It seemed to come out of nowhere. An 0-5 start to the season has been catapulted back to life after five wins from their past six encounters – their loss by a singular point after an unfathomable choke. However, this has not been a shock for those invested in the Hawthorn Football Club. Finally, after seasons of glimpses, Sam Mitchell's men may have arrived.

After a pre-season of anticipation, a slogan of "No Limits" and an exciting trade and draft crop, the Hawthorn men were expected to make leaps and bounds of progress in 2024.

But in a swift day of training, Hawthorn's troops were depleted. An intraclub match saw Changkuoth Jiath seriously injuring his hamstring. Just minutes later, key defender James Blanck ruptured his ACL.

Their defensive stocks continued to succumb to injuries: draftee Will McCabe suffered a back issue, Denver Grainger-Barras dealt the setback of turf toe. Superstars of the Hawks Will Day and Dylan Moore suffered respective pre-season hindrances – a foot stress fracture and glandular fever left them out of the main training group for at least a month.

The anticipation of Hawthorn's potential that had built from their 2023 scalps of Collingwood, Brisbane and the Western Bulldogs had been shot, and a horror start to the 2024 campaign ensued.

Whilst contributing somewhat, the plethora of injuries wasn't the only reason Hawthorn started poorly in 2024.

Notable players were a shell of their former selves in respective losses – James Sicily in Round 1 was held to just 11 disposals as the Hawks kicked 17 behinds. As the average fan will tell you, bad goalkicking is bad footy.

A stagnant, boring brand of footy was played in Round 2, where the Hawks only managed a score of 38 against a merciless Demons side. The defensive holes were on full display against a classy Geelong outfit that scored just four behinds in their Round 3 36-point win.

Hawthorn was smashed in the clearance in the first half against Collingwood, and although they fought back bravely, the 38-point half-time deficit ensured their defeat. The midfield's lack of quality was once again at the forefront after a crushing defeat to Gold Coast.

Jai Newcombe, James Worpel and Conor Nash had 10, 14 and 10 disposals respectively in an awful display. The Hawks had an 0-5 start and percentage of 64.8, their worst in 54 years. This loss, however, sparked the beginning of Hawthorn's mid-season turnaround.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 05: hh6 high fives fans after winning the round eight AFL match between Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn Hawks at Marvel Stadium, on May 05, 2024, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

“Bring your mouthguards”

On arrival at Melbourne Airport, Hawthorn vice-captain Dylan Moore was asked by 7 News about what Hawthorn could do to amend their season.

“There's no more tiptoeing at training, or ‘Yeah I'll sit out of this drill'. It's bring your mouthguards and let's get to work,” Moore said.

No one has embodied the toughness required to spark energy into Hawthorn's season quite like Moore has. An admired player by the Hawthorn faithful, the previously delisted 24-year-old is on the cards for an All-Australian blazer come season's end.

Most importantly, his leadership has been paramount in Hawthorn's revival. Not only has Moore spoken of the standards needed to win, he has acted upon them.

Following the Suns loss and the media scrutiny that followed, it was Moore who kicked four goals as Hawthorn snagged their first win of the season against North Melbourne. Whilst the Kangaroos were not a scalp compared to the wins soon after, it was a much-needed victory to steady the ship.

Moore kicked three of his four majors in the first half as Hawthorn built a crucial 37-point half-time buffer. Actions speak louder than words, and Moore aptly demonstrated his leadership by backing up his comments at the airport seven days prior.

The Hawks forward has kicked 10 goals in the following seven rounds since, including a magnificent bag of five against Adelaide. Moore's consistency and leadership qualities have driven Hawthorn's tougher approach to football, and are among the many reasons they have resurged this year.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 26: Dylan Moore of the Hawks is challenged by Braeden Campbell of the Swans during the round two AFL match between Sydney Swans and Hawthorn Hawks at Sydney Cricket Ground, on March 26, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos/Getty Images)

Lessons from a loss

Although the stakes were not nearly as high, and the comparison may be a bit extreme, it is hard to argue against the similarities between Hawthorn's incomprehensible choke to Port Adelaide and the 2012 AFL Grand Final.

It's a grand statement, but essentially, the lessons from this loss may prove to be invaluable for years to come.

The 2012 Grand Final saw Hawthorn on top early, as well as through the last quarter, but they were pipped at the post by a formidable Sydney outfit.

Port Adelaide WON BY 1 POINTS
Adelaide Oval

This loss was the driving factor for the following years to come. After the 2015 Grand Final, Jordan Lewis, a four-time premiership Hawk, spoke about how the hurt of 2012 determined the group to never lose a grand final again.

“[The loss] has certainly been a real motivating factor. We don't want to experience that feeling again and that has certainly sat with us,” Lewis told News Corp.

Similarly, the new-age Hawks took accountability for the 41-point choking to Port Adelaide in Round 10.

The Hawks parked the bus before three-quarter-time against the Power, resulting in just one behind to 43 points from the 23rd-minute mark of the third term. Port Adelaide pounced on Hawthorn's regressive playstyle, as two goals within the final 40 seconds left Hawthorn players, staff and fans heartbroken and speechless.

Mitchell's tactics were dealt with heavy scrutiny, as the pressure to rebound was immense. Losses such as these can make or break a side – they can either rally a team together, or dent the morale and momentum of the squad.

Hawthorn responded with the former. Despite an eerily similar second-half charge by Brisbane, Hawthorn had learnt from their mistakes and continued to attack the scoreboard. Steadying goals from new recruits Calsher Dear and Mabior Chol, as well as beloved veteran Jack Gunston, ensured Hawthorn a charismatic upset victory.

Hawthorn again found themselves in a tight contest against GWS in Round 13, but once again, they found their way. The Hawks played the last quarter without a ruckman after Ned Reeves was injured, yet still managed to win the clearance count and came back from a 19-point half-time deficit.

The hurt from the Power loss may have been brutal, but it has provided an invaluable lesson that could strengthen the group for the rest of the year.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 19: Darcy Byrne-Jones of the Power celebrates a miracle goal on the siren to win the match with his team mates during the round 10 AFL match between Yartapuulti (the Port Adelaide Power) and Hawthorn Hawks at Adelaide Oval, on May 19, 2024, in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

By the numbers: Where the Hawks have improved

As a unit, Hawthorn have improved significantly in their last five games. Their average clearances per game have increased by 2.7, their rebound 50 rate has increased by 4.9%, and they average three more shots at goal.

These statistics indicate that across the backline, midfield, and forward mix, Hawthorn have steadily progressed during their mid-season rise.

There has been plenty to like from a range of players in the Hawthorn squad after the last month and a half of football too.

There's the breakout season of ruckman Lloyd Meek, traded from Fremantle in 2022, who now averages the fourth-most hitouts in the AFL at 35 per game. He's close to being a regular contributor to the scoreboard as well, having kicked five goals in nine matches.

Massimo D'Ambrosio is one of the recruits of the year, providing poise and pace in a positional switch to the wing. D'Ambrosio averages 20.2 disposals and 4.4 marks per game, ranking him the number one wingman in the AFL, according to Champion Data.

Jai Newcombe has stepped up ever since his poor outing against Gold Coast, recording season-high efforts in disposals and tackles in the following rounds.

It's also impossible not to mention the immediate impact Will Day has had since his return from injury. Hawthorn is 4-2 since his comeback, as Day averages 21 disposals, 5.4 tackles and 3.7 inside 50s. His best performance yet was against the Giants, laying 10 tackles and recording 26 disposals.

Mitchell has affectionately named the young core of Hawthorn as "The Rascal Pack". A group of players that ooze confidence and swagger, plus goal celebrations galore. With all their flair, this young group have continually impressed on gameday. Jack Ginnivan has delivered since his arrival at Waverley, averaging a goal a game and three inside 50s.

Connor Macdonald crossed the 50-game mark earlier this year and has become a staple in the Hawthorn 22, playing all 13 games. Positioned either in the midfield or as a forward flanker, Macdonald has averaged nearly a goal a game and 15.9 disposals. Josh Weddle too has played all 13 games this year.

Mabior Chol has responded to criticism with his high-flying marks and consistent ability to hit the scoreboard, averaging 1.4 goals. Nick Watson, albeit inaccurate so far, is a constant scoring threat. Then add on Calsher Dear, who has transformed quickly under the mentorship of Jack Gunston. Hawthorn, if not this year, have the cavalry to push for finals in the near future.

LAUNCESTON, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 08: Hawks players celebrate the win during the round 13 AFL match between Hawthorn Hawks and GWS GIANTS at University of Tasmania Stadium, on June 08, 2024, in Launceston, Australia. (Photo by Steve Bell/Getty Images)

What's next?

Despite an 0-5 start, the brown and gold have a pulse in 2024. This week's match against Richmond will be no easy feat in Dustin Martin's 300th, as well as clashes with Geelong, Collingwood, and Carlton to come.

However, the scalps of Brisbane and GWS may provide the confidence that Hawthorn can match anyone on any given day, and their charge towards a finals berth won't be anything short of captivating.

Hawthorn WON BY 48 POINTS