Sunday, March 12, 2017

2017 AFL Preview: Hawthorn

One knows the AFL Season is upon us when the Media is clogged full of soothsayers of doom writing off Hawthorn's prospects for the upcoming season.

Water off a ducks back usually, ridiculed as jealousy amounting to tall poppy syndrome with many hoping for a decline but few offering valid justification for it to happen.

2017 is harder to fathom with Hawthorn arguably the hardest Team of the upcoming season to get a full read on. A line up having the potential of an unlikely Flag run if all goes right but equally facing the grim reality of falling out of the 8 if things go against it.

Best 22

B: Josh Gibson, James Frawley, Shaun Burgoyne

HB: Ryan Burton, Ben Stratton, Grant Birchall

C: Isaac Smith, Tom Mitchell, Ricky Henderson

HF: Cyril Rioli, Jack Gunston, Luke Bruest

F: Paul Puopolo, Jarryd Roughead, Luke Hodge

Foll: Ben McEvoy, Jaeger O’Meara , Liam Shiels

INT: Ty Vickery, Kade Stewart, Taylor Duryea, James Sicily

EMG: Billy Hartung, Jono O'Rourke, Brendan Whitecross

Looking at the line up on the screen accentuates the mystery over the Hawks with the team in the midst of a subtle rebuild.

Inspired by the 2016 season where the team was smashed in contested possession (2nd last in AFL ) and clearance differential (Last in AFL). It saw Alastair Clarkson dismiss it for most of the season steadfast in his game plan of pressuring Teams into turnovers and slicing them on the rebound with the Hawks lauded foot skills.

When the contested difference was a minus 52&50 in successive weeks in the finals facilitating a straight sets exit at the hands of Geelong and Footscray it was a slaying the Hawks think tank could no longer turn a blind eye too.

The response was swift and brutal, with Club Legends Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis pushed out the door outraging the faithful. One could justify sacrificing Lewis, who seemed in steep decline but losing Mitchell was a huge gaff with it taking the gloss off the brilliant acquisitions of Tom Mitchell and Jaegar O'Meara. The duo will largely address the Teams contested possession malaise, particularly Mitchell who was ranked 9th in the AFL in 2016 in this key stat. But, both would have benefitted greatly having Sam Mitchell in support to take pressure off in their infancy at the club.

The recruits will be great acquisitions and ascend to being viewed in the top 10 players in the AFL but they are not messiahs who will instantly deliver the Club back to the promised land.

Key in this will be the combination of the oldies in the line up warding off the spectre of Father Time along with the players who have been at the Club for 2-3 years cementing places in the best 22. The latter issue touches on a growing concern over the lack of depth at the Club that was a real factor last season.

The first part of the equation is problematic focusing chiefly on Luke Hodge and Josh Gibson, both who started to look very old in last years finals. The General Hodge is likely to get by on his versatility with him able in many roles and in fact a move forward with bursts in the midfield could be the crowning glory of his stellar career in 17. Gibbo is of more concern, mainly for Teams have essentially eliminated the zone off role he has so excelled in by marking him rather than allowing him to be loose in a 7 man defence versus 6 man opposition attack.

It poses the question over his versatility and finding a new role for him that he is able in.

The query over Gibson raises a bigger question over the depth in defence. James Frawley is a gun key backman but after him the depth for the 2nd key role is frail. Names like Kaiden Brand, Ryan Burton, Kurt Heatherly and in the recent JLT game against Port to the horror of all Hawk fans Ryan Shoenmakers was cast back in the role.

Few inspired faith touching on the next level of Hawks stepping up. Of the 4 mentioned for the 2nd key backman role, it has been curious that both Brand and Heatherley were not played throughout the preseason. In particularly Heatherley, who is reminiscent of Dustin Fletcher with his Go-Go Gadget arms and underrated pace and strength.

The choice not to play him seems to touch on Clarko's stubbornness over defenders having skill by foot with his game plan revolving heavily around rebound.

It could see Ben Stratton entrusted with the role with more skilled running types cast off the flanks to accentuate the slingshot out of defence. But if this is the path taken, one could see Stratton being able but it robs the team of arguably the best marker of small to mid size forwards in the AFL.


The concern here is our lack of depth of quality as opposed to the other Teams likely to challenge in 2017. This stretches to a ruck department that is handy but always susceptible to exploitation as the late season smashing at the hands of Melbourne's Max Gawn in 2016 exposed. With the Team robbed of a key tactic in its success with the third man up in support of rucks it becomes a greater headache.

Jonathan Ceglar who was progressing nicely as a tap ruckman is lost for all of 17 with a knee putting the acid on Ben McEvoy to step up. The 'Big Boy' has shown glimpses in his time at the Club since being recruited from the Saints but largely has flattered only to deceive with him able around the ground with his contested marking but very limited with his tap work. Tyrone Vickery will be similarly handy as David Hale was in the 2nd ruck role but is able in support rather than a possible answer to a key concern

It poses a challenge to a midfield corps to win first ball use when it is likely to be instantly disadvantaged.

Names such as Billy Hartung, Will Langford, Jono O Rourke, Daniel Howe and the like become key with their ability to step up to add quality to the midfield. Assisting will be incumbents such as new Vice Captain Liam Shiels going to the next level along with the effect recruit Ricky Henderson and second-year starlet Kade Stewart will have. Particularly on the outside where the loss of Brad Hill will be really felt.

If they can, it will cover the loss of Sam Mitchell, Brad Hill and Jordan Lewis along with accentuating the acquisition of Tom Mitchell and Jeager O'Meara. The returning Jarryd Roughead who seems destined to spend more time in the guts also looms large with him having the capacity to star as a big midfielder.

Setting off a domino chain where the defence is supported while the potential threat of an excellent forward line leaves opposition defences in cold sweats.

Season Prediction

I think we lack the depth of quality for a Flag challenge as well as being unlikely to challenge for the top 4 but I think we are too well coached to drop out of the 8.

In saying this, if we lose key men it will expose our lack of depth and a drop out of the 8 is a definite possibility

Likely Finish- 6th

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