Well I give up. In the hours since their clinical grand final performance, I’ve run through all the potential contenders, and I seriously can’t find one I’d happily put my money on to stop Hawthorn winning a fourth successive flag in 2016.
I know the bookmakers have installed West Coast as joint favourites with Hawthorn for the 2016 premiership, and they deserve to be the main threat considering what they have done this season and with so many areas they can still improve on.
But as they discovered on Saturday, it’s still a sizeable step up to reach where the Hawks are.
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To be talking about the 2016 premiership less than 48 hours after the 2015 grand final seems a little absurd. Injuries, illness, bad luck, natural disasters, anything… they can all be factors in a long season.
But with history at stake – the Hawks looking to equal the famous feat of 1927-30 when Collingwood won four successive flags – and the dominance of the Hawks in 2015, it’s a feasible subject to be chattering about right now.
And we really shouldn’t forget what they did in the past month. They went to Perth twice, then obliterated their opponents in the decider.
We continually heard at the end of last season that Hawthorn would soon start to feel their age, but that didn’t eventuate in 2015. It could happen in 2016, and what you do find with veteran players is that the end hits them very quickly and very unexpectedly.
But it’s hard to imagine that being the case the way some of Hawthorn’s senior stars served in 2015, and the way many finished off in the grand final, notably Shaun Burgoyne, Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell.
Sure Brian Lake may go, and David Hale might say goodbye, but that’s about it, and the Hawks’ young and slightly older brigade – the likes of Jack Gunston, Isaac Smith, Will Langford, and of course Cyril Rioli – have now shown they have the talent and composure to win when it counts.
I concede the West Coast have the best opportunity to thwart the four-peat. The old saying – which is continually proven incorrect – that you need to lose a grand final before you win one worked for the Eagles in 2005-2006. And their talent-laden list will benefit greatly once the disappointment of Saturday disappears.
But who else?
Fremantle? Their premiership window has been ajar for a while now, and is getting closer to shut than wide open. They will again be somewhere near the top in 2016, but they have some work to do and holes to fill if they are to match the Hawks.
Sydney? Well much might hinge on Buddy Franklin. They obviously are a better side with him, but who knows what his future holds. The Swans have some good kids coming through, but like the Dockers, they need a couple of holes plugged.
It’s difficult to see any others outside this season’s top four taking the giant strides needed.
Richmond? Well, who knows, They showed this year that the best Richmond can beat any team, but the less than best Richmond are not in the hunt.
The Bulldogs? They will continue to improve and were a revelation in 2015. It’s still a big step up from where they are, to where they want to be, but major improvement can come in a year. It will need to.
Adelaide and North? Both top eight sides, but not in the class of the Hawks right now. And while the likes of Geelong, Collingwood, Port and even the Greater Western Sydney will be making noise when it comes to finals, each would have to be dramatic improvers to go from where they have been in 2015, to where Hawthorn were and will be.
So in short, I do give up. I can’t find one. Four-peat… bring it on.