Have Hawthorn booby-trapped their own regeneration?

Matt Somerford Roar Rookie

By , Matt Somerford is a Roar Rookie

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    In a city where conversation is regularly framed by the sporting landscape, Melbourne’s famed changeable weather is arguably a gift of Mother Nature’s sense of humour.

    Sporting opinion clouds and clears the airways of the Victorian news cycle with the fleeting disturbance of a Nick Kyrgios tantrum or Kevin Bartlett opinion.

    If you don’t like it, wait five minutes.

    For Hawthorn fans the wait might be a little longer.

    For the best part of a decade Hawthorn have lived above the Monday-to-Friday parapet of white noise that is *expert* analysis and Facebook memes.

    Four premierships in eight years – including a hat-trick of titles – will do that. The Hawks were untouchable, on and off the field.

    You couldn’t so much as shout ‘power’ in their faces without being vigorously cast aside and discredited. Certainly don’t do it in an Adelaide train station.

    The Hawks did everything well. Whether you liked it or not.

    Most didn’t.

    Brutal efficiency rarely wins many admirers outside of the club’s four walls and the Hawks swaggered with the sort of arrogance that paves the way for greatness.

    For sporting purists it was a (brown and) gold standard in dynasty making.

    For everyone else it ruined their winter weekends; least of all September.

    The resentment that grew in between the gaps of sporting purism and Hawthorn support is now measurable in the levels of schadenfreude that has appeared on social media following Hawthorn’s 0-4 start.

    Jarryd Roughead Hawthorn Hawks AFL 2017

    A horrible winter at the trade table has only further served to empower the social media trolls with the number of Ty Vickery memes an effective unit of measuring Hawthorn’s decline.

    Just how it has come to this – just 18 months after clinching a premiership hat-trick – has been poured over this past week and shedding the spotlight will take more than a win this weekend against a West Coast side that routinely roll over at the MCG.

    From an outsider’s point of view it is strange to see Hawthorn cast into this dynamic. What’s most alarming is that they’ve been complicit in their decline.

    Every great era comes to an end – it is the nature of the AFL’s equalisation policy – but in their haste to fast-forward through the usual restoration period that follows Hawthorn instead appear to have booby-trapped their future.

    The headline act was the departures of Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis and while list manager Graeme Wright made a reasoned statement as to why they were ending their storied careers elsewhere, the messy nature of Lewis’ exit was the first sign the Hawks had not fully calculated the risk they were taking on.

    There was a naivety about the decision that Hawthorn had never before displayed during Alastair Clarkson’s tenure, like allowing the kids to finger paint over a Monet rather than yesterday’s newspaper.

    Now the legacy of Clarkson’s masterpiece is in very real danger of being tarnished.

    Vickery has unwittingly become the punchline to the winter’s mis-steps and the pathway towards restoring the lost ground is further complicated by the fact Hawthorn’s desire to re-generate as quickly as possible with Jaeger O’Meara and Tom Mitchell also saw them give up their first-round pick in the next draft.

    If that pick falls first on the board, as is now increasingly more possible, the joke will only grow more painful.

    After effectively being absent from last year’s draft Hawthorn face the double whammy of an ageing list and no young players to replace them.

    Jaeger O'Meara Hawthorn Hawks AFL 2017 tall

    Hawthorn fans will at least be spared the ignominy of facing Mitchell this weekend but the inevitable crossed paths await. Even more sobering is the realisation that one day Mitchell and Lewis will step out for their final game to the acclaim of a different club.

    The image of Mitchell waving goodbye to his career in front of an adoring crowd at the new Perth Stadium is difficult to conjure up. Yet it will almost certainly happen.

    So too Lewis being chaired off the MCG in red and blue.

    It doesn’t need a football purist to argue that such moments should be Hawthorn moments. A chance to reminisce over one of the great eras among their own.

    The truth is those moments are lost to Hawthorn and any hope they might be palatable in any sense will come if the Hawks are winning at the same time.

    That, of course, may yet happen. To write off this Hawthorn team is to forget it is still filled with multiple premiership-winning players and led by one of the great coaches of the modern era.

    But the fact remains that the narrative around this Hawthorn team is now about vindicating what happened last winter at the trade table.

    While media narratives won’t much bother Clarkson and his backroom team – wins are the only currency that counts to them – after watching their leaders unceremoniously shipped out the Hawthorn players could be forgiven for feeling some level of disconnect from the task.

    And in the back of their minds will be the knowledge that if Hawthorn are to stay relevant in the draft then trades will have to be made for picks.

    Professionalism and pride dictates any sportsman worth their salt plays to win every time they step onto the field of play, but it’s harder to be invested in repairing the damage of off-field decisions as opposed to going all-out for a premiership.

    Especially if you know the club is willing to move you on at the right price.

    It’s a millstone that, at the back end of some glorious careers, these players hardly deserve and for the moment at least appear disinterested by.