Sport AFL AFL season preview: Hawthorn Hawks

AFL season preview: Hawthorn Hawks

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Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson blames himself for the club’s failure as defending premiers to reach the top eight in 2009.

But he’s also quick to point out Hawthorn’s long injury list after claiming their 10th flag.

Clarkson says this time, hopefully, will be a lot different.

Jack Gunston. Photo: Getty

“You learn a stack,” the dual premiership mentor said, adding that a premiership hangover is only obvious in hindsight.

“You never detect it even when you’re within it.

“We made plenty of errors as a coaching group, as a club and as individual players having gone through that for the first time.

“You probably have a bit of a mask on in a sense. You don’t realise it’s occurring to you.

“We had 15 post-season surgeries after the 2008 grand final.

“Even that in itself is one example of just how difficult it is to prepare properly for the following season.

“But that’s not the sole reason.”

From a historical standpoint, Hawthorn have only gone back-to-back once – back in 1988-89.

It’s become even harder to do in the modern era, with Leigh Matthews’ great Brisbane teams of 2001-03 the most recent example of a club staying on top of the pile for successive years.

Ex-Saint Ben McEvoy’s arrival to replace retired premiership ruckman Max Bailey already looks a good fit and Clarkson has successfully trialled Cyril Rioli in defence following Brent Guerra’s retirement.

Utility Alex Woodward has returned to action following two years on the sidelines with serious knee problems and Matt Suckling gives the Hawks another defensive option after a year out with a knee injury.

Norm Smith Medallist fullback Brian Lake is suspended for the first three rounds.

But none of this compares with the impact caused by the departure of Lance Franklin to Sydney.

It has been suggested that the Hawthorn marketing staff will miss the sport’s most recognisable figure even more than the football department.

But any way you look at it, Franklin is a massive loss.

Cyril Rioli. Photo: Getty

Even so, Clarkson did a mighty job last year preparing the club for what has turned out to be the post-Buddy era.

Jarryd Roughead’s career-best year was rewarded with 72 goals and a first All-Australian guernsey, while Jack Gunston and Luke Breust also reached the 40-goal mark in 2013.

Add Rioli and ruck-forward David Hale to the mix and the Hawks will hardly struggle for firepower, even though Franklin is – in every sense – irreplaceable.

The midfield is a work in progress. Dual premiership ruck-rover Brad Sewell, 30, is one veteran who may not be around for long.

Dropped midway through last season, Sewell fought back strongly and Clarkson is keeping the faith that the 190-game veteran remains in his best 22.

“The challenge we’ve got is not so much Sewelly individually but the collective of four or five guys who are all really important to the middle part of our ground, but they’re all 28, 29, 30 years of age,” Clarkson said.

“We’ve started looking at that over the last couple of years by playing Luke Hodge, Shaun Burgoyne and Sam Mitchell in different positions and Sewelly played a little bit off half-back last year.

“We’ll see Mitch Hallahan, Will Langford and Alex Woodward who are ready to play some senior football. But we need to open up the spaces for them.”

Clarkson is not seeking quick dividends from Billy Hartung, Dayle Garlett and James Sicily – picks 24, 38 and 56 in last year’s draft.

But Garlett will still attract plenty of attention, after the Hawks took the plunge on the talented West Australian whose off-field issues turned off several other suitors.

While the Hawks have been late to the pre-season training track in comparison to other clubs, Clarkson is not concerned.

“We’re really pleased with where they’re at in terms of being ready to play and being hungry,” he said.


Coach: Alastair Clarkson

Captain: Luke Hodge

Last five years: 9-7-3-2-1

Premierships: 11 (1961, 1971, 1976, 1978, 1983, 1986, 1988-89, 1991, 2008, 2013)

Key five: Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Brian Lake, Jarryd Roughead, Josh Gibson.

One to watch: Ben McEvoy. The former St Kilda ruckman will have the chance to combine ruck and forward duties with premiership big men Jarryd Roughead and David Hale. Sam Mitchell is already suggesting it’s the first time he’s played with a ruckman who is an elite runner.

Ins: Dayle Garlett (Swan Districts WAFL), Billy Hartung (Dandenong U18), Ben McEvoy (St Kilda), James Sicily (Western U18).

Outs: Max Bailey (retired), Xavier Ellis (West Coast), Lance Franklin (Sydney), Brent Guerra (retired), Michael Osborne (retired), Shane Savage (St Kilda).

Best 22: B: Grant Birchall, Brian Lake, Ben Stratton
HB: Shaun Burgoyne, Josh Gibson, Matthew Suckling
C: Isaac Smith, Sam Mitchell, Bradley Hill
HF: Luke Breust, Jarryd Roughead, Cyril Rioli
F: Paul Puopolo, David Hale, Jack Gunston
R: Ben McEvoy, Luke Hodge, Jordan Lewis
I: Brad Sewell, Liam Shiels, Ryan Schoenmakers, Taylor Duryea

Predicted finish: 3rd

Betting (Sportingbet)

To win the flag: $5

To make the top eight: $1.10