Andy Maher believes Hawthorn cannot be written off to win this year’s AFL premiership.
The SEN Afternoons host says that while the hard-to-gauge Hawks could just as easily miss the top eight altogether in what looms as an unpredictable 2018 season, he has confidence they can re-find the form that saw them dominate the competition between 2013 and 2015.
“They can easily make the eight, so much so that I wouldn’t be overly surprised if Hawthorn won the flag this year,” Maher said.
“What if they have a good run with injury? What if their forward line collectively has an outstanding year? What if Jarryd Roughead, Cyril Rioli, Jack Gunston, Luke Breust and Paul Puopolo, they all play most of the season?
“Ben McEvoy, who was in the All-Australian 40 last year, what if he has another year like last year and Jaeger O’Meara gets to where we think O’Meara can be?
“Then they get solid seasons again from their starting midfielders Tom Mitchell, Isaac Smith, Liam Shiels, Ryan Burton and Daniel Howe, who I reckon they are keen to throw into the middle. They have Jarman Impey who did some stoppage clearance work for them the other night and signs are really positive.
“James Frawley has to be back to close to All-Australian form… back to where he was two to four years ago. What if James Sicily continues to develop as a defender and Grant Birchall and Ben Stratton get back to somewhere near their best?
“Shaun Burgoyne is the best 35-year-old bloke in the competition. They can use him wherever they want.
“If all of that falls in to place, how far can they go?”
Hawks skipper Jarryd Roughead says the club’s expectations have not dwindled since their 'three-peat' seasons.
“I’m not playing just to rack up games,” the key forward said.
“My belief and our goal always has been to get to top four and see what can happen. It’s no different.
“Just because we missed finals last year, doesn’t mean that we’re just going to accept three or four years out of finals. You want to get back in there straight away and compete at the end of the year.”
Former North Melbourne and St Kilda player Nick Dal Santo says the influence of four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson is also a key asset to Hawthorn’s potential rise up the ladder this season.
“Surely it gives you even more confidence,” he said.
“Alastair Clarkson will put something in place to get them going.”
However the 322 game midfielder added that Maher’s assessment is overly optimistic.
“When you read out those names on paper, which is dangerous, I think their possibility to go up the ladder is better than what I thought, but if you did that with most clubs, on paper you would get a similar result,” said Dal Santo.
Listen to Nick Dal Santo's chat with Andy Maher on SEN Afternoons below: