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Garry Hocking book extract

EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT FROM THE NEW BOOK `WE ARE GEELONG'.

Hocking was sent home at the end of his first year with the Cats' under-19s in 1986 and received a "boot up the backside" from his father Les. "It was difficult," Hocking recalled. "I was thrown into a house with other footballers, and I had to pay bills, cook tea, just live. My dad knew what was going on and I was home for only a couple of weeks."

Within three months of returning, he was playing league football and never looked back.

Hocking was keen on football from a young age and grew up as a fanatical Carlton supporter.

As a teenager, he and John Barnes were inseparable, playing junior football together at Cobram. "He was a larrikin like me," Hocking said. "I was doing a hairdressing apprenticeship with my father and we just loved playing footy.

"We were just ratbags and the coaches in junior footy couldn't control us. We wanted to take over the drills and we were hard to manage.

"We were just fantastic mates. We'd kick through trees as there was nothing else to do."

Hocking picked up his nickname 'Buddha' a long time before he arrived at the club. His father called him that after coming home and seeing his son sitting in a chair watching TV.

"I was a fat kid when I was young. Mum (Pam) had these porcelain Buddhas sitting around the place. I resembled them, and it just stuck," Hocking said.

Hocking quickly progressed through the junior ranks and played a season for the Cobram seniors in the Murray Football League in 1985. Hocking, wearing No. 51, made his senior debut in round three, 1987, against Melbourne, the first of six games that season under coach John Devine.

Michael Turner played alongside Hocking in that game at Kardinia Park, which the Cats won by 34 points.

"He was a young bloke and you're just not sure at that stage," Turner said. "I knew he was a very tough player. He had a good mullet like I did, so I had a bit of respect for him. He wasn't big in stature, but he was big in heart, and hard and tough at the ball. He had a very single-minded approach to the game."

GARRY Hocking's league career was almost over before it started. The shaggy-haired boy from the northern Victorian town of Cobram was struggling to settle into his new surroundings in Geelong and could not conform to the demands of playing at the elite level.

The following year Hocking switched to No. 32 and managed only three games before succumbing to knee problems that ended his season prematurely.

"In '88 I went home and had knee surgery and got it right," he said. "I knew there was a new coach coming in because John (Devine) was going and I had to prove to the new coach that I was able to play. I kept my head down. I wasn't as good as some of the players, but it clicked."

Click he did. In 1989, under new coach Malcolm Blight, Hocking was regarded as one of the Cats' prime on-ballers. "I got the fittest that I could," he said. "I wanted to be in the top three in the running and I knew the skills would come out."

Hocking played in another three grand finals (1992 and 1994-95) and, by the mid-1990s, he was established as one of the game's top midfielders.

When Gary Ayres came in to replace Blight as coach in 1995, he was so impressed with Hocking that he appointed him captain. Yet after struggling to come to grips with his new role, Hocking lasted only four games as skipper.

"I wasn't ready, I was immature," he said. "I didn't want to talk to corporate people. I was introverted and so was my wife. It was affecting us both. "I'd rather play the game and was more of a leader on the field through actions. I was worried about what I had to talk about at quarter-time and half-time."

Four years later, a more mature Hocking happily stepped into the captaincy after Leigh Colbert missed the season after a knee reconstruction.

During his reinvention as Cats skipper, Hocking showed he was prepared to go to any length to help the club as it struggled under the burden of financial hardship. Ahead of a match against Richmond at the MCG, he changed his name to 'Whiskas' by deed poll to earn the Cats some much-needed cash. "It was a different way to get sponsorship," he said. "I didn't play that well on the night as I was crook with gastro.

"The important thing was the club got its money and it was great exposure. It was fun and it set an agenda for other clubs to make money."

Hocking was named as ruck-rover in Geelong's Team of the Century and inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2008. "I've got no regrets about the way I played," he said.