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In the blink of an eye, Hawks back in September ball game


Hawks both young and old belt out the theme song after clinching a spot in the top four in the final round against Sydney at the SCG. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

In the blink of an eye, Hawks back in September ball game

Rohan Connolly    

As 10 teams who won’t be part of September this year ponder why not, what went wrong and what they can do about it, they’re probably quietly scratching their heads about one rival which will be there. Again.

Some which missed the finals boat, like Port Adelaide and Essendon, had loaded up on established talent for a serious crack. Others, like Carlton and St Kilda, are several years into rebuilds which seem, if anything, to be going backwards.

And then there’s the subject of that envy, Hawthorn. Which, just 16 months and 38 games of football after arriving at the lowest point of its modern on-field history, is not only back in the finals, but having secured a top-four spot, a very serious premiership prospect. By any measure, it’s been a remarkable effort.

Writing Hawthorn off prematurely has been a serial mistake of pundits and public alike for well over three decades now, but never had the obituaries seemed as justified as at the end of round six last season.

The Hawks were second last on the AFL ladder at 1-5, having just been taken apart by St Kilda to the tune of 75 points at their supposed fortress in Launceston. That came just a couple of weeks after they’d been belted by 86 points in successive games against Gold Coast and Geelong.

Premiership mainstays Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis were long gone. Others like Jack Gunston, Luke Breust and Isaac Smith were patently struggling, and without their senior leaders up and about, the Hawks’ youngsters were being thrown in the deep end and drowning.

That now sounds like a story from another age. In fact, it’s less than a year-and-a-half ago. The revival would begin the following week when Hawthorn just got over the line against Melbourne. Including that victory, the Hawks have since won 24 and drawn another of 38 games.

Those struggling veterans are all now making huge contributions. The kids, far from floundering, are in some case playing key roles in the resurgence. And if the names Mitchell, Lewis or even the now-departed Luke Hodge are being mentioned at all, it’s as part of Hawthorn history, not just out of a sense of wistful longing.

It hasn’t been a rebuild under the auspices of coach Alastair Clarkson. And if it’s even a regeneration, it’s one which has happened almost by stealth.

Hawthorn has the oldest list in the AFL. But it doesn’t necessarily feel like it. Experienced but still-relatively-young picks-ups the calibre of Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara have helped change the profile, Mitchell outstanding from day one, O’Meara just gradually exerting more influence.

A series of younger faces have come into the mix and done their job. And the trickle down effect continues.

Early in the comeback process it was all about Ryan Burton. Then Blake Hardwick began to look more composed off a half-back flank. James Sicily began to stamp his mark as a key defender, many of us pundits early on having questioned his shift away from attack. And Daniel Howe started taking important run-with roles.

And the kids keep coming. Lately, with Sicily out injured and Howe suspended, it’s been more about the very promising midfield performance of James Worpel and the dash of Harry Morrison, the latter conspicuous indeed in that tight final term against Sydney last Saturday night. Young Irishman Conor Nash has also chipped in with some important touches in his three games.

All the while, the older hands are keeping the ship steady. Indeed, Hawthorn’s biggest ace up the sleeve this September might well be the number of players it still boasts not only with significant finals experience, but who can always be relied upon to do the right things at the right times.

There was ample evidence of it again in yet another victory in a close finish, this time over the Swans with the double chance on the line. It’s a knack Hawthorn has maintained even since its three premiership wins in a row.

Since then, there’s been 15 games the Hawks have played decided by a goal or less. They’ve lost only two of them, an incredible strike rate even had they been at their peak, let alone going through a process of generational change.

That has much to do with the big names continually bobbing up at the right moment. Against Sydney last Saturday night, it was still-underrated on-baller Liam Shiels, who weighed in with 10 final term touches, many courtesy of ruckman Ben McEvoy, who was also outstanding when it mattered most, 19 of his 52 hit-outs coming in the last quarter.

Shaun Burgoyne provided his usual calming influence in those hectic final 10-15 minutes. And skipper Jarryd Roughead, having had a quiet evening, was also critical in the clutch.

It was Roughead who got on the end of a quick kick from Worpel to level the scores after Sydney had led for virtually three quarters, then pumping the ball into the goalsquare for the Breust mark and goal which sealed the Hawks’ most important win of the season.

There could well be more important victories to follow over the next month. And having improved further even since pushing Richmond to within 13 points in round three, the Hawks are going to take plenty of confidence into their qualifying final clash with the Tigers.

Whatever happens, as far as the big picture is concerned, Hawthorn is very much back in the ball game. And yet again, the Hawks have managed to make those early eulogies look pretty silly.

*This article first appeared at SPORTING NEWS.

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2 Comments
  1. And don’t forget Geelong and Sydney. Both look capable of going deeper. These three teams have dominated finals in the last 13 years. We think we have a “Final 8” but we don’t It’s a “Final 5” plus those three. No wonder it’s hard for the other 15 teams.

  2. Helps with a massive favorable fixture like the Tigers and the Pies, oh wait are they like close to the 3 biggest clubs around in terms of membership and ability to fill the MCG in September,

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