One saying sums up Hawthorn’s 2011 season. You snooze, you lose.
The Hawks were one kick away from playing Geelong in yet another grand final when they dropped the ball late in the preliminary final against Collingwood, having led for 80 of the 114 minutes played and by 17 points at three-quarter time.
The boys from Waverley Park lost only six games last year to three teams – Adelaide in round one; Geelong in rounds five, 12 and the qualifying final; and Collingwood in round 15 and the preliminary final.
Interesting this year then, that Hawthorn’s first three games are against Collingwood and then Geelong both at the ’G, followed by a round three clash with Adelaide.
For Hawthorn, Sam Mitchell won the club best and fairest ahead of Josh Gibson, Grant Birchall, Lance Franklin and Luke Hodge.
The men who now resemble a bag of licorice allsorts agreed with Hawthorn’s match committee, awarding Mitchell the most Brownlow votes of any Hawk with 30, although he was ineligible to win Charlie.
Buddy once again gained the goalkicking accolades with 82 majors – Luke Bruest (30), Cyril Rioli (29) Michael Osborne (21) and David Hale (20) next.
Hawthorn goes into the 2012 season with the fourth-oldest list, and the oldest ever managed by Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson. Clarkson is now third on the list of games coached for Hawthorn.
The list however has arguably the most depth out of any team, Collingwood and Geelong included.
If you look at the top 10 percent of each position, the Hawks have seven elite players – Hodge, Franklin, Mitchell, Rioli, Shaun Burgoyne, Birchall and the recovering big man Jarryd Roughead.
Under them there is the courageous and ever-improving run-with midfielder Jordan Lewis, along with Brad Sewell, Gibson, Matt Suckling and Stephen Gilham amongst others.
Complementing the big names are highly promising players that are yet to reach the 50-game milestone, and in some cases are yet to debut. So, who are they?
Liam Shiels was the most improved midfielder in the competition last year and looks set to become an elite on-baller – he was the Hawks’ leading tackler, and was number one for Hawthorn and fifth in the league in pressure acts.
Isaac Smith was a damaging player last year when the moving the ball forward, with just under half his inside-50s resulting in a score.
The defensive playmaker Matt Suckling and his solid backline colleague Ben Stratton will provide greater strength against the league’s goalkickers.
Keep an eye on the fourth-year midfielder Shane Savage. The Hawks will be hoping Bruest can deliver another very good season and Adelaide Crows convert Jack Gunston gels well next to Franklin.
Two players that I am interested in seeing play in the big league are Alex Woodward and Jordan Kelly.
Woodward was the 53rd pick in the 2011 draft after playing his under 18s with Sandringham in the TAC Cup. His numbers were very impressive and he is a consistent contested ball-winner, including averaging 10 when he represented Vic Metro in the 2011 NAB AFL under 18 championships. Woodward has several big names ahead of him but if he gets a run, watch out.
Kelly may spend most of 2012 in the VFL, but is another to keep an eye out for in years to come.
At the start of this article I wrote that one saying summed Hawthorn up last year. This year, one word that you will hear more than any other team in the competition is, ‘if.’
If the Hawks have a good run with injuries, they will win the 2012 premiership. I predicted Geelong last year because I thought they were the best and they proved me and many others correct. This year, I am on Hawthorn.