No offseason will be criticised, or lauded, more than Hawthorn’s.
Club champions Sam Mitchell (West Coast) and Jordan Lewis (Melbourne) were shockingly traded, as the Hawks move into a new era quicker than many expected. Additionally, the loss of speedster Brad Hill will also hurt, but Hawthorn hopes the additions outweigh the subtractions.
A different Mitchell, Tom, will take Sam’s spot in the middle, while the injury-riddled Jaeger O’Meara hopes to recapture his stunning form from a few years ago. The Hawks also brought the perplexing Ty Vickery and Adelaide reject Ricky Henderson into the mix.
How the mass list changes will impact Hawthorn is unknown, but for the moment, Alastair Clarkson gets the benefit of the doubt. For almost a decade, we have praised Clarkson and the Hawks for being ahead of the game, whether it is game tactics, developing youth amongst a premiership team or shrewd list management.
Either Clarkson has yet again shown us a new way of maintaining a finals squad, or he has finally made one bad step. Even if the Hawks fail to make the top-four for the seventh consecutive season, this is still a finals outfit.
Mitchell is a ferocious on-baller and will help correct Hawthorn’s contested possession issues. Clarkson finally caved into the important of contested ball after the Hawks’ straight-set finals elimination, as his team was a minus 52 and 50, respectively, in the category in their losses to Geelong and Western Bulldogs. Mitchell finished ninth in total contested possessions last season, with the next Hawk ranking 52nd (Shaun Burgoyne), while Sam Mitchell (36th) and Lewis (38th) also found themselves on the list.
O’Meara presents a much riskier proposition. His talent level is well known and nobody is debating it. There is a reason people were referring to O’Meara as the next Gary Ablett a few years ago – but therein lies the problem. The 22-year-old hasn’t played AFL footy since August 2014, an unhealthy amount of time spent on the sidelines due to numerous leg injuries. How O’Meara returns, and if he ever reaches the level of production he flashed at Gold Coast, is anyone’s guess.
The rest of the midfield is reliable, as Luke Hodge, Isaac Smith and Liam Shiels are Hawthorn mainstays. Additionally, the exciting Ryan Burton could be poised for a breakout year.
At both ends of the ground, Hawthorn is set. Everyone in the football world will be happy to see Jarryd Roughead return, as he teams up with Jack Gunston to form a strong forward duo. We all know how dangerous Cyril Riolo, Luke Breust, Paul Puopolo and James Sicily are around goal, while Vickery could find some consistency playing around better talent.
The Hawks’ backline still shapes better than most. Grant Bitchall elevated his game to another level; Josh Gibson and James Frawley can take opposing tall forwards, while Burgoyne, Ben Stratton and Taylor Duryea all fill a role.
It’s becoming common-practice to write Hawthorn off to start a season. The doubters have extra ammunition this year, but until the Hawks show tangible signs of a decline, it’s hard to take them out of the top eight.
The Hawks’ Best 22:
B: Ben Stratton, James Frawley, Taylor Duryea
HB: Shaun Burgoyne, Josh Gibson, Grant Birchall
C: Isaac Smith, Luke Hodge, Jaeger O’Meara
HF: Cyril Rioli, Jack Gunston, James Sicily
F: Paul Puopolo, Jarryd Roughead, Luke Breust
Foll: Ben McEvoy, Tom Mitchell, Liam Shiels
INT: Ty Vickery, Billy Hartung, Ryan Burton, Brendan Whitecross