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Hocking admits public scrutiny caused him to ‘lose a bit of bark’, departs the AFL for Cats return

“Making a decision mid-season it is quite disruptive. That has probably been one of my biggest learnings,” Hocking said.

“Everybody is passionate about the game and they actually just care for the game, so it is fine to butt heads on a whole host of things. It actually tests your decision-making.”

He also revealed that it was McLachlan who quashed his idea of extending the goal square as being one of nine new rules introduced at the start of 2019. 

“I remember the conversation when I rolled in and said ‘the goal square is going to be doubled in size’ and there was a bit of fun between the two of us,” Hocking said.

McLachlan said he thought the game was being played in attractive fashion in 2021 and he admired the process Hocking had followed to open it up gradually.

“I think it is a great credit to him,” the AFL chief said.

Hocking played 199 games at the Cats and has worked in several executive roles at the club, including the football manager and commercial operations manager.

He was appointed general manager of football operations at the AFL in August 2017. In this role, he led the operations of the AFL and AFLW competition, the laws of the game, Match Review Panel, and tribunal systems, umpiring at the elite level, key talent pathways and elite coaching development programs.

A noted change agent, he transformed the game in his role at the AFL, appointing a game analysis team to review the rules of the game in an attempt to increase scoring.

He made incremental change, introducing a raft of changes in 2019 including a new kick in rule and the six-six-six rule at centre bounces. He then reduced interchange rotations and brought in the standing-the-mark rule in 2021, but after an initial spike scores have remained relatively stagnant with teams averaging 80.3 points per game this season.

Hocking also introduced the competition committee to consult stakeholders on the future of the game, but many felt consultation in that forum dwindled during 2020 as COVID-19 restrictions disrupted the season.

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He had already upset those in the AFLW in 2018 when he sent a memo to coaches after round one of that season in a bid to ease congestion and coaches were unhappy at attempts to control runners on the eve of the 2019.

Among other innovations was the score review system, otherwise known as the ARC, that was housed at head office, and the appointment of Michael Christian as the sole match review officer with Hocking overseeing his decisions.

He created controversy last month when he sent Adelaide’s David Mackay to the tribunal after St Kilda defender Hunter Clark’s jaw was broken as they both attacked the ball.

Hocking also added a medical sub on the eve of the season as concerns about concussion grew, adding costs to clubs already straining under a reduced football department cap.

He also spent most of 2020 on the road as the AFL played football almost on a daily basis in order to complete a season in which most clubs relocated to hubs in Queensland and South Australia.

He will take over the CEO’s role from Cook, a highly-respected football administrator.

Cook has led the Cats for the past 23 years as CEO and in this time has rebuilt the club’s finances and presided over one of the most successful eras in the club’s history. He will remain at the club as a consultant.

Hocking, the older brother of former Geelong captain Garry, began his career at the club as a player in 1984 and retired after the 1994 AFL Grand Final. He returned to the club as chairman of selectors in 2004 and assumed the role of assistant general manager (football operations). In 2014, Hocking was appointed as the club’s general manager (commercial), before returning to the football department as general manager of football in 2015.

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