The most frightening thing about Hawthorn’s domination of their AFL rivals is there’s no end in sight.
Canny recruiting, strong blooding of youngsters and a club culture that’s the envy of the competition make Hawthorn again the team to beat in 2015.
Hawthorn are favourites to win a premiership that would make them just the second team in 60 years to claim three straight grand final wins.
The Hawks will unfurl their 12th flag in round one a stronger team than last year, both in personnel and character.
The loss of two-time premier Brad Sewell and a few peripheral players was more than offset by the arrival of James Frawley and Jonathan O’Rourke.
But it’s the step up of the Hawks’ next-gen midfield that could be most crucial to the club in 2015.
Will Langford has clearly arrived after a stand-out finals series.
Hawks football boss Chris Fagan, who is senior coach Alastair Clarkson’s most trusted lieutenant at Hawthorn, said the club hoped more would follow in 2015.
“We feel like we’re building the next wave of midfielders,” Fagan said.
“We just have to get them some games in experience and while we’ve got the older guys with us, they’ve got some terrific role models to learn from.”
Fagan named Langford, O’Rourke, Jed Anderson and draftee Daniel Howe as the next big things to win the Hawks the ball, with runners Billy Hartung and Bradley Hill to progress further.
In 2014, Angus Litherland (13 games), Hartung (7), Tim O’Brien (4) and Woodward (2) all experienced senior football for the first time and will be better for it.
And in Anderson, the Hawks have an inside ball-winner they rate as the best young midfielder in the competition.
That’s not to say the older blokes have reached their use-by date.
The Hawks have six players over 30 – Brian Lake, Sam Mitchell, Shaun Burgoyne, Josh Gibson, David Hale and captain Luke Hodge – which might be a concern if they all weren’t at or near the top of their game.
The return of Brendan Whitecross, who has been at the club since 2008 but has been denied a grand final, will also provide the more battle-hardened Hawks with inspiration.
As might be expected from the premiers, they’re not lacking in talls.
Ben McEvoy, Hale, Gibson, Jarryd Roughead, Lake, Matthew Spangher and Ryan Schoenmakers are all at least 195cm and all capable of monstering opponents around the ground.
The Hawks’ pre-season injury list is also the shortest in the league, with Grant Birchall (knee) the only senior player missing.
Whether the fire still burns for the Hawks might be the biggest question, but Fagan dismissed that as a concern.
“They’re still hungry and they still want to achieve a lot of things in footy,” he said.
“There’s a desire to keep improving and that’s been the mantra so long as I’ve been here.”
It’s worth remembering that the Hawks did show vulnerability last year against their fiercest rivals.
Sydney and Port Adelaide loom as legitimate challengers for the premiership, with North Melbourne, Fremantle and Geelong capable of mounting a tilt.
All five sides beat Hawthorn last season.
But ultimately Hawthorn triumphed despite missing Gibson, Lake, Mitchell and Cyril Rioli for long periods – as well as their senior coach.
Coach: Alastair Clarkson
Captain: Luke Hodge
Last five years: 7-3-2-1-1
Premierships: 12 (1961, 1971, 1976, 1978, 1983, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991, 2008, 2013, 2014)
Key Five: Jarryd Roughead, Isaac Smith, Sam Mitchell, Josh Gibson, Luke Hodge.
One to watch: Cyril Rioli. Because he’s one of the best players in the league to watch, but also for how he responds to a long off-season of treatment on his troubled hamstring. Few players light up the league like Rioli in full flight, and he gives the Hawks another dimension.
Ins: James Frawley (Melbourne), Jared Hardisty (Claremont WAFL), Daniel Howe (Murray U18), Lachlan Langford (Melbourne Grammar), Teia Miles (Geelong U18), Jermaine Miller-Lewis (South Fremantle WAFL), Jonathan O’Rourke (GWS), Marc Pittonet (Oakleigh U18), Zac Webster (Hawthorn rookie), Dallas Willsmore (Hawthorn rookie).
Outs: Kyle Cheney (Adelaide), Dayle Garlett (delisted), Mitch Hallahan (Gold Coast), Jordan Kelly (delisted), Luke Lowden (Adelaide), Ben Ross (delisted), Brad Sewell (retired), Derick Wanganeen (delisted).
B: Josh Gibson, Brian Lake, Grant Birchall
HB: Matt Suckling, Ben Stratton, Sam Mitchell
C: Isaac Smith, Will Langford, Bradley Hill
HF: Cyril Rioli, Jarryd Roughead, Luke Hodge
F: Luke Breust, Jack Gunston, Ben McEvoy
R: David Hale, Jordan Lewis, Liam Shiels
I: James Frawley, Jed Anderson, Paul Puopolo, Shaun Burgoyne
Predicted finish: 1st
Betting (William Hill)
To win the flag: $3.75
To make the top eight: $1.05