Hawthorn had a tough draw to start the season, playing five of last year’s top eight, including the grand finalists, in the first six rounds. Given they got to round six with a 3-3 win-loss record, they would have felt the fixture would soften and they could build momentum and make finals. Instead, they have fallen away. That is the micro look at the season. The macro look would be to say the oldest team in the competition needed to be in contention, more than a 50-50 prospect against the good teams, to justify their demographic.
The macro look at the season would be to say they wanted to remain viable and competitive on the field this year with older players while bringing the younger players through, as Geelong has done.
But when you blend the macro look with the micro view you have to ask: who are these younger players? Are they on the list now?
You realise the older players have not delivered and the recycled players are not taking you far enough forward. Veterans like Paul Puopolo and Shaun Burgoyne have been brilliant but won’t go on next year. Captain Ben Stratton has had a poor year and cannot influence games. Were he not captain his position in the team would be sketchy.
The blend of views of the list would be to say the balance has not been right and the team was neither good enough to threaten the top clubs nor bad enough to get a good draft pick. Which is OK if you are competitive and simultaneously bringing on the next generation of players. When teams reach this point everyone waits to hear the ‘R’ word. Talk of a rebuild signals an acknowledgement they need to start again.
Hawthorn has been rebuilding from the moment they took decisions to move on Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis and Luke Hodge. The question is the method of rebuild.
The typical view of a rebuild is to go ‘scorched earth’ and replenish with elite kids. Now the draft is so diluted by academies, father-son picks and priority access to players the best players are missing.
Teams cannot rebuild through draft alone.
It is not a case of topping up or going to the draft; clubs need to do both. Hawthorn’s problem has been they have not got the balance right between free agents, mature players traded in and access to the pointy end of the draft.
The lack of picks at this pointy end is starting to hurt them. This season will prompt them to do what they can to trade into the draft for early picks. How they secure those picks is the question. In the meantime, they introduce players like Finn Maginness in the back end of a fading season.
ONE FOR THE AGES – Average age of teams in Round 8:
Hawthorn 26.77 (years)
West Coast 26.42
North Melbourne 25.56
Port Adelaide 25.45
Brisbane Lions 25.42
St Kilda 25.24
Western Bulldogs 24.75
Gold Coast 24.45
Source: Champion Data
The St Kilda recruits over summer obscured or distracted from the fact Hunter Clark has become a seriously good player, and is getting more of the ball. He is a clean user and makes smart decisions.
Jack Steele has become an effective stopper who also gets his own ball and Nick Coffield is gaining composure.
A year or two back, Carlton’s Matt Kennedy looked like a player who was not quite quick enough for the midfield, not quite big enough for the forward line and not quite talented enough to compensate in either position.
Kennedy has been terrific this year. He was very good last year in proving capable as a forward but this year has moved back on the ball again. He looks to have trimmed a few kilos (impressions can be wrong) and his strength around the ball and clean hands are making him very valuable alongside Patrick Cripps.
Tim Membrey might have kicked the most dramatic goal of the round thanks to help from the video reviewer, but Essendon kicked best team goal of the year. Conor McKenna gathered at half-back and took off bouncing.
He did a ‘solo’ – the gaelic kick-up to yourself when on the run. He split between Chayce Jones and Rory Laird and weighted a perfect kick in the arms of Kyle Langford who didn’t need to break stride. Perfect.
Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.