Every time Luke Lowden crawled close to the start of the queue, the line got even longer. At different times since he was drafted at the end of 2008, the ruckman has had these players in front of him: Robert Campbell, Brent Renouf, Wayde Skipper, Paul Johnson, Broc McCauley, Max Bailey, David Hale, Jon Ceglar, Sam Grimley and even Jarryd Roughead. When Bailey retired at the end of last season, the Hawks went and recruited Ben McEvoy.
Lowden was one of the last 17-year-olds drafted, and such a long way off that the club let him spend the next season playing with his school side, Caulfield Grammar. He didn't feel like a proper Hawthorn player back then, "just some tall, skinny kid with a shoulder injury who used to turn up once a week and do a bit of work there".
Work hard enough for long enough, and things happen. Last week, Hale hurt a quad. This week, McEvoy wasn’t ready to come back from his hamstring injury and so Lowden was called up to play alongside Ceglar. After five years, 11 rounds, a lot of injuries and even more VFL games he will no longer be asked the question he’s been asked “every day of my life for six years: when will you get a game?’ Now they’ll probably ask: do you think you’ll stay in the team?”
His wait has been a long one. But that’s not to say he waited, Had he, he knows his turn would never have come. “People say, you must be so patient. And you have to be patient, but you can’t be too patient,” Lowden said. “I wasn’t going to get picked because I’m tall. I had to be in good form.”
His introduction was never going to be a gentle one, either. The Hawks needed him because it's tough for teams to handle Nic Naitanui and Dean Cox, and so Lowden found out not only what it is like to play senior football, but to play against two very good senior footballers.
He did well. He wasn't out-bodied like his teenage self would have been. He got a good bit of the ball, and his teammates looked for him. His opponent got a step or two ahead of him as he led for a ball in the second quarter, but Lowden's decision to hang back and not get in the way of his smaller teammates was wise: the ball was handballed back towards him and he turned and kicked his first goal as quickly as he could, as if not quite believing it was happening.
He kicked two more, and enjoyed every moment of his weekend away: finding out what it was like to travel with the team, getting handed his first, official brown and gold jumper, getting to be at a first bounce, getting to win, getting to hand a little footy to a kid in the crowd and be in the middle of the circle as the song was sung. But at the front of his mind afterwards was a thought: he doesn't want this to be it.
"When the siren went, honestly, it was the best feeling I've ever had in my life. Everything about this experience, I'm going to remember. I really want to enjoy the moment but it's only one game in six years and I have to keep improving. I'm not getting carried away," he said.
"I wasn't sure I was ever going to be good enough to play. I've had all those self doubts, but Hawthorn kept faith in me and I'm so fortunate they did. People say, you've really persevered, but there are players in other competitions who just want to be on a list. I've been lucky to have had the chance I've had, but I just want to keep going. There's so much work still to do."