Story of 2015
They won their third consecutive flag to become one of the all-time great football sides so to put it bluntly; it was quite the year for the Hawthorn Football Club.
But one glance at the ladder in 2015 says that it wasn’t as easy as it seemed on the surface.
Compared to 2014, they won one less game and finished third on the ladder so this essentially was a season where they peaked when it really mattered.
Highlights of the regular season for the Hawks include an opening-round battering of old foe Geelong and humbling their would-be grand final opponent West Coast in Perth late in the year but this truly was a year to savour for Hawks fans.
One of the trademarks from Alastair Clarkson’s brown and gold machine is their ability to think their way situations across both 50m arcs and that was no different in 2015. Their disposal efficiency of 76.1 per cent was unmatched in the competition and was a large part of why the Hawks won the flag for a third time in succession.
What went wrong
It’s hard to fault the Hawthorn of the past few years but 2015 wasn’t the cakewalk that it seemed come the first weekend of October.
By round 10 Hawthorn had already lost four and a similar start in what looks on paper to one of the more competitive seasons in years may be a lot harder to recover from.
To stand still in the modern world of football means going backwards so if Hawthorn are to be there once again when the whips are cracking, they’ll have to ensure a slow start doesn’t leave them playing catch up in the months to come.
There are also questions surrounding the age profile of their list but with a coach such as Clarkson at the helm, that shouldn’t see them sliding down the pecking order too far.
What went right
Where does one start?
They scored the most goals, had the most inside 50s and were the most efficient when having possession of the footy.
This all happened despite being ninth in rebound 50s, pointing to a game plan that isn’t built on rapid ball movement coming out of defence but rather being composed enough to not turn the ball over when they have it.
Clarkson’s style of picking their way through the zones of the other title contenders held them in good stead once again and their dominance over their opponents shows no sign of slowing down.
They had three players who kicked over 50 goals while 2015 Norm Smith Medalist Cyril Rioli continued to show why he’s one of the most dangerous players in the competition when the ball hits the ground.
He continued to draw opponents to him like a moth to a bright light which allowed the likes of Gunston and Breust ample space inside forward 50 to capitalise on the inferred pressure that he creates.
Veterans Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell and Shaun Burgoyne in the middle ran the show for Hawthorn while defensive lynchpins Grant Birchall and Josh Gibson continued to keep some of the best forwards in the league quiet.
They truly were a happy team at Hawthorn in 2015.
The journey to what Hawthorn fans hope is a fourth consecutive premiership is well on track, despite one significant injury in the off-season.
Gun forward Jarryd Roughead sustained a PCL injury in January and will miss the first half of the season at the very least.
Roughead kicked an even 50 goals last season and the issue may not be where those extra goals come from but rather how it affects the Hawks forward structure.
How does Jack Gunston adapt to taking the best defender for a fair chunk of the season? It’s a question that may shape the fortunes of the brown and gold in 2016.
Hawthorn also brought in impending cult hero Jack Fitzpatrick and he has shown enough in pre-season to be given a crack at filling the Roughead void. Similarly, the maligned Ryan Schoenmakers has come on leaps and bounds in the past 18 months and could benefit from a more sustained run in the forward half.
This also looms as a significant year for James Sicily, who enters his third year on an AFL list playing just the three senior games thus far. The absence of Roughead also opens the door for him to cement himself as a mainstay of the Hawks’ push for another flag.
Off the park, the Hawks took a punt on injury-prone North Adelaide draftee Ryan Burton and on the face if it, seems a shrewd move if they can help him recover from a horror leg injury he sustained in 2014.
There is a school of thought that Alastair Clarkson goes overseas each off-season and looks to implement a different tactic taken from the various sports he watches.
With his side entering 2016 as the fourth-oldest list in the competition, Clarkson may have to pull out another trick from his ever-expanding book to counter a list that isn’t getting any younger.
There are also questions surrounding the replacement of Brian Lake. Daniel Howe has shown promise and may be the natural successor in the back half.
2016 looms as a year where Hawthorn has nothing left to prove to the football world and that in itself make them a dangerous enough prospect. They effectively have a free swing at another premiership while the rest of the competition chasing their tail weekly.
Whether they can win it all again remains to be seen but with a relatively settled list and a crop of promising kids coming through, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be there at the business end of the season.
B: Ben Stratton, James Frawley, Taylor Duryea
HB: Grant Birchall, Josh Gibson, Shaun Burgoyne
C: Bradley Hill, Sam Mitchell, Isaac Smith
HF: Cyril Rioli, Ryan Schoenmakers, Paul Puopolo
F: Luke Breust, Jarryd Roughead, Jack Gunston
Foll: Ben McEvoy, Luke Hodge, Jordan Lewis
Int: Jonathon Ceglar, James Sicily, Liam Shiels, Will Langford
Ladder prediction – 1st
For all the questions on the Hawks ageing list, they still possess a side that is a class above in the AFL. In one of the best coaches in the modern era, they have a man that will re-invent the side to ensure their game plan remains fresh and unique. We can’t see how they start the season as slow this time around and a side like the Hawks know to where to peak when it counts.