What’s the deal with Hawthorn?
It sounds like the opening to one of Jerry Seinfeld’s observational gags.
Still, the question remains pertinent - what is their modus operandi?
On their list that contains 43 players, nine will be either 30 or above at the completion of this year, whilst only four will still be teenagers.
This stark range of ages is not uncommon on contemporary AFL lists; however, the average age of their playing squad sits at 24.44 years old.
This is a figure that suggests one of two things – either the Hawks are contenders or their list is a mess.
When we take in to account their five-win, 15th place finish last season, it appears unlikely that the improvement necessary to nab their 14th flag will be carried out this year.
With this in mind, we can safely rule the first option out.
The question then shifts to list management – what is the Hawks’ plan when it comes to building their playing stocks?
The unsuitable plan of attack
Prior to this off-season, Hawthorn, under their former list manager Graham Wright, had a fairly simple strategy to compiling aptitude – ship out old talent and replace them with younger models at the trade table.
Although this methodology saw the club gain the services of names like O’Meara, Mitchell, Scully, Patton, Burgoyne and Wingard, it came at the cost of losing champions like Lewis, Hodge, Smith and Sam Mitchell.
Despite this plan of attack equating to Hawthorn playing finals in six of the last 10 seasons, the former powerhouse has failed to make the eight since 2018.
For this very reason, it surprised few that Wright and the club altered their procedure and used their first top 10 draft pick since 2006.
Pick No.6 - @Hawthornfc selects Denver Grainger-Barras (Swan Districts).
— AFL (@AFL) December 9, 2020
Although this may seem as though the train has run onto different tracks, ambiguity reigns as Wright is no longer at Waverley and Ben McEvoy has been named the club’s skipper at the ripe old age of 31.
Confused yet? You are not alone.
With a newly appointed captain above the age of 30, one of the oldest lists in the league, recruits such as Tom Scully and Jonathon Patton unavailable and a recruitment policy that is hedged at best, it is clear that the club is treading water.
— Zero Hanger (@zerohanger) February 1, 2021
For a club that has a proud history of discipline and direction dating back to the early sixties, this appears bewildering from an outsider’s perspective.
Is Clarko in or out?
When the ball is bounced into the centre of Marvel Stadium on March 20th, Alistair Clarkson will have commenced his 17th season as Hawthorn’s head coach.
Perennially two steps ahead of those in the opposition coaches box, Clarkson will no doubt have his troops marching to the beat of an altered game plan.
However, with dwindling stocks at his disposal, there is only so much the mastermind can do.
Should this continued brown and gold regression continue, just how long will Clarkson remain at the nest?
It would be moronic to suggest that his reputation could come even close to tarnished, but with a steely desire and appetite used to silverware, or at least September football, will the 52-year-old remain keen on nurturing the next generation?
Never lose sight of the fact Alistair Clarkson is the greatest coach ever.
— Ben (@benno_76) June 22, 2017
Should he stay long term, would this be reliant on the club doubling down on their recruitment methods of the past in an effort to kick their window back open?
Only time will tell.
Time to pick a path
Obviously, there is an internal plan for the future at Hawthorn, but the sooner they embrace the daunting tag of a ‘rebuilding club’, the better.
The decision is theirs and theirs alone to make – embrace youth and change or strap in for the ride over the many impending bumps with a grin?