There is drive and dedication, and then there is Luke Dahlhaus.
Every great sports organisation has one.
The competitive beast who takes professionalism and determination to the next level.
The hot-headed little mongrel dog who gets under the skin of unflappable opposition.
The go-to-guy who is silky smooth in one breath, but as hard as a cats head the next.
These are the kind of blokes you want playing in your football team – and Luke Dahlhaus has got the lot.
Originally rookie listed by the Western Bulldogs in 2010, the path to AFL stardom has not been a traditional one for Dahlhaus, who was surprisingly overlooked in the national draft despite an outstanding top-age season for the Geelong Falcons.
“Nothing was ever guaranteed with Luke as far as getting drafted was concerned,” says former Geelong legend and current Geelong Falcons Regional Manager, Mick Turner.
“He’s always had all the attributes – he’s a hard worker with a great attitude, he can certainly find the footy and his decision making has always been outstanding.”
“If anything, there was perhaps just a concern over his size,” Turner adds.
At 24, it’s fair to say that Luke Dahlhaus has since taken the proverbial bull by the horns – and never looked back.
Known for his unwavering professionalism, courageous ball winning ability, defensive heroics and ability to produce when it matters most, Dahlhaus has become an integral part of the Premiership winning Bulldogs throughout his 132-game career at the Whitten Oval.
Playing predominantly through the midfield early in his career, where he has the capacity to accumulate big numbers statistically, Dahlhaus has since developed the ability the push forward and kick clutch goals in big games, adding another string to an already impressive bow and making him a far more difficult match-up and proposition for opposition coaches.
If he’s not running rings around opposition defenders up front, he’s putting his head in the hole at the coal face and setting the standard for his Bulldog teammates to follow.
Dahlhaus is now a Premiership player and bona-fide superstar of the competition, but perhaps more importantly he remains one of the most grounded and loveable blokes you would care to meet.
He may be a raging bull on the field, but he is just an outstanding human being off it.
“We’re pretty lucky at the Bulldogs to have so much talent going through the midfield so it allows me to push forward at times and just play my role for the team,” Dahlhaus says modestly.
“I love playing as a midfielder but I’m happy to go forward also if thats what the team requires, so it really just depends on the opposition and how we are travelling on a week-to-week basis,” he adds.
They are modest words from a highly driven young man who I liken to a young Paul Chapman – himself a superstar of the competition who could torment opposition teams with 30-plus possession games with his eyes closed through the midfield, but then kick big goals in big games as an irreplaceable small forward.
As the Bulldogs desperately try to get their season on track and find the consistency and dominance that led them to a Premiership less than 12 months ago, Dahlhaus is measured but still optimistic when he considers the Bulldogs prospects in 2017.
“As a collective we certainly haven’t clicked in the same way that we did last year,” Dahlhaus says.
“We’ve had our share of injuries and players out of form, but we don’t use that as an excuse.”
“We’re a proud group, and we’ve started to find some form over the last couple of weeks in particular, so if we can continue on in the same manner and things fall our way – you never know, we might just be in a position to have another crack at it,” he adds.
Away from the footy field, Dahlhaus (along with Bulldogs teammate and best friend Lachie Hunter) is firmly entrenched in the Trade Institute of Victoria’s widely recognised and highly regarded Certificate III in Carpentry course based in Williamstown and West Footscray.
The Western Bulldogs join Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond, St. Kilda and North Melbourne as the sixth AFL club to have players studying trade based courses at TIV in 2017.
“I’ve always enjoyed using my hands and building things,” Dahlhaus says.
“It’s a compliment to TIV and the Carpentry program they run – it’s great fun, it provides an opportunity for us players to do something productive together on our day off and essentially set ourselves up for life after football,” he adds.
Consistent with his approach to his football, Dahlhaus is predictably as committed and dedicated to the course at TIV as you can get.
He is an absolute team player, but he is also his own man, and you get the feeling that Luke Dahlhaus knows exactly what he wants in life and how he plans to get there.
“It really just comes down to what you want to get out of life,” Dahlhaus says matter-of-factly.
“A Carpentry qualification is a great credential to have up your sleeve for life after football and that was one of the motivating factors for Lachie and I to join the course at TIV,” he adds.
Importantly, Dahlhaus and Hunter have the endorsement and support of the entire Western Bulldogs Football Club, with none other than senior coach Luke Beveridge leading the way in that regard.
“The club understands the importance of life after football and having an external interest also, and all the coaches are constantly reinforcing to our group the importance of making the most of our opportunities in life,” Dahlhaus says.
It is modern day coaches like Luke Beveridge, Alistair Clarkson, Damien Hardwick and Brendan Bolton who are responsible for not only producing quality footballers, but quality people also.
Sure, they have the interests and performance of their football club first and foremost, but they also have genuine care and interest in the development of their players away from the football field, which should never go unnoticed.
When you have students with the character, drive and dedication of Luke Dahlhaus and Lachie Hunter, it’s not hard to understand why the Western Bulldogs are the reigning AFL premiers, and broadly acknowledged throughout the competition as modest and humble champions.
So humble in fact, that Dahlhaus even publically stated following the Bulldogs Grand Final victory in 2016 that he wished he had a second premiership medal to present to his former mentor at the Falcons, Mick Turner.
“I don’t get very emotional very often, but I must admit to getting pretty emotional when I read that,” Turner says.
“It was just a lovely thing to say – he didn’t need to say that.”
“Luke Dahlhaus and Cameron Ling are in my opinion the two best stories to come out of the Geelong Falcons purely because of how close they were to being completely overlooked and never being drafted,” Turner adds.
Despite the universal affection for Dahlhaus, there is still unfinished business for he and the Western Bulldogs as they head into a season defining month of a turbulent 2017 season.
For Dahlhaus specifically, the motivation is refreshingly simple.
“There is still a lot of footy to be played in 2017,” Dahlhaus says.
“We’re coming from a fair way back and there’s no margin for error, but I know what this group is capable of so if we can just get on a bit of a run and have a few things fall or way, anything is possible.”
Needless to say, there will be some very nervous clubs in the competition should the Bulldogs squeeze their way into the eight and launch a premiership defence in September.
Because when you mess with the raging bull, you get the raging horns…