Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Dissecting Hawthorn's Demise

'Trending’ is the catchcry of our times - where anything remotely newsworthy inspires an immediate reaction. The current trending topic in AFL circles is the demise of the once mighty Hawthorn juggernaut, with rival fans and some media pundits rejoicing. In an attempt to stay in finals contention, Hawthorn embarked on a succession plan that saw club legends Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis leave the club at the end of last year. Despite the outcry and controversy, one can applaud this daring decision to replenish its ageing list by recruiting two young midfield guns, Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara. These players are likely to star for the club over the next decade which in the long term is of more value than holding on to players who are in the twilight stages of their careers. Hawthorn has been lauded in recent years for its brilliant recruiting and this has involved knowing when to pull the trigger on certain players. Think back to Nathan Thompson, Jonathan Hay and Mark Williams. The club succeeded in predicting each of these players’ impending decay and let them go in order to propel the club forward. The Hawks would have been wiser to relinquish Josh Gibson. His efficiency steadily declined throughout last year, with a turning point being the game against Melbourne. The 2016 finals series saw opposition teams succeed in depriving him of the ability to play as a loose man in defence, a role that saw him rise to superstardom in the AFL. This sad demise has continued in 2017 and it has got to the point where his place in the team can only be justified on a futile embrace of his stellar past. Rather than Gibson, the Hawks should have retained Sam Mitchell who would have played a profound role during this transition phase of the club. Mitchell’s presence on the field would have assisted our new midfield recruits as opposition coaches would have kept him as their targeted focus, thus allowing our new players to settle into the team. He could have played an on-field shielding role and one would be hard pressed to find a more experienced midfield mentor than Sam Mitchell. Jordan Lewis’ initial performances at Melbourne have shown his potency when not burdened, as he was at Hawthorn, with the expectations of being a number one or two rated mid. The loss of Mitchell and Lewis provided instant click bait for the masses but one player move that was just as consequential, but rarely mentioned, was that of homesick Brad Hill who left Hawthorn to return back to Western Australia. Hill’s departure has robbed Alastair Clarkson of a pivotal aspect of his game plan. Hill would create space for others by knowing when and where to run and is one of the best line breakers in the game. The double act of Hill and our other wing jet Isaac Smith was one of Hawthorn’s considerable strengths. Although rarely mentioned, the duo was essential in setting alight the Hawk juggernaut. Bemoaning the effect of Hill’s loss makes one question why the club wasn’t more desperate to identify and chase a valid replacement, particularly with it known throughout most of last year that he wanted to return home. The logical response would be that the club already had one on its list - Billy Hartung, with the expectation that he would seamlessly assume Hill’s role. But this presumption paid little respect to how good Hill was along with how limited Hartung is. The Club’s succession plan also failed to address our terrible ruck situation ensuing Jonathan Ceglar’s knee injury in the late stages of 2016. Outside of Ben McEvoy, who is often inadequate, the club’s ruck stocks are deficient. Ty Vickery was obviously recruited to fill this need, but to rely on him to be a defining factor in this key area of the ground while also providing a support role is unfair, particularly when his recruitment was as much about addressing our lack of a contested marking element on the forward line. Why weren’t bigger ruckmen such as Toby Nankervis, Jarrod Witts and Braydon Pruess targeted? All three of these players would have come at a far less cost than Vickery as well as being available for 2nd or 3rd round draft picks. It has been a long time tradition of Hawthorn to entrust undersized ruckmen knowing the midfielders are expert in roving to rival ruckmen, but with the change in the ruck rules outlawing the third man up in support it has facilitated the bigger men. This means the Hawks can no longer break even in a ball up or stoppage and are at the mercy of taps to advantage with the rest of the team fracturing as a result. The sad reality is there is no band-aiding over these cracks with the issues being endemic, reminiscent of a termite riddled house. The end of this year will see further greats including Luke Hodge, Josh Gibson and Shaun Burgoyne leave the Hawks, putting a clear focus on the ‘Generation Next’ of the club to fill the void. This is a grim prospect when you glance over the list and identify only Ryan Burton as a potential 10 year player with any real upside. The rest are speculative, which inspires little hope. Players such as Will Langford, Billy Hartung, Tim O’Brien, Teia Miles, Kaiden Brand and Kurt Heatherley have been at the club for 2-3 years but have failed to entrench themselves in the best 22. The group below them is barren due to the club forsaking early draft picks, preferring to top up from other clubs - a decision that will come home to roost at the end of this season when we have already given our first round draft selection to the Saints as a means to get the O’Meara deal done. The insanity in this cannot be underplayed. The club traditionally balanced beautifully the drafting process with the targeting of players from other clubs, acquiring personnel on their terms. There is no doubt Jaeger O’Meara will be a star of the club and a likely future captain but a wiser decision would have been to trade a player to get the deal done. Paul Puopolo or Luke Bruest would have been possible choices due to their lack of versatility and prospective worth in a transitioning team. Even James Sicily could have been a key figure, much in the same manner that Trent Croad was a brilliant ruse in the defining Luke Hodge acquirement. By taking the path they did they have set up a situation where the club has brilliant top end talent, a soft exploitable middle and absolutely no depth. Hawthorn’s hand is now forced, with the only option to offer valued commodities to try to get back into a higher position in the draft. Free agency might be an option with the club having a war chest to wave in front of prospective recruits with many veterans soon to depart. But the sad reality is, with the club entering a likely era of struggle, no free agent would be willing to join the Hawks, preferring instead to go to a club that’s in a Premiership window. Look for names such as Bruest, Puopolo, Gunston, Shiels and, even if the price is right, Cyril Rioli to be floated at the end of this year with them being a few that would be appealing to rival clubs. It would be ideal to use the likes of the previously mentioned ‘Generation Next’ but, as witnessed during last year’s trade period, with the difficulty in getting the Jaeger O’Meara deal finalised, teams have wised up to recruiting ruses from the Hawks.


  1. Can't agree more with this well written and thought out observation.

    1. Thank you for the kind words Chris

  2. I really think it's too early to call. Basically 5 to 6 players trying to find their feet the four new additions, a couple needing to adapt to stepping up & the captain himself trying to fit back into the fold after a long spell. The Gold Coast lost needs to viewed as a wake up. I recall roughly this time last year being flogged by GWS and still made the top 4. But also it could have been the Hawks were lucky to make the top 4, if all those 3 point wins went the other way. Look at Geelong on the ropes in 2 games but got home by a point in one & very lucky the other team win didn't sink them in front of goal. But as luck would have it they are 3 zip. I think they the Hawks will turn it around, they need time to all gel us a new team. Have faith & believe in the crew that built & delivered teams to the 4 flags in last the seasons.