Regrets are an inevitable part of life. They come with the territory of breathing and are a part of the unwritten deal we all sign for the right to exist.

Although some contrition can feel enormous – such as the misery born when a relationship breaks down or after committing a far more criminal act – others are forgotten in the blink of an eye.

In terms of the unpredictable game of football, there are a plethora of scenarios that have made or broken careers.

What if your side picked a different player from a certain draft?

What if your star spearhead had kicked straight when it mattered?

What if a decorated legend failed to kickstart another golden generation?

Well, for fans of every creed we have sought to answer the question that has rankled you for years and kept you up at night for far too long.

We can't promise that we won't open old wounds, as let's face it, that is the entire point of the exercise.

From Adelaide to the Bulldogs, from Fitzroy to the Bears, here are every club's biggest 'what if' moments since the dawn of the AFL era in 1990.

OTHER WHAT IFS: AdelaideBrisbane BearsBrisbane LionsCarltonCollingwoodEssendonFitzroyFremantleGeelong, Gold Coast, GWS 

Strap yourselves in, Hawks fans. It's your turn.

What if Jason Dunstall never insisted that Hawthorn sign Alastair Clarkson?

Since he first arrived at Glenferrie Oval's tight confines from sunny Coorparoo ahead of the 1985 VFL season, there have been few names that have influenced Hawthorn's modern history more than Jason Hadfield Dunstall.

Although ‘The Chief' conspicuously contributed 1,254 goals across an era in which the Hawks won four flags, perhaps the greatest gift the Queenslander ever gave to his club came six years after he hung up his boots.

Following Peter Schwab's calamitous final campaign at the helm of the Hawks in 2004, a subcommittee was formed to find the next name to fill the Hawthorn's hot seat, following on from legends like Kennedy, Parkin and Jeans.

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The committee tasked with finding Hawthorn's 32nd senior coach included two of their favourite sons: Dunstall and his former offensive partner in crime, Dermott Brereton.

Across an off-season that would see Hawthorn enter the draft with a swathe of early draft picks, upwards of a dozen names were interviewed for the vacant position, including John Longmire, Daryn Creswell and Shaun Rehn. The shortlist also included a trio of former Hawks in Gary Ayres, Terry Wallace and Rodney Eade.

Still, as the brown and gold group dragged their feet on naming Schwab's successor, several of these names – including Eade and Wallace – eventually became unavailable.

And after an arduous interview process, Brereton and Dunstall were split on their preferred choice.

The more flamboyant of the pair held his premiership teammate Ayres in high esteem, whilst Dunstall's eye was caught by a Port Adelaide assistant coach who supposedly zigged in his presentation when the others zagged.

Prior to eventually claiming the top job at HawthornAlastair Clarkson had cut his coaching teeth at St Kilda, Werribee, Central Districts and finally Alberton. It was at this final destination that the former Roo and Demon gained an appreciation for analytics and the process of drafting and developing a premiership-winning list.

Even though Brereton would eventually stand down from the subcommittee, largely as he didn't want to be seen to be favouring his good mate Ayres, his opinion still held considerable weight behind the closed doors of the art deco Tuck Stand.

However, Dunstall – by that stage the club's acting chief executive – pulled the trigger on a man that was originally not on Hawthorn's shortlist for the role.

Despite Clarkson's alternative path to the position, and his differing views from his peers, just how different would Hawthorn have looked across the last decade and change had Dunstall been swayed by his permed mullet wearing centre-half forward?

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According to recollections from those involved in the selection process, after the Hawks took their lumps in 2004, their MO was always to head to the draft and re-stock.

Having finished the '04 season as the league's second worst team with a 4-0-18 record, the club invested in the nucleus of what would become a three-peat team by using a trifecta of top 10 picks on Jarryd RougheadLance Franklin and Jordan Lewis respectively.

History will show that Clarkson ruthlessly culled veterans from his list at the end of his first season in 2005, with the man often labelled as a mastermind also showing several of his assistants the door, bringing in hard-nosed and hungry replacements in Damien Hardwick, Todd Viney and Ross Smith.

It was also at this point that former biomechanist and analytics guru David Rath first made his way to Glenferrie.

Although the proof is in the premiership trophies for Clarkson and the Hawks, would Gary Ayres have made these same moves if given the opportunity, or would he have preferred to run to the beat of his own ‘win now' drum?

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Prior to his meeting with Dunstall and Brereton, Ayres – a two-time Norm Smith medallist in his playing days at Hawthorn – had coached the Cats and Crows for a combined 10 seasons for a 116-1-94 record and a 55.21% win rate.

These numbers show that the man affectionately referred to as ‘Conan' had the ability to coach. However, with a decade already spent in the coaches box, Ayres may not have been entirely enthused about the prospect of a hard rebuild.

If the latter point had proven to be true, then names like Mark Graham, Nathan Thompson, Rayden Tallis and Kris Barlow may well have been afforded another season under his guidance, and the previously mentioned trio of contemporary Hawthorn legends in ‘Roughy', ‘Bud' and ‘Lewy' could well have been asked to bide their time in the twos.

Alternatively, their names may not have been called at all, and the trio could have slipped through the Hawks' talons entirely.

Despite the fact that Ayres had shown the footballing world his ability as a tactician by taking the Cats back to the grand final in his first season - 1995 - cynics will suggest that this feat not only failed to bear fruit, but that it was achieved with a list compiled by his predecessor, Malcolm Blight.

As we never set foot inside Hawthorn's old Linda Crescent headquarters, let alone been privy to any pitches and meetings, we can't profess to know the path that Ayres had planned if he landed his third AFL coaching post. However, if the 269-game Hawk had returned to the nest, a more conservative approach to the role could well have been on the menu.

Across his 16 seasons as a player, Ayres was coached by a pair of men that both shaped the club's image following the departure of John Kennedy Snr.

Ayres' first coach David Parkin was a Kennedy disciple, so although he was never coached by ‘Kanga' directly, Ayres likely received the same scripture from Parkin across his first three seasons in the VFL.

Under Allan Jeans, Ayres also helped construct the values that remained at Hawthorn until Clarkson's broom swept clean.

With this in mind, as well as the fact that he had played a role in more than half of the Hawks' premierships up until the start of 2005, if Ayres was appointed, it would have likely just re-entrenched these potentially tired values at a club that was dying for fresh air.

However, as Ayres proved himself more than adept at recruiting and nurturing young talent during his 14 seasons as head coach of VFL outfit Port Melbourne, perhaps he could have been the man to help shape the future after all.

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Even though there is much ambiguity involved in shaping this revised narrative, there are two factors that remain certainties.

Firstly, with his knowledge of the game and his thirst for changing it, Alastair Clarkson would have eventually found a head coaching role elsewhere had the Hawks snubbed him.

And finally, with Clarkson's record of success evident, Hawthorn fans will definitely be thankful that Jason Dunstall put his foot down when he did.