Alastair-Clarkson

Story Of The Summer

With Max Bailey retiring Hawthorn were in need of ruck depth. As has become the norm with recruitment down at Glenferrie the Hawks added a quality talent for 50 cents on the dollar this time in the form of St Kilda’s Ben McEvoy. At 24 years of age with 91 games under his belt McEvoy is on the cusp of his prime as far as big men go. Just six months older than Nic Naitanui and younger than the new wave of rucking counterparts Matt Leuenberger, Todd Goldstein and Matty Kreuzer it’s fair to suggest McEvoy’s best is yet to come. As far as career arcs go statistically McEvoy is tracking similar to that of a Darren Jolly and assuming the trajectory continues a fringe AA ruckman would be a terrific return for Hawthorn.

Big Boy’s 2013 season was anything but wowee and his second half splits had the makings of a player who was either on the outer or set for a timeshare split in the centre square with the emerging Tom Hickey. The writing appeared to be on the wall, and to their credit Hawthorn pounced with flawless timing. The kicker for Hawks fans is that McEvoy has runs on the board as both an emerging talent and fantastic leader. The transition should be a seamless one with McEvoy walking straight into the role vacated by Max Bailey and so perfectly complemented by David Hale.

Hawthorn plugged a gaping need with not only a genuine talent but one who still has a significant scope for improvement. As far as value goes the Hawks landed themselves a steal on paper, although given the draft picks involved we won’t be able to accurately grade this particular trade for three to five years.

Oh yeah, and some guy named Lance Franklin left for Sydney.

Where They Excel

Hawthorn excels pretty much everywhere, which should sicken anyone who supports an opposition club. The Hawks have a settled back six, experienced midfield, perfectly sound forward line and versatility for days. Not only is the squad a dream on paper but under coach Alastair Clarkson they’re one of the most well-oiled machines we’ve seen take to an AFL ground.

What is most impressive about Hawthorn is their ability to limit turnovers, and in 2013 they led the competition for fewest turnovers by foot despite abandoning their heavily uncontested game style the league became so familiar with. The Hawks played more direct and flirted with one-on-one football with their work at stoppages frequently impressive. Despite managing just 11 more clearances than Richmond the Hawks produced 115 more points from stoppages than the next ranked side (Richmond). The addition of McEvoy should only strengthen their ability at the coalface.

Year

Effective Kicks

Kicking Efficiency

Kicks

Uncontested Marks

Contested Marks

Time in Possession

2012

1st

1st

1st

1st

18th

1st

2013

7th

5th

7th

10th

7th

4th

The result was a Hawthorn outfit that was far more balanced, unpredictable, composed and seasoned for the hardened environment of one-on-one finals footy.

For the second straight season Hawthorn had the best attack and led the competition for time in front percentage. For the second consecutive season Hawthorn used exactly 34 players, with three playing every game, only in 2013 five new faces made their debut, compared to two in 2012. It’s a super consistent and strict outfit both in management and on-field performance, and predicting how they can improve is near on impossible.

The Hawks struggled with travel interstate in 2012 but finished 2013 with an 8-0 record. They’ve rejuvenated competition for spots by blooding youngsters in Brad Hill, Taylor Duryea and Jed Anderson, acquiring mature-aged hunger in Jonathan Simpkin and if the NAB Challenge is anything to go there’s another handful of prospects already waiting in line.

Hiccups on the Horizon

There’s been plenty of talk about Lance Franklin’s departure to Sydney but very little concern about the impact it will have on Hawthorn’s ability to go back to back. The beauty for the Hawks is they were more than prepared to adjust to life without Franklin a season ago with the attention Franklin received on-field essentially a blessing in disguise. In 2011 there’s no doubt the Hawks were too Buddy-conscious and the same can be said about 2012. When 2013 rolled around we saw Hawthorn unveil one of the most efficient forward lines in recent memory with its heavy spread of contributors the driving force behind its success.

The goal in football is premierships, not individual numbers. Franklin was phased out as the primary focal point up forward but still played his role at an extremely high level and Hawthorn became less predictable as a result with the outcome a more dangerous Hawks outfit. From 2011 to 2013 Buddy experienced a 34% drop in forward targets. Output wise the result for Franklin was 22 fewer goals, 43 fewer marks inside 50 and 192 fewer points on the scoreboard, but the kicker was a premiership for Hawthorn.

Jarryd Roughead’s injury obviously played a major role in the forward line setup as 2011 saw Franklin as a lone soldier, and although it was mesmerising and spectacular to watch, no Hawthorn player was within 200 inside 50 targets of Franklin with Luke Breust and Cyril Rioli the only other players with over 25 goals. It was a forward line on an efficiency path similar to Collingwood and Travis Cloke, and it was broken.

2013 saw five Hawthorn players accumulate at least 30 marks inside 50 with four of those players contributing at least 40 goals.

It represents a far more balanced and dangerous forward line. It also shows us that Franklin can play a team oriented role without kicking up a stink and demanding to be the man. Lance Franklin won’t have any issues sharing the forward line with Kurt Tippett, having just split one with Jarryd Roughead. Likewise, Hawthorn won’t face drastic issue due to his absence.

A star is gone but the core philosophy and structure remains.

The Skinny

Going back to back is a rare feat but if any team has the necessary tools and experience to do so it is this Hawthorn side. The Hawks have been here before and the horrors associated with their 2009 premiership defence obviously lingered given how fit and polished they’ve looked this pre-season.

There’s lingering concerns about the Hawks’ ageing midfield but with Lewis, Mitchell, Sewell, Hale, Hodge, Roughead, Burgoyne, Puopolo, Breust, Rioli, Shiels, Simpkin and McEvoy all rotating through the square they possess more than enough personnel versatility to remain fresh.

From a list profile standpoint the Hawks were keen to inject youth this off-season with the number of players aged between 18 and 21 doubling from seven in 2013 to 14 in 2014. Very little maturity was lost though with 45% of this year’s squad possessing at least 40 games’ experience compared to 50% in 2013.

Hawthorn has been a major player in the premiership narrative for years and they’re not going to be written out any time soon.

Ladder Range: 1-3

Best 22

B: B.Stratton, B.Lake, J.Gibson

HB: G.Birchall, R.Schoenmakers, M.Suckling

C: I.Smith, L.Hodge, S.Mitchell

HF: L.Breust, J.Roughead, C.Rioli

F: J.Gunston, D.Hale, P.Puopolo

Foll: B.McEvoy, B.Sewell, J.Lewis

Int: L.Shiels, B.Whitecross, S.Burgoyne

S: B.Hill

 

You can follow Scott on Twitter: @ScottyBarby

All data courtesy of AFL.com.au, Herald Sun, Footywire and Foxsports