TWO years ago, any questions about Luke Hodge's AFL future were no laughing matter for Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson.
Persistent injuries had restricted the Hawks captain to only 10 senior games that season.
There was a growing sense that he would be the first of the AFL's famous 2001 draft trio to retire.
But Clarkson could afford to chuckle on Monday when Hodge was asked about his esteemed contemporaries, Luke Ball and Chris Judd.
"What are you smiling about?," Hodge asked his coach at their pre-finals media conference.
Hodge, Ball and Judd were the top three picks in 2001, renowned as one of the AFL's most talent-laden drafts.
It has meant inevitable comparisons throughout their careers and speculation about which of the all-time greats has been the best footballer.
On Friday night, Ball became the first of them to retire.
In August, Judd finally announced he would continue for another season after months of speculation.
Meanwhile, Hodge is contracted for another year and has no plans to quit.
"Father Time is starting to get there," Clarkson said.
"Perhaps at different stages over the duration, they might have thought this one [Hodge] would be the first to bow out.
"But he's hanging in there, the old fella, he's doing well."
Hodge wanted to play against Ball one last time, but was rested for the win over Collingwood with what the Hawks skipper called a "grumbly knee".
He will be back for this Friday's blockbuster qualifying final against arch-rivals Geelong.
"I'm feeling as good now as I did three or four years ago," Hodge said.
"I know Clarko was laughing before, but I'm not aiming to hang the boots up that quickly."