Ben Hornby an ‘inspiration’

Departing Dragons skipper Ben Hornby with his wife Sam and children Axl, 3, and Lily, six months. Picture: DAVE TEASEWant to know what the real Ben Hornby is like?
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Just ask some of his Dragons teammates – they’ll tell you about the steely gaze he provides just before kick-off, the extra hours he puts in on the training paddock and the fact that he’s never wrong.

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Will the Dragons miss Ben Hornby next season?

Just ask his coach – he’ll tell you about a great football mind, but that’s nothing to his straight-shooting nature and guidance to younger players away from the bright lights and adulation.

Just ask his club’s chief executive – he’ll tell you about Hornby’s progression from a boy to a man in the Red V and the fact he regards him as more of a friend than a player at the club.

But perhaps Dean Young provides the best insight into another departing Dragons veteran.

‘‘He’s inspirational – that’s for sure,’’ Young gushed.

‘‘In terms of being a leader I don’t think he’s ever done anything wrong.’’

And the fact that the Dragons skipper will now show up at Young’s farewell party and ask for his half of the cake?

Well, Hornby is far too decent to tread on someone else’s toes.

‘‘He told me a month ago he probably wasn’t [playing on],’’ Young said. ‘‘He announced to the boys only [Monday] night.’’

Perhaps that’s all you need to know about Hornby.

The 32-year-old will wave goodbye to his playing days in the round 26 clash against Parramatta. Young, as well as Eels stalwarts Nathan Hindmarsh and Luke Burt, are already in the queue.

Hornby the footballer will retire at season’s end as the Dragons’ all-time games record holder on 273 – barring injury or suspension over the final two weeks.

A premiership winner, NSW State of Origin representative and an Australian representative, too.

‘‘I never could have dreamed and achieved the things I have,’’ Hornby said. ‘‘After the first couple of games I probably didn’t think I was going to play any more.

‘‘To be able to play the amount of games and have the success that I have had makes it a little easier [to retire].

‘‘I just feel like I’ve played a lot of games and a lot of seasons and I think it’s caught up to me. Mentally I just couldn’t have pushed myself through a pre-season, and to go into a pre-season not with the mindset to keep getting better.’’

It’s something Steve Price has seen ever since he played against a scrawny fullback, then finding his way with the Illawarra Steelers’ reserve grade side.

‘‘I can’t say enough good things about Ben,’’ Price told the Mercury.

‘‘He was a tenacious little bugger and his will to win in every capacity of play was there when he was a 19-year-old and it’s still shining now.

‘‘He’s been great for me as a first-year coach and he’s been a great shoulder for me.

‘‘He’s not afraid to say what he thinks which is great in a human being. It’s a true testament to what sort of values he’s got within himself and his family life.’’

On the subject of family, it was about the only topic which could muster a hint of emotion in Hornby, who described himself as ‘‘having had enough mentally’’, in yesterday’s press conference.

Flanked by Price and chief executive Peter Doust, the usually-unflappable Hornby answered each and every question with his usual poise until the topic of motivation popped up.

‘‘My family has had the greatest influence on my career,’’ he said, choking back tears.

‘‘I don’t want to get too much into that – I’ll get too emotional.’’

Told he was doing well, Hornby replied: ‘‘I’m trying hard.’’

It’s something he has made a career out of doing.

What you see is really what you get with Ben Hornby.

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