Hugh McCluggage will visit his third “home” this weekend coming off a defining moment in his career last week, and with a further opportunity to answer one of the League’s burning questions.
McCluggage will have his own private cheersquad on hand at Mars Stadium as they take on the Western Bulldogs, after he and teammate Jarrod Berry finished their schooling just 4km down the road at Ballarat’s Clarendon College.
He’ll take into the game the confidence of perhaps the best performance of his 85-game career against Collingwood last week, which is tipped to be rewarded with the first three-vote haul in the Brownlow Medal in September.
He’ll certainly be among the leading contenders for maximum medal votes in the Zac Bailey after-the-siren win over Collingwood after coaches Chris Fagan and Nathan Buckley collectively rated him equal best afield in voting for the Coach’s Association Player of the Year.
McCluggage, teammate Harris Andrews and Collingwood ruckman Brodie Grundy each received seven votes from the coaches after McCluggage’s class and composure played a key role in the unforgettable win.
And, with family and friends on hand for his second game in Ballarat, the now 23-old wingman can further his claim for the title of the best player in the 2016 AFL National Draft.
It was a hot question at the time, with good judges unable to collectively split McCluggage, from the North Ballarat Rebels and Sandringham Dragons pair Andrew McGrath and Tim Taranto.
After Essendon drafted McGrath at #1 and the GWS Giants took Taranto at #2 the Lions were positively over-joyed to claim McCluggage at #3. The best third prize imaginable, they said at the time.
Four and a half years on the jury is still out.
His smooth 28-possession game against Collingwood last week was one possession short of his career-best in a 33-point win over Hawthorn in Launceston in 2018, but his composure in the second half of a game was as hot as any he has played. This supported claims by a lot of scouts that McCluggage was the best ‘natural footballer’ in his draft year.
Mars Stadium, which has hosted five Bulldogs games since 2017, is McCluggage’s third ‘home’ behind his family property at Allansford, near Warnambool in western Victoria, and the Brisbane home he shares with teammates Jarrod and Tom Berry and Jaxon Prior.
It was his football home in 2015-16 when he played with the Rebels alongside Jarrod Berry and fellow 2016 draftees Willem Drew (Port Adelaide), Tom Williamson (Carlton), Jamaine Jones (West Coast) and Cedric Cox, delisted last year by the Lions.
It is also the football home this year of McCluggage’s younger brother Myles, a noted ‘running machine’ and 2021 draft prospect playing with the Rebels.
McCluggage Jnr also is at school at Clarendon College, which also counts among its football alumni Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson.
McCluggage Snr and the Lions played their first AFL game at Mars Stadium in Round 8 2019. He had 26 possessions and kicked a goal but the Dogs won by 16 points.
Like the entire Brisbane playing list, he will be chasing his first win at the venue on Saturday.