him, but it was a sensational selection by John Turnbull," Dockers recruiting manager Phil Smart said.

"I remember I rang Luke the night before the draft, told him we wouldn't take him with our first three picks and said that I expected Hawthorn to take him.

"I wished him luck and said he would be welcome at Fremantle if he ever came back - which thankfully is what happened."

©Copyright 2004, The Australian (Australia). All rights reserved.

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