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Footyology countdown: The Hawks are still hanging around

Hawthorn skipper Jarryd Roughead is an inspiring presence. This year he should have more senior leaders on field with him, too. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Footyology countdown: The Hawks are still hanging around

Rohan Connolly    

2017 record: 10 wins, 11 losses, 1 draw (12th)
List age ranking (oldest to youngest): 1st
List experience ranking (most to fewest games): 1st
Footyology draw ranking (easiest to hardest): 7th

Jarman Impey (Port Adelaide), James Worpel (Geelong Falcons), Dylan Moore (Eastern Ranges), Jackson Ross (Eastern Ranges), Harrison Jones (Murray Bushrangers), David Mirra (Box Hill), Changkuoth Jiath (Ethiopia)

Luke Hodge (Brisbane), Luke Surman (retired), Josh Gibson (retired), Jack Fitzpatrick (retired), Bill Hartung (delisted/North Melbourne), Kade Stewart (delisted), Ty Vickery (retired)

B: Grant Birchall, James Frawley, Ben Stratton
HB: Ryan Burton, James Sicily, Shaun Burgoyne
C: Isaac Smith, Tom Mitchell, Jarman Impey
HF: Luke Breust, Tim O’Brien, Cyril Rioli
F: Paul Puopolo, Jarryd Roughead, Jack Gunston
Foll: Ben McEvoy, Jaeger O’Meara, Liam Shiels
Inter: Blake Hardwick, Kaiden Brand, Taylor Duryea, Daniel Howe
Emerg: Will Langford, Ryan Schoenmakers, Jonathon Ceglar

Several times already during his wildly-successful tenure as Hawthorn coach, Alastair Clarkson has shown a preparedness to change tack in order to keep the Hawks at the forefront of the competition.

He did it again last year, and while the results weren’t as spectacular, they may have more long-reaching effects.

At 1-5 and in 17th spot on the ladder, the obituaries for one of the game’s greatest eras had well and truly been wheeled out. Clarkson, however, didn’t panic. He wheeled out more youngsters, threw established players into different positions, and somehow the Hawks clicked back into gear.

Hawthorn would win nine and draw another of its last 16 games, and four of the six defeats were by three goals less. By the end of the season, they were not only competitive, but a very real chance to re-enter the finals fray before their headstone had even been prepared.

And the reasons for opponents to fear another Hawthorn surge are genuine. Despite the departure of another couple of cornerstones in Luke Hodge and Josh Gibson, the Hawks remain the oldest, most experienced list in the competition.

They’re still one of the more polished, cleanest-using sides going around. And after a year racked by injury, in 2018, they’ll regain very, very handy virtual recruits in Cyril Rioli, Ben Stratton, James Frawley and (another injury notwithstanding) Grant Birchall.

There’s a bona fide recruit in former Port Adelaide runner Jarman Impey who could also add plenty, certainly at least an effective replacement for the considerable loss which was Brad Hill’s departure for Fremantle a year ago.

Then there’s a draw which, by Hawthorn standards, is a comparative walk in the park, Footyology ranking it seventh-best in the AFL in 2018.

It’s the first time in six years that, going by my formula, the Hawks haven’t had either the toughest or second-toughest draw in the competition. Not including Launceston (where they’ve now won 43 of 56 home games), they make just four road trips (two of them short hauls to Sydney), and including Launceston, have seven games against an opponent from interstate.

Now the reservations. As great a first year in new colours as Tom Mitchell had, does he have enough support? Much of that question will be answered by Jaeger O’Meara’s durability after a first season for the Hawks which was a bit of a non-event.

But even then, much will be required (as usual) from the ageless Shaun Burgoyne in his pinch-hitting guise, Liam Shiels, the improving Daniel Howe, and even the likes of first-year recruits James Worpel and Dylan Moore.

Up forward, Jack Gunston’s likely return to the goal face should help the scoreboard tick over more fluently, the Hawks after having been the No.1 scoring team in the competition from 2012-15 falling to 14th last year.

The Hawks will still need, however, to get the same level of forward pressure from their smalls as was the case a couple of seasons ago. Time will tell whether Rioli, Luke Breust and Paul Puopolo can still deliver what they did in 2015.

Like the Hawks as a whole, that’s now bigger “if” than it used to be. But you can reasonably confident Hawthorn certainly won’t be the spent force it seemed six rounds into 2017.

10th. Not what they were, but still a lot better than it seemed they were likely to become for a little while there. Definite finals threat.

THE LADDER SO FAR (click on team to read)

1 Comment
  1. As a Hawthorn fanatic, I have to accept this appraisal as tough, but fair.

    Hawthorn’s best 22 can match it with anyone. Our problem is going to be depth. The ‘second choice’ for a lot of our important positions is a massive drop from the top.

    As you mention, the returning stars could be massive. IMO the biggest question mark is O’Meara. If the glimpses shown at the end of last year are indicative, he and Mitchell could grow to be a pairing comparable to Dangerfield / Selwood.

    The first four matches are all at the MCG, and if the Hawks get a 3-1 or 4-0 start, who knows?

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