For a kid just 20 years of age, Jesse Hogan has captured the minds of Melbourne and footy fans alike. Standing at 195cm, Hogan shows the skill, strength and aura of someone far older and more experienced and has the footy world at his feet.
As a 17 year old, Hogan was acquired by Melbourne in the 2012 mini-draft which meant he was ineligible to play in the senior team in 2013. Hogan settled for playing 15 games for the Casey Scorpions, Melbourne's affiliate VFL team as he kicked 39 goals and won the best and fairest award. The following season he injured his back in the NAB Cup and missed a majority of the season but provided Demons fans with a ray of light in an otherwise dismal decade by signing a two year contract extension, keeping him at the club until 2017. Despite having never played a game at this stage, speculation was rife that the Fremantle Dockers were extremely interested in getting the Western Australian home. Melbourne were rightly thrilled that he chose loyalty.
That brings us to 2015 and Hogan has quite simply been brilliant. Despite almost always playing on the best key defender in the opposition Hogan has averaged 13.4 disposals, 6.9 marks and 2.1 goals per game as the focal point in a team that has struggled to kick points, ranking 17th in points scored. But none of the blame for the attacking issues can be laid at the feet of Hogan. The young star ranks 3rd in the AFL in contested marks and 9th in marks inside 50 and has taken less than five marks just once.
But statistics don't begin to tell the story of why Hogan has been so impressive and why he threatens to be the pre-eminent key forward in the competition over the next decade. While he will continue to build a fitness base, he has found a way to push up the ground when he is struggling to impact the game. When parked inside the forward 50, his ability to take contested marks and his overall body strength enable him to match far older and more experienced opponents. Given the Demons' problems with scoring, these are both marvellous traits for such a young player and will be a huge bonus as the midfield group improve in the next few years. Melbourne currently go inside 50 just 43.3 times a game which ranks last in the competition; imagine what Hogan's performances may look like as that number increases and he gets more and more opportunities.
Hogan has taken on and beaten the likes of Alex Rance (considered by some to be a star player and a possible All-Australian this season), Phil Davis and Ted Richards while giving a very good account of himself week after week despite being the main focus of the opposition defenders. While Chris Dawes has worked his way into reasonable form and Tom McDonald has offered a different look as a forward, things start and end with Hogan and revolve around the rookie.
Hogan has been compared to all-time greats Wayne Carey and Jonathan Brown for his imposing presence and the wide range of skills he possesses as a young key position player. Now, it goes without saying that he would do well to have a career in the same vicinity of these two champions:
But to take a look at the stats of the three players at 20 years of age reads well for Hogan
Hogan - 13.4 possessions, 6.9 marks, 2.1 goals
Brown - 13.9 possessions, 6.3 marks, 1.5 goals
Carey - 13.8 possessions, 4.7 marks, 2.0 goals
Numbers are just numbers, but they don't lie and as far as comparisons go, Hogan fits well with Brown and Carey for everything he offers and the way he plays his footy. Melbourne's ongoing lack of success and on-field struggles are hardly his fault and with team success will come the chance for the kid to match the feats of Messrs Brown and Carey. The footy world will be hoping they can rise into the top 8 in 2016 and stay there for many a year so we get the pleasure of seeing this rare talent on the September stage for many a year to come.
Paul Roos and Simon Goodwin have a fair share of challenges on their plate and while young midfielders like Brayshaw, Petracca, Tyson and Viney give the Demons plenty of cause for excitement, big men are the difference makers in a footy team. For the Dees the real deal is wearing #1 and as footy fans we are the winners in seeing him play week in and week out. We can only hope he can deliver on the talent we have seen in just 14 games this season.