Country Connects Cats

Written By Rod Gillett

This article first appeared on the NSW Australian Football History Society’s website. Check out the site for more great stories and facts about our game in NSW.

There’s a sign as you drive into Finley welcoming you to the ‘home of Tom Hawkins’.

Fair enough, the southern NSW town has every right to be proud of its triple AFL premiership son.

But he’s not the only Hawkins to make his mark on the farming town.

Keep driving a few minutes and you’ll get to Finley footy club, where there wouldn’t be a sign big enough to declare it the home to Jack, Robb, Michael, Charlie, Lachy, Spencer, Andrew, Mark, Mitchell, Fraser and Tom. Not to mention the Robertson and Jewell cousins.

After a slow start to 2023, Tom’s brilliant recent form for Geelong, especially his BOG performance against Essendon last week which earned him the maximum 10 coaches’ votes, has catapulted him into a commanding lead in the Carey-Bunton medal for the best NSW player in the AFL.

His eight goals against the Bombers have also put him well ahead in the Bill Mohr Medal for leading goalkicker.

And the All-Australian captain learned his footy in NSW, at little old Finley, population 1,921.

“I’ve got a few passions in life and football is the biggest passion and it all started in Finley,” he said.

“We’re a big, big family, dad’s side all grew up in and around Finley and whenever we’d get together it would be somewhere with a lot of open space, in a paddock, and it would always include a ball of some type.

“I’d be with my cousins and friends from school, always kicking the footy.”

Tom played for Finley until he moved to boarding school in Melbourne in Year Nine, but still came back home for the odd game with the under 17s and occasional run with the seniors.

His last game with Finley was as a 16-year-old in 2005, but his connections to the club run deep.

There wouldn’t have been a season in the past 50 years without a Hawkins involved in either playing for or administering the Finley Football Netball Club.

Dad Jack, who left his family’s Finley farm in 1972 to play 182 games for Geelong, returned to be president of the club for three years in the 1980s and is still heavily involved, while uncles Robb and Michael won eight club best and fairests between them from 1972 to 1990. Jack and Michael played in the club’s 1971 Murray Football League premiership.

Last year’s senior coach Angus Robertson is a cousin, Lachy Hawkins is another playing this season in the ruck. One game a few years ago, Tom reckons there were “eight or nine Hawkins cousins in the seniors.”

Family and footy at a small country club taught Tom about community, lessons he still applies to his selfless approach to footy today.

He has sponsored Finley’s under 14s for many years and while his selflessness is evident on the field when he plays for Geelong, he’s just as generous off the field with the younger Cats players. Again, that trait of giving back was forged in Finley.

“Footy is such a social connector. There’s been times of heavy drought and the footy club is such an important piece to the community and we have had a lot of people giving back to the community,” Hawkins said.

“My connection to Finley now and the way I play now – is about ‘how can you give back? How can I connect to the younger players at Geelong now?’ I learned all that idea of connection from people at Finley.”

While he doesn’t get back home as much as he’d like these days, his own farm just outside Geelong ensures he retains his rural roots.

“I still keep up to date with what’s going on in the community, not just footy, but the sheep and cattle market, rainfall, how things are looking agriculturally,” he said.

Finley is also fertile footy country – the home of 1999 Brownlow medallist and Hawthorn premiership captain Shane Crawford and Sydney Swans Hall of Famer David Murphy among around 20 locals to play in the VFL/AFL.

Then there’s Geelong great Billy Brownless from Jerilderie, 36km up the Newell Highway.

While Brownless famously kicked a footy over the 30m high silos up the road at Mirrool, Hawkins hasn’t tackled Finley’s wheat silos.

“I’ve never had a crack at the silos. The hammies and quads aren’t as strong as they were,” he said. “Maybe I should get back and have a go, but if I fail to kick it over, I’d never hear the end of it.”

And even after all his heroics at Geelong, he still considers himself a proud New South Welshman.

“Absolutely, I do, that’s where I came from.”

Hawkins has leapt to 17 votes in the Carey-Bunton after seven rounds, ahead of Adelaide’s Broken Hill boy Taylor Walker on 12, with Sydney’s Callum Mills on 11.

Hawkins and Walker also sit on top of the Mohr Medal standings with 22 and 15 goals respectively.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 30: Tom Hawkins of the Cats kicks on goal during the round seven AFL match between Essendon Bombers and Geelong Cats at Melbourne Cricket Ground, on April 30, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images via AFL Photos)


17    Tom Hawkins (Geelong/ Finley) 10

12    Taylor Walker (Adelaide/ North Broken Hill)     

11    Callum Mills (Sydney Swans / Mosman)      

9     Errol Gulden (Sydney Swans / UNSW-Eastern Suburbs)    

8     Jeremy Finalyson (Port Adelaide / Culcairn)     

8     Nick Blakey (Sydney Swans/ UNSW-Eastern Suburbs)      

9      Jarrod Witts (Gold Coast Suns/ Sydney University)    1

8      Dane Rampe (Sydney Swans / UNSW-Eastern Suburbs)     

8     Jacob Hopper (Richmond / Leeton-Whitton)  

6     Jack Buckley (GWS Giants / UNSW-Eastern Suburbs)      2

5     Isaac Heeney (Sydney Swans/ Cardiff)      

5     Will Setterfield (Essendon / Albury)      

4     Lachlan Shultz (Fremantle/ Moama)   

4     Harry Perryman (GWS Giants / Collingullie-Glenfield Park)   4

3     Isaac Smith (Geelong / Cootamundra) 

3     Todd Marshall (Port Adelaide/ Deniliquin) 


BILL MOHR MEDAL Leading Goalkickers                 

22    Tom Hawkins (Geelong/ Finley) 8

15    Taylor Walker (Adelaide/ North Broken Hill)  1

10    Jeremy Finalyson (Port Adelaide / Culcairn)  2

10    Todd Marshall (Port Adelaide/ Deniliquin) 

9     Lachlan Schultz (Fremantle/ Moama)  

9     Harry Himmelberg (Adelaide/ Mangoplah- Cookardina Eastlakes)  1

7     Isaac Heeney (Sydney Swans/ Cardiff)      

6     Charlie Spargo (Melbourne/ Albury)  

5     Luke Breust (Hawthorn / Temora)  3

4     Callum Mills (Sydney Swans / Mosman)      

3     Harry Perryman (GWS Giants / Collingullie-Glenfield Park)   3

3      Jarrod Witts (Gold Coast Suns/ Sydney University)    1

3     Jacob Hopper (Richmond / Leeton-Whitton)  

3     Errol Gulden (Sydney Swans/ UNSW-Eastern Suburbs)     1

2     Will Setterfield (Essendon/ Albury) 

2     Harry Cunningham (Sydney Swans / Turvey Park)   

2     Nick Blakey (Sydney Swans/ UNSW-Eastern Suburbs)      

2     Isaac Smith (Geelong / Cootamundra) 

2     Daniel Lloyd (GWS Giants / Killarney Vale)      

1     Matthew Flynn (GWS Giants/ Narrandera)    

1     Elliot Himmelberg (Adelaide/ Mangoplah- Cookardina United Eastlakes)     

1     Braeden Campbell (GWS Giants/ Pennant Hills)

Simon Kelly Fun Fact – Surprisingly the 8 goals Tom Hawkins (Geelong/Finley) kicked against Essendon are his best bag of goals in his 334 game career. He has previously kicked 7 goals three times.