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Joe Hodge aims to make big strides towards Wolves first team

With one injury setback after another, Joe Hodge has kept fighting back.

Joe Hodge captaining the under-21s (Getty)
Joe Hodge captaining the under-21s (Getty)

The midfielder, who turned 20 just two weeks ago, has had terrible luck with his injury record in his short career to date.

In August 2019 he broke both his leg and his ankle when playing for the Manchester City academy, before he fought back and returned ahead of schedule to help the under-18s lift a second successive Premier League Cup in February 2020.

For his efforts that season, he was named City’s Scholar of the Year at a time when he was just 17 years old.

The following season saw him leave for Derry City on loan but a pre-existing back injury flared up and he did not make an appearance for the League of Ireland side.

Wolves’ technical director Scott Sellars worked with Hodge at City from a young age and brought him to Molineux in August 2021, despite that back injury still keeping him sidelined.

It was not until the end of February this year that he finally made his Wolves under-23s debut – after 13 months on the sidelines with that back issue – and after impressing in the final months of the season he has gone from strength to strength.

This year, he starred in the 2-1 Papa Johns Trophy win over Shrewsbury with a superb brace that included a wonderful 93rd minute winner.

“It’s probably something (scoring goals) I’ve not had enough of since I signed here and started playing,” Hodge said.

“I think it’s something I’ve got the quality to be able to do, so the more I can do of it the better.

“I’m getting sharper and sharper every day. I enjoyed being around the first team in pre-season, that’s something I’m aiming for. I’m just happy to be training and playing each game, it’s better than being sat in a physio room! I feel sharper with each game.

“I think that’s why I’m feeling sharper and putting in better performances, it’s because I’m playing every game. It’s doing a lot of good for me.

“Even just training every day is something I haven’t done for three years, so to get back to start playing football again is what I want.

“I’m just happy to be playing. I want to be playing and pushing the level higher and higher.

“I can feel myself getting better with each game, so it’s something I want to continue doing and see where it takes me.”

Joe Hodge playing against Levante in pre-season (Getty)

Hodge’s performances at the end of last season saw him travel with the first team to Spain and Portugal this summer.

In such a short space of time the youngster had gone from months on the treatment table to working with Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho – and that exposure has fuelled his desire even further.

“It was good just being around him (Bruno Lage), seeing what he does with team talks and watching some good midfielders in the first team,” Hodge added.

“I was learning from them and listening to what Bruno had to say, which I think has helped my game.

“It’s definitely good to be around them, the level of them all is ridiculous. To be around them, try to learn off them and watch what they do is definitely something that is only going to help you as a player.

“I enjoyed being around it. Hopefully I can keep performing well and push as close to that as possible.”

Hodge is not just a rising star at Wolves, as he begins to make waves on the international circuit.

Coming from an impressive pedigree at his boyhood club City, where he joined in the under-nines, Hodge has featured for both England and the Republic or Ireland at several youth stages. In May this year, after that end to the season with Wolves, he earned his first call-up to the Republic of Ireland under-21s but he did not play in the June fixtures.

He was then called up again in this international break and has made his debut with a starring display.

As a young player coming through at a Premier League club, hopes on the Emerald Isle are high for what Hodge can achieve.

“It was great to be in the squad last time out, especially having not played so many games at the back end of last season,” he said.

“It’s good that they showed that trust in me as player to be involved in that squad.”

Joe Hodge training alongside Chem Campbell, Nathan Collins and Max Kilman (Getty)

Back at Wolves, and Hodge had high hopes of his own.

In recent years, Max Kilman and Luke Cundle have shown the pathway from the academy to the first team, while Jackson Smith, Hugo Bueno and Chem Campbell have all officially moved to the first team squad in recent weeks.

For now playing games is paramount, but Hodge can see a loan in his future to help push him into Lage’s thoughts.

“I’ve not been with the first team so much since pre-season finished because we’ve had so many games for the under-21s,” Hodge said.

“It’s hard to play and then train at the high intensity that they train at, and then play again. But it was good while I was with them and then the more opportunities I get, the better.

“If a loan doesn’t come up, we’ll see what happens to go get some football.

“For me, because I’ve been out for so long and played so few games in the past three years, coming here and playing games regularly is just what I need.

“Whether that be on-loan, which will have to happen at some point, or being here and playing every week, it’s good for me. I need to be playing football every week.”

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