After being unbackable favourites for the premiership from the beginning of the season, the Hawks fell at the final hurdle with a shock 10-point loss to Sydney. As soon as the confetti started falling at the MCG, pundits and experts everywhere were talking about the demise of the Hawks.
Hawthorn’s skill and precision by foot has made them into one of the most successful and competitive teams in recent years, and their mix of senior and less experienced players has seen them very nearly achieve their aim of winning two premierships in five years.
However, since their recent loss, critics have been questioning the Hawks ability to win another flag. Against Sydney, the Hawks were uncharacteristically sloppy by foot, and were unable to run and carry the ball as they usually do.
The Hawks’ inability to get the job done on the last Saturday in September has led many to question their premiership credentials, and whether their premiership window has closed.
While their performance on Grand Final day can be questioned, the immediate future of the team cannot. This highly-skilled team has the ability to be a big player in the premiership game over the next few years.
The major reason for this is their team structure; the Hawks have a balanced team, with no real gaping holes. Their three-pronged tall structure of Lance Franklin, Jarryd Roughead and David Hale proved to be a struggle for other teams to contain this year, and their mix of inside and outside midfielders has allowed them to get first hands on the ball most of the time.
Clearance specialists Sam Mitchell and Brad Sewell have been joined by the outside pace of Isaac Smith and super-sub Shane Savage, allowing the Hawks to win the battles in the middle of the ground.
The Hawks’ defensive six, so good at controlling and setting up their pushes into the forward 50, looks settled and confident. Ben Stratton, Grant Birchall, Matt Suckling, Josh Gibson, Ryan Schoenmakers and Shaun Burgyone were all solid this year, and the Hawks rely on them heavily to set up their play in the rest of the ground.
Hawthorn is in an envious position – as well as having a nucleus of settled, skilful, experienced players, the Hawks also have an abundance of young talent coming through.
Speedster Bradley Hill showed his flair in his few games this year, as did young forward Jack Gunston, who seems to have established his place in the Hawks forward line.
Jarrad Boumann gave some run off half-back, and untried youngster Alex Woodward is highly rated by the Hawks, and would have played early in the season were it not for an injury.
Adding any or all of these players to the team next year will ensure that the Hawks don’t bottom out.
The Hawks also have their on-field strategy going for them. Favouring getting the ball quickly through the corridors, the Hawks are able to slice teams to shreds with their accurate kicking and play-on-at-all costs mentality. Couple this with their willingness to kick to, and win, one-out contests and their opposition face a tough ask to beat them.
Perhaps the most important reason the Hawks will feature in September next year is that they will use the pain of losing this year’s Grand Final to spur them into action in 2013. Geelong used the pain of their loss to the Hawks in the 2008 Grand Final to help them win the 2009 and 2011 flags, with Paul Chapman famously declaring after that loss that they would never lose to the Hawks again.
Hawthorn will undoubtedly use the pain of losing such a tightly fought contest to help them go one step further next year.