With the 2019 AFL draft in the rearview mirror and club lists finalised for 2020, we decided – despite overwhelming popular opinion – that it’s not at all too early to start speculating about the season ahead.
It’s the question keen football observers have been asking after the Hawks went down to Melbourne by five points on Saturday afternoon. The side fought gallantly but simply weren’t good enough to beat a side that was 18th going into the game.
They opened up a lead in the first quarter and yet were unable to put Melbourne away early when they had the chance. And that’s been symbolic of their issues so far this season.
When you look at the sides they have beaten it hasn’t exactly screamed a who’s who of contenders. In Round 1 they had a good win over Adelaide, in Round 3 they were behind against North Melbourne before rallying home and the same occurred against Carlton after being six goals in arrears. Between those wins they lost to the Western Bulldogs, St Kilda, Geelong and Melbourne.
If you were looking at the ladder after Round 7, you could mount a case that Geelong are certain of making finals and potentially Adelaide as well.
The rest are either not good enough or unproven. St Kilda have been poor for the last two weeks and the rest really haven’t done much to convince me that they are top teams. So that leaves the question: where are the Hawks?
They seem like a team not quite sure of what their main goals are going forward. When you look at the age of their overall list it doesn’t paint a pretty vision for any long-term success down the track.
When you have 17 players aged 27 and older the consensus is it’s a premiership-contending team. When that isn’t the case and you’re languishing in 13th position, questions need to be asked.
The biggest issue for Hawthorn is the lack of young elite talent in the side that contributes week in week out. James Worpel has been the find of the season for them with his run and dash in the midfield. For a 20-year-old to average six clearances and four inside 50s a game is a great achievement and something the Hawks can build upon.
They have given game time to another James in James Cousins, and so far the young man has acquitted himself well. He has played just 13 games in his career but six have been in 2019 and his numbers are on the incline. He’s a player worth persisting with.
Their defensive stocks have taken a hit over the last 24 months but in Blake Hardwick they have a solid citizen to rely upon. His breakout season was in 2018 with a runner-up finish in the best and fairest and he looks like a player with leadership traits. He has done superbly well to hold down a position in the defence and is a much-underrated player.
Besides those three players I see James Sicily, Chad Wingard and Jaeger O’Meara as the ones to carry the side into the future. You can add Tom Mitchell into that mix as well; however, for this season he’s not there as he’s done his ACL in the preseason.
So that brings me to the older players. What should the club do to guys like Jarryd Roughead, Shaun Burgoyne and James Frawley. Should they tell them right now that the club doesn’t need them in 2020, or do they need another year from them to help the younger blokes build this club back up again?
I know the club made the finals last year, but that was due to a number of factors. Having Tom Mitchell winning the Brownlow helped, and his loss has been massive for his younger teammates.
Injuries to key personnel like Burgoyne and Liam Shiels have forced others to share the load, and they can, but not for long enough. We saw that against the Bulldogs and against St Kilda. In the past they could cover those absentees. The passage of time stops for no team and the Hawks just can’t will their ageing bodies to the next contest against these younger sides.
So this week is massive for the Hawks against GWS. Win and they are around the mark for the finals hunt still. Lose and I can’t see any way back for them. And even if the club makes finals, this list isn’t capable of playing good September football for long enough. Their last two September campaigns have shown a lot of tired footballers. You can only go to the well so many times.