Travis King reports –
GRAND Final hero Will Langford has reassured Hawthorn fans he is going nowhere and says his best football in the brown and gold is still to come.
Last month AFL.com.au reported Langford, who emerged as one of the competition’s rising stars in late 2014, had delayed talks to extend his contract, which expires this year.
The news sent shivers running through the Hawks’ faithful, but in an exclusive interview the 22-year-old said he would soon put pen to paper and sign a new deal.
“I just had a few little niggles in pre-season and it’s not anything malicious,” Langford said of his decision to delay contract talks.
“It will be done very soon. It was really no worries at all.”
Securing Langford’s signature has been one of recruiting and list manager Graham Wright’s priorities since the son-of-a-gun was among the chief destroyers during Hawthorn’s 63-point Grand Final demolition of the Sydney Swans.
His three-goal performance capped a meteoric rise from tagger to attacking weapon, with Langford attributing his golden run of form to being dropped midway through last season.
He had defied expectations by playing nine of the first 10 matches, but suddenly found himself languishing in the VFL, just as stand-in coach Brendon Bolton was steadying a ship rocked by Alastair Clarkson’s shock illness battle.
When Langford finally earned a recall against Adelaide in round 17 – a week after the Hawks were flattened in a shock loss to North Melbourne – the tough nut vowed he would grab the chance.
“I just made a vow that I wanted to give it my absolute all,” he said during Hawthorn’s community camp in Tasmania.
“Probably six or seven weeks out from finals (I started) really committing in my own mind to what I wanted to do and putting myself in a position where if the opportunity presented to play deep into September, I’d be there and be a part of it.
“Fortunately things played out the way that they did.”
Langford played seven consecutive matches leading into finals, with his influence and confidence growing as the stakes kept rising.
In round 22 against arch-rivals Geelong, he gathered 23 touches and kicked two goals – including a crucial shot on the three-quarter time siren to give the Hawks the lead.
Langford earned his first Brownlow Medal vote as the Hawks surged to victory from 37 points down at half-time, but better was still to come.
In the furnace of a preliminary final, he racked up 29 possessions, booted a goal and won 10 clearances as the Hawks fell over the line against Port Adelaide.
And on the biggest stage of all, the son of club champion Chris, who arrived at Waverley not as a father-son recruit but as a NSW scholarship rookie in 2011, followed in his dad’s footsteps as a Hawthorn premiership player.
Langford’s three goals – highlighted by a miraculous bouncing effort from the forward pocket he called “one of the greatest Grand Final flukes” – 21 disposals and six tackles earned him a Norm Smith Medal vote.
While his teammates celebrated with the premiership cup, the realisation he had achieved his lifelong dream hit home and the emotional Hawk sat quietly by himself in the middle of the MCG to soak up the moment.
“I think I had been so focused and oblivious to everything outside of footy – I’d really zoned in on what I wanted to do – that it was like taking a moment to look up and take a bit of fresh air in and let everything try and sink in,” he said.
“It had been a lifelong dream of mine to play in a Grand Final and win a premiership, so I really just was a bit stunned.
“I just wanted to take a moment to sit down because I think more than anything I was just emotionally exhausted by it all.”
Remarkably, the Grand Final was just his 20th match, and Langford believes he can improve “across the board”.
He wants to maintain the “upwards trajectory” that characterised his 2014 campaign and he still feels a burning desire to see Hawthorn succeed which, given his family ties to the club, always made it seem unlikely he would be lured by a rival club.
That emotional connection only grew stronger last November when Hawthorn plucked his 18-year-old brother Lachlan from Melbourne Grammar with pick 53 in the NAB AFL Rookie Draft.
The raw 189cm youngster has key position attributes although, like his elder brother, he needs time to develop in the VFL after overcoming stress fractures in his back.
“I think he’s settled in and understands now what it takes and the intensity that’s required at training,” Langford said.
“It’s slowly, slowly … but I suppose if anyone knows that it takes a while it’s him. I took me three or four years to get going. He’s aware that he’s probably much the same.
“It is nice to have him down there obviously with the family connection now with dad, myself … it’s a little tradition and something we can talk about and chat (about) amongst ourselves.
“It’s something that we share, which I’m sure we all hold dear to our hearts.”