It’s easy to say in hindsight, but Hawthorn’s writing was always on the wall

Tim Lane Columnist

By Tim Lane, Tim Lane is a Roar Expert

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    The signs of impending doom were there, we just didn’t look hard enough. Or we put too much faith in the established order. Or we didn’t dare believe it might be so (depending on where our loyalties lie).

    Hawthorn had been hanging on by its fingernails for quite some time and, bit by bit, their resistance was fading.

    So much of modern football is measurable by numbers, some relatively complex and requiring informed analysis, others straightforward. In the case of the Hawks, the latter will do.

    For starters, they’ve now lost eight of their last ten games: prior to this season’s implosion, they’d won two of their last six in 2016. One of those, a must-win affair against lowly Collingwood, was snatched from the fire by Jack Fitzpatrick’s memorable late goal at the MCG.

    That heart-stopper was the sixth thriller the Hawks had negotiated for the season. Five were won by a kick and there was a nine-point win over North Melbourne in mid-year. We, of course, all nodded sagely and muttered to the effect that it showed how much belief this mighty team had. It would all be okay on the night. Or day, or whenever the grand final was scheduled.

    How hypnotised we become by sustained success. As you look back now, Hawthorn was clearly a fading entity. If the three consecutive one-kick wins in the first five weeks had gone the other way, they were 1-5 by Round 6. And before you say, “But they didn’t”, the fact is the Hawks were by now playing close to the cliff’s edge.

    Their phase of stability last year was a nine-win sequence from late-May until the end of July. But, with the benefit of hindsight, even that was a mirage. Only two of the nine teams they beat through that period made the finals – edging North Melbourne by nine points as mentioned above, and downing Sydney at the SCG by five points.

    Perhaps the latter was the Hawks’ finest two hours of the season but maybe, just maybe, it was achieved against a team also struggling with the pull of gravity. The other wins were all against bottom-half teams.

    So, the writing was on the wall. Not that it warned of so spectacularly disastrous a start to the 2017 season as we’ve seen.

    However, having slipped from last year’s top four by the end, having parted ways with two of its greatest players of the era, and with the clock ticking audibly on some others, the Hawks were hardly likely to go forward. They could reasonably be expected to be a lower-end-of-the-eight prospect at best. And that’s based purely on the cold, hard numbers.

    But there’s more. When eras end and great teams begin the inevitable slide, another factor inevitably comes into play. This is, thank goodness, where the game’s humanity still asserts itself. And that, it’s fair to say, is what we’re now seeing.

    Suddenly, Cyril Rioli (most obviously), Luke Breust, Jack Gunston, Liam Shiels, Josh Gibson and a few others are playing without killer instinct, for they know their team is no longer a killer. As that knowledge has penetrated their collective psyche, the glorious confidence of the past five seasons has eroded. And the players promoted to fill gaps in the team haven’t found themselves surrounded by a supremely confident group, as had happened in recent years. Indeed, theirs is the polar opposite experience.

    I was foolish enough to imagine a rebound from the Round 3 humiliation on the Gold Coast. Instead, through the early stages on Easter Monday, the tentative team wearing brown and gold was unrecognisable as Hawthorn.

    Fortunately for the Hawks, Geelong seemed to be jumping at shadows. Until late in the day, the Cats played as though dealing with a ticking time-bomb. Once they realised their opponent carried no weapons, however, they beat Hawthorn as no one has done in years.

    So, where to now? It’s no longer a matter of whether the Hawks can make the finals; more of how low they can go. Currently, they’re dead last. Surely not?

    This, as we know, is what can happen to a team that’s enjoyed sustained success. The question is: how to rebuild quickly? And who should lead the new era?


    Alastair Clarkson acted with breathtaking boldness in farewelling Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis. He might well be asking himself now whether, despite his long-term contract, he should join them. Former club president Jeff Kennett thinks so.

    Clarkson could make a fresh start elsewhere – there’ll be no shortage of suitors. On the other hand, Hawthorn plucked him from relative obscurity and gave him a start. Also, having made such a radical move on two of the club’s greatest champions to begin the rebuild, it could be argued Clarkson now has an obligation to dig in for the long haul.

    It’s been a brown-and-golden era. For nearly a decade now, the Hawks have been armour-plated as they’ve controlled the traffic around them.

    Suddenly, they’re very exposed as they stand at the crossroads.

    Tim Lane
    Tim Lane

    Tim Lane is one of the most respected voices in Australian sport, having gained a strong following for his weekly AFL column in The Age. Tim has also called 32 AFL/VFL grand finals and was behind the microphone for Cathy Freeman's memorable gold medal at the Sydney Olympics. You can catch him on Twitter @TimLaneSport.

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    The Crowd Says (109)

    • April 19th 2017 @ 5:28am
      Bill said | April 19th 2017 @ 5:28am | ! Report

      Good riddance. Biggest bunch of snipers ever. Led by Hodge and Clarkson, the biggest snipers there ever was.

      • April 19th 2017 @ 5:52am
        DeanM said | April 19th 2017 @ 5:52am | ! Report

        LOL, they are on the bottom of the ladder and yet their success still burns deep in you.

        • April 19th 2017 @ 6:34am
          Bill said | April 19th 2017 @ 6:34am | ! Report

          So you define success as king hitting innocent people? Think Goldy, Fyfe, Wingard, Fyfe. At least they off loaded that grub Baldy Lewis.

          • April 19th 2017 @ 7:09am
            Slane said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:09am | ! Report

            I would have thought their success was their last 4 flags flapping in the breeze…

          • April 19th 2017 @ 7:08pm
            DeanM said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:08pm | ! Report

            Your Hawk envy is delicious.

          • April 20th 2017 @ 9:28am
            Philby said | April 20th 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

            That’s getting a bit personal for my taste.

      • April 19th 2017 @ 6:20am
        SmithHatesMaxwell said | April 19th 2017 @ 6:20am | ! Report

        Don’t forget:

        – The soft unaccountable brand of football
        – Taking one of the best players from the Bulldogs at the end of 2012 despite just reaching the Grand Final.
        – Taking the best player from Melbourne at the end of 2014 despite just winning two flags in a row.
        – Favouritism from umpires.
        – Benefiting from a weak era where teams were unable to rebuild since all the top picks went to the Suns and Giants.
        – Got interstate teams served up to them on their home MCG fortress for Grand Finals despite being the lower ranked team in 2014 and 2015.

        The Hawthorn narrative of the past 5 years just isn’t that interesting unless you’re a Hawks fan.

        We’ve all seen a better team (Brisbane 2001-03, Geelong 2007-11) in recent history. If Geelong were getting interstate teams dished up to them in home finals they win 3 in a row from 2007-09.

        Regarding umpire favouritism, Hawthorn used to wine and dine umpires at retreats.

        “Margetts and umpire Ben Ryan were invited to spend five days with Hawthorn at their pre-season training camp at Mooloolaba in December. They mixed socially with the players over dinner and golf, did fitness training with the team, sat in on all meetings and built a unique relationship with the Hawks.”

        • April 19th 2017 @ 6:35am
          Bill said | April 19th 2017 @ 6:35am | ! Report

          Gold. Maggots is the worst umpire around.

        • Roar Guru

          April 19th 2017 @ 7:03am
          Cat said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:03am | ! Report

          – Taking one of the best players from the Bulldogs at the end of 2012 despite just reaching the Grand Final.

          Nice retcon attempt. Lake looked finished, all out of sorts, chronically injured, playing out of position. Dogs were happy to get his salary off their books. No one but Hawthorn thought he’d come good again.

          • April 19th 2017 @ 8:08am
            DH said | April 19th 2017 @ 8:08am | ! Report

            That’s revisionism at its finest, Hawks fans seem good at this like Burgoyne was washed up, North didn’t want Gibson or Hale, or the biggest doozy of them all that players were choosing Hawthorn for reasons other than success.

            Oh, and they weren’t free agents (out of contract) at all, they were just lying around in the trash.

            Hawthorn have written a myth around themselves and they still seem to believe it.

            It was only two years ago that Hawthorn fans were saying it doesn’t matter who goes out of the side, they just bring another soldier in.

            Even Hodge and Roughead said after Sunday’s thumping that they’ve still got a talented list they just need to work harder. The delusion isn’t just in the fans. If Clarko keeps up this delusion and tries to trade in somebody like Vickery at the end of this year thinking they still have a chance, he should be sacked instantly for not knowing what the hell is going on.

            • April 19th 2017 @ 8:12am
              Reservoir Animal said | April 19th 2017 @ 8:12am | ! Report

              DH, who do you go for? And why do you think it’s a bad thing that Hawthorn made stars out of blokes who everyone else thought was finished?

              • April 19th 2017 @ 12:33pm
                Rossy said | April 19th 2017 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

                everyone thought they were finished? I’m a neutral and with each one of those pickups I thought ‘wow that’s a great pickup’ and ‘how on earth did they manage to get him?’

              • April 19th 2017 @ 1:38pm
                DH said | April 19th 2017 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

                Nobody thought they were finished at all, Hawthorn people just tell each other that. Ask North people about losing Gibson and Hale or doggies fans about Lake. They wanted the player, it’s the players who wanted out. For Gibson it was more cash, for Lake it was for a premiership.

                It took Hawthorn a 4-team trade to get Burgoyne out of Port Adelaide and cost them Mark Williams. Yet if you ask Hawthorn fans now, he was washed up injured and Hawthorn revived him like Lazarus. He played for Australia in 2008 before he was traded to Hawthorn and was an All-Australian at Port but never at Hawthorn. He was 4th in the best and fairest at Port the year he left.

                Hale won North’s goal kicking, Gibson finished 4th in the B&F for North the year he left.

                Those guys were all stars before Hawthorn got them, they just played better because they went to a better team.

          • April 19th 2017 @ 8:51am
            mattyb said | April 19th 2017 @ 8:51am | ! Report

            Gene,the Dogs weren’t happy to see Harris go. Harris had shown he no longer wanted to play for us and was putting in performances that reflected this. He had basically stopped even trying.
            The Bulldogs let Harris go because we didn’t have much choice and keeping him was pointless and his attitude was a bigger detriment than losing our best player. We knew he wasn’t finished,just as Hawthorn knew he wasn’t finished,just as the entire football community knew he wasn’t finished.
            Harris was also not chronically injured,again he just didn’t want to play,and again we were well aware of this. It was actually rather annoying,but so be it.

            • April 19th 2017 @ 12:33pm
              Rossy said | April 19th 2017 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

              Well said

        • April 19th 2017 @ 7:59am
          andyl12 said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:59am | ! Report

          *The soft unaccountable brand of football (So soft that nobody could beat it)
          *Taking one of the best players from the Bulldogs at the end of 2012 despite just reaching the Grand Final (Bulldogs didn’t want him, we did).
          *Taking the best player from Melbourne at the end of 2014 despite just winning two flags in a row (Almost as bad as Sydney taking Buddy!)
          *Favouritism from umpires (Check the stats and watch a few of our games. You’ll get a reality check)
          *Benefiting from a weak era where teams were unable to rebuild since all the top picks went to the Suns and Giants (Was a much stronger era than when Brisbane did their threepeat. Not to mention being an 18-team comp)
          *Got interstate teams served up to them on their home MCG fortress for Grand Finals despite being the lower ranked team in 2014 and 2015. (Sorry that no Victorian side was good enough to make those GFs. Not our fault. Remember also that West Coast insisted the MCG was no disadvantage for them)

          • April 19th 2017 @ 3:34pm
            SmithHatesMaxwell said | April 19th 2017 @ 3:34pm | ! Report

            “*Taking one of the best players from the Bulldogs at the end of 2012 despite just reaching the Grand Final (Bulldogs didn’t want him, we did).”

            Of course they didn’t want him. He wanted out of the club and told them to make a trade happen with Hawthorn otherwise you won’t get anything for me.

            Hawks obviously struck a handshake deal long ago with O’Meara as well. Sleazy stuff imo.

            • April 19th 2017 @ 8:40pm
              andyl12 said | April 19th 2017 @ 8:40pm | ! Report

              SHM, who do you go for?

        • April 19th 2017 @ 7:03pm
          DeanM said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:03pm | ! Report

          Surprising that Frawley finished 8th in Melbourne’s best and fairest despite been their best player. Rubbish like the rest of your 1991, 2015 sore anoos claims.

      • April 19th 2017 @ 2:17pm
        I ate pies said | April 19th 2017 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

        Bang on Bill. I suggested that on this forum once and was called a “piece of work”. I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees them for what they really are.

      • April 19th 2017 @ 2:39pm
        alicesprings said | April 19th 2017 @ 2:39pm | ! Report

        Well said.

        They’re set for a few years down the bottom – they’ve traded away their immediate future and have even fewer notable kids coming through the VFL. Plus its hard to see them maintaining their status as a destination club.

        The saints will be ecstatic with the hawks current form.

    • April 19th 2017 @ 6:06am
      SmithHatesMaxwell said | April 19th 2017 @ 6:06am | ! Report

      Hawks contested ball differential average:
      2013 3.2
      2014 3.8
      2015 0.4
      2016 -19.6
      2017 -23.0

      Frankly, that’s disgraceful. It’s not part of some greater plan from Clarkson. Clarkson has either gone mad with his bizarre game plan or he’s lost his players. They’re lazy, unaccountable, soft, arrogant. Well, not arrogant any more. The Suns and Cats knocked that out of them.

      I feel like I was on top of this all year. Hawks are soft full stop.


      “anon said | September 21st 2016 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

      I was saying all year Hawthorn were suspect. They play a very soft, completely unaccountable brand of football and were getting over line in games relying on a core four rapidly approaching 35 mixed with a enormous dose of luck (winning 6/6 close games, 5/5 by less than a goal).

      If Hawthorn lose one of those 6 close games during the year they don’t even make the top 4. Lose a couple they likely drop to 7th.

      It all came home to roost in the finals. Their luck ran out. The soft, unaccountable brand of football was heavily exposed by a team that finished 6th and on the MCG of all grounds.

      Clarkson has missed a trick and cost his team a chance at making history winning 4 straight premierships. This is on Clarkson. He had 22 rounds to rectify the glaring issue with contested possession, he arrogantly claimed he didn’t give a toss about winning the contested ball. And now he’s out in straight sets.

      Hawthorn were never a chance of winning four straight premierships with such a daft game plan. Either Clarkson has wasted a chance at history persisting with this bizarre game plan throughout 2016, or he’s lost control of his soft, unaccountable senior players.”

      • April 20th 2017 @ 9:34am
        Philby said | April 20th 2017 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        I don’t know if you can call the game plan ‘daft’ if it results in 4 flags (!!).

        What I would say though is that offloading Mitchell and Lewis was all about getting salary cap room for a huge offer to a big name player.

        The question is, who is that big name player (Nat Fyfe? Dusty Martin? Tom Lynch?), and now that the Hawks have dropped their bundle, would any of them be interested?

    • April 19th 2017 @ 7:10am
      Onside said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:10am | ! Report

      The Melbourne Hawks ?

      • April 19th 2017 @ 8:11am
        DH said | April 19th 2017 @ 8:11am | ! Report


        When the fans stop going to Tassie for Hawks games (they won’t even go to the MCG any more) the Tasmanian Govt will pull their sponsorship. Hawthorn will be around the bottom with land in Dingley with nothing on it but a mortgage, no commitment to Waverley, so they won’t get any investment there either, revenues will plunge as the members stop buying gold memberships to get into finals, the fans have already stopped going, they’ll be in all sorts of bother.

        They’ll be playing out of Etihad in two years when their fan base continues to drop off.

        Their members section on an Easter Monday public holiday was shameful.

        The bandwagoners have been exposed after just 3 poor games, imagine after two more seasons of this.

        • April 19th 2017 @ 9:08am
          mattyb said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:08am | ! Report

          DH, I totally agree that traditionally Hawthorns members have been shameful, and pointed it out myself a couple of times when their supporters would carry on like they did during the golden era. It has been a long time since they have been down though and the club has given the fans plenty to be happy about,maybe they’ve changed.
          I’m willing to give their members a chance here and I think they could have changed. I can’t imagine they’ll drop off in the same numbers they have traditionally. Surely they have picked up a few decent supporters over the last few years.
          Having said that though,Hawks fans could hardly be called the most gracious and dignified while they were winning, so it is hard to predict what a loser Hawk will be like.

          • April 19th 2017 @ 11:49am
            Jim said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:49am | ! Report

            Have to agree with your last line Mattyb, given what I saw at times during the ‘golden era’ that seems to have now passed for the Hawks.

            Like any club, their bandwagon fans will melt away and find their next bandwagon to jump on – probably already have their doggies scarves ready to go 😛 The hawks do seem to have a more ‘mobile’ fan base in that regard then some other clubs however.

          • April 19th 2017 @ 1:42pm
            DH said | April 19th 2017 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

            Judging by Monday’s attendance at their blockbuster home game, not much has changed at all. The cheer squad bay was half empty at the start and by the end of the game, the whole members’ section was less than a quarter full.

            I hope they’re not planning on a big Dingley expansion any time soon, their membership revenues are about to plummet.

            • April 19th 2017 @ 4:19pm
              mattyb said | April 19th 2017 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

              Dingley might be an ok scenario,not to far from Moorabbin.
              If history is anything to go by and the way Hawthorn have sold their future,discussions with St.Kilda down the track about a merger might not be totally out of the question.

              We are still obviously a few years from that scenario but it’s something Hawks fans might want to keep in mind before jumping of the bandwagon like they historically tend to do.

              • April 19th 2017 @ 8:39pm
                andyl12 said | April 19th 2017 @ 8:39pm | ! Report

                “discussions with St.Kilda down the track about a merger might not be totally out of the question.”

                You really do love to dream, don’t you. Maybe pigs will fly soon.

              • April 20th 2017 @ 10:44am
                mattyb said | April 20th 2017 @ 10:44am | ! Report

                Andy,I think everyone will agree we are still a few years from that scenario like was stated.
                We cannot ignore history though. The Hawthorn sides of the 70’s and 80’s were far far better than this current side and the moment they stopped winning the supporters left in droves.
                I don’t think after all that success many would have thought the merger with Melbourne would have been so close to becoming reality.
                Remember also, there will be no Don Scott to rally the troops this time. Hawthorn have a traditional of showing past greats the door after they have helped the club and Don Scott has learnt this harsh reality twice now, so I very much doubt he’ll be back for a third helping.
                Let’s hope Hawthorn can move away from having the league’s most fickle fans despite the fact the club is sitting on the bottom of the ladder with no players and no draft picks for a couple of years. This will be a great opportunity for the fans to show their true colours.

              • April 20th 2017 @ 1:10pm
                andyl12 said | April 20th 2017 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

                MattyB, that is not the true version of history.

                In the 80s we had barely 10% of the membership base we had now, we had no Tasmanian sponsorship deals, no massive cash reserves in the bank. What people don’t realise is that kids who first watched Hawthorn in the 70s and 80s (I being one) didn’t have the money to save the club in 1996 but now they are all adults and they’re buying memberships. Our support base has a totally different dynamic to what it had back then.

                Hawthorn and Geelong have been the most innovative clubs of the 21st century and it has paid dividends for them. Hawthorn has enough past greats helping out (Because they are treated much better than you’re making out- Jason Dunstall being an example) that our culture and professionalism will never die.

                These might all be inconvenient truths to doomsday predictors like yourself, but deep down you know I’m right. The only question is who will you blame when Hawthorn’s next flag comes (which I guarantee you will be some time in the 2020s)- will it be the old MCG chestnut again or will you have come up with something else?

              • April 20th 2017 @ 3:28pm
                mattyb said | April 20th 2017 @ 3:28pm | ! Report

                I think your right there Andy. The new breed of Hawthorn supporters should definitely be given the chance to show they are willing to turn Hawthorns historical bandwagon culture around. I think I’ve acknowledged this, but just feel it’s something to keep an eye on. These new members you mention have never really had the chance to show whether they are a new breed of supporters going by what you’ve said,so fingers crossed the culture has changed.

                I think any mention of the enormous advantages Hawthorn have had over recent years from both rules and circumstance is more a counter from people for your ongoing need to undersell the performances of Brisbane and to a lesser extent Sydney,to make Hawthorn sound as good as you would like to believe. Like I’ve said previous,there is no shame in running second to Brisbane as the greatest side of the modern era. Just because Brisbanes achievements are greater than Hawthorns,this does not take away from how good Hawthorn have been over their journey.

        • April 19th 2017 @ 12:54pm
          Brad said | April 19th 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

          As a tasmanian I might go to the games now when its not just the hawks smashing a low level team. Bring on GWS giving them a 100 point touch up

        • April 20th 2017 @ 9:41am
          Philby said | April 20th 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

          Yes. And I’ll hop on board here with my little bugbear, which is how Hawks fans (and others) take a pop at Tigers supporters, who supposedly, ‘come out of the woodwork’ when we have a few wins.

          Let me tell you, Tigers fans have been through lean times for a while, and we still have one of the biggest paid membership bases in the competition, which can only happen when a club has ‘all weather’ supporters.

          And that’s not just for touching ‘father and son’ moments as we microwave our memberships together, as Mick Molloy would have you believe!

          Anyway, It’ll be interesting to see how and in what numbers Hawks supporters will respond.

    • April 19th 2017 @ 7:32am
      me too said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:32am | ! Report

      Wow there’s some salt in here. Great team, one of the best of all time. Not a Hawks fan, but gee I enjoyed them, like all good things it has come to an end.

    • Roar Guru

      April 19th 2017 @ 7:58am
      Penster said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:58am | ! Report

      Tim, trying to make practice work in theory is the dodgy work of economists isn’t it? It’s pretty easy to take the results then construct a narrative with hand picked stats to support it and say “hey look it was there all along!”. As Allan Jeans famously challenged his ’89 premiership team at 3/4 time “Are you prepared to pay the price?”, the club is now paying the price of 4 flags in 8 years, the extensive loss of off field personnel as well as the electric shock therapy of Lewis & Mitchell being ripped out is taking it’s toll.
      Might officially be a “rebuild” soon – if so I’d like to toss Jeff Kennett into the concrete foundations
      Been a helluva ride.

    • April 19th 2017 @ 8:04am
      andyl12 said | April 19th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      IF the writing was on the wall, and I say IF, it was simply a result of the era’s longevity. This team started coming together over a decade ago and you simply can’t expect an era to go on forever.

      People say the Brisbane Lions side was the greatest of the AFL era but even that team stayed together for six years at best. North’s 90s team was basically an 8-year era, West Coast’s 90s team a little less than that. The length of Geelong’s era is a bit harder to define due to the nature of their personnel changes but even if it did go longer than ours, that’s hardly justification for saying we’ve blown our era too quickly.

      NOBODY BUT NOBODY and NOTHING BUT NOTHING will devalue what this Hawthorn side achieved and what the era’s rags-to-riches nature has done for football. Anyone who truly cares about the sport should be proud to say they witnessed this.

      • April 19th 2017 @ 2:23pm
        I ate pies said | April 19th 2017 @ 2:23pm | ! Report

        Meh, it’s just footy.

      • Roar Guru

        April 19th 2017 @ 7:24pm
        hairy fat man said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:24pm | ! Report

        rags-to-riches lol

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