Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but even without it, Phil Partington knew back in 2016 that whichever AFL club drafted Hugh McCluggage would reap the rewards for many years.

Partington, who was the talent manager of McCluggage’s TAC Cup club the North Ballarat Rebels, also told one club that it would ‘come back to bite you on the arse’ for not drafting him.

And with McCluggage, now vice-captain of the Brisbane Lions, preparing to be the first player from the 2016 draft to reach 150 games - It seems Partington was right on both counts.

There were plenty of admirers of the teenager from Warrnambool, as he had plenty of ability on the football field.

But it was the value of McCluggage without the ball in hand and the value he brought off the field that Partington believed made him a prized draft pick.

“I found him a very hardworking player and one that wanted to improve his football at all times,” Partington said.

“But the other main thing was that he was a great teammate and a very highly respected teammate, and I reckon those traits have carried through to the Brisbane Lions.

“I reckon every teammate at the Brisbane Lions sitting beside him for this game will be saying the same stuff because they love playing with him, respect him and walk taller when they play footy with him.”

The Lions took the Victorian with pick number three in the 2016 draft, seeing him arrive in Brisbane as one player the then battling Lions hoped would help them experience future success.

Senior coach Chris Fagan remembers a young McCluggage walking into The Gabba as a ‘skinny little fella with a lot of talent’.

He also remembers that he didn’t let the promising midfielder play many reserves games before giving him his AFL debut and keeping him in his best 22 ever since, to now be playing 150 games.

The Lions mentor soon saw why the likes of Partington and the Brisbane recruiting team were so impressed by McCluggage.

“His first 50 games were a little bit up and down as he was trying to find his way in AFL football which is understandable because he had to build his body up to be strong enough, Fagan explained.

“And even when he played poorly on occasions, we just kept him in the side because we believed in his talent and his attitude.

“We are the beneficiaries of that now and he is a total professional who works extremely hard at his game and helps others get better at their game and has developed into a fine leader.

“Out on the field not only is he classy, and we all talk about his ability to use the ball and make decision, but he is tough as well and runs incredibly hard.”


McCluggage has only missed five games since first pulling on the maroon, blue and gold jumper in 2017 – and in doing so has polled more Brownlow Medal votes than any of his 2016 draft class.

He has the second most possessions for that same group with 3194 possessions, which is ahead of former captains Dayne Zorko and Michael Voss at the same mark.

Though as much as that resilience and the on-field performances have made life easier for Fagan and have as hoped turned the Lions from a bottom side to a premiership contender.

Like all the others that had worked closely with McCluggage before his AFL career started, Fagan is equally if not more impressed by the character of the Club’s vice-captain.

“He is immensely popular around the footy club and his teammates love him and how could you not because he always has a smile on his face and a positive attitude,” the Lions coach said.

“For him to reach 150 games in a very short period speaks volumes about his resilience because it wasn’t easy earlier days when we lost more than we won, but he has been one of the guys that has led the charge to us becoming a way more competitive team than we once were.

“And I know that the boys will give it everything they have got on the weekend to win just for him because they hold him in such high regard.”

In the week leading into his special milestone match, you don’t see McCluggage seeking the limelight around the Club or making it all about him.

It’s quite the opposite, the still reasonably reserved 25-year-old is instead preparing for the Round 22 match against Adelaide the same way he has the previous 149 games.

Though the talented midfielder, who becomes just the second player to reach 150 games wearing number six for the Club, did allow a brief moment to speak on the occasion.

A man of few words, McCluggage reflected on how far he and the Lions have come since 2016 and how far he hopes they can go in 2023 and beyond.

“It has been an amazing journey, to become a part of a Club that was struggling when we got here but now is one of the most consistent organizations on and off the field is something I’m extremely grateful for and am proud to have played a small part in,” McCluggage said.

“There have been many special moments and I have met a lot of great people along the journey.

“My sole goal now is to achieve the ultimate in team success.

“I think that for as long as I play, I’ll be striving to improve individually but I want to make sure that those around me are getting better each day and we keep a culture that nurtures and attracts great people so that we can be a consistently great Club for a long time.”