We had to wait until the last round to be sure master coach Alastair Clarkson would not be pulling a rabbit out of the hat and making the finals again with an undermanned team.
The Hawks didn’t make it, failing in the end by four premiership points but having a better percentage than the teams that the Western Bulldogs and Essendon in seventh and eighth respectively.
It was their upset win over West Coast, however, that set the cat among the pigeons, causing the Eagles to miss the double chance as well as sending Richmond to play Brisbane at the Gabba and giving Collingwood the double chance and an effective home game against Geelong in the first week of the finals.
Not only is Clarkson a tactical genius, but he is a master manager of his players. His effort bringing Jarryd Roughead into the team two weeks out from the finals to celebrate the Hawthorn champion’s final AFL game was first class.
Roughead, who finished his career only 17 matches short of 300 games and in ninth position on the Hawks all-time top 100 game players, was a champion in every sense of the word, having battled cancer during his career but still managing to finish as the sixth greatest goalscorer for the Hawks, just two majors behind Lance Franklin.
On the AFL all-time top 100 goalscorers list his 578 goals took him as high as 38th position, but his three-way tussle with Eddie Betts and Josh Kennedy fizzled out as a result of form limiting him to eight games for the year, only two of which occurred after Round 7.
Roughead’s lack of form and Grant Birchall’s ability to play only three games hampered Clarkson in his bid for an 11th tilt at the flag in his 15th year at the club, but there’s no doubt the loss of ball magnet Tom Mitchell at the start of the year was the biggest blow to the team’s finals hopes. In his two years at the Hawks Michell disposed of the ball over 1600 times, most of them effective.
Clarkson managed to trade three ready-made footballers in 2019 to refresh his list of champions and get some games into second and third-year players like James Worpel, Harry Morrison, James Cousins, Conor Nash, Conor Glass and Mitchell Lewis. Oliver Hanrahan and Dylan Moore showed enough in their debut year to suggest they could become key players.
It will again be interesting to see what moves he makes to add depth to his current list that includes 200-plus game players Grant Birchall, Shaun Burgoyne, Luke Breust, Liam Shiels and Isaac Smith as well as top-40 goalscorers Breust, Jack Gunston, Paul Puopolo (re-invented as a defender) and Isaac Smith.
It would be very unwise to discount a Clarkson-led team as old, untalented or inexperienced, as in any year during which he receives his fair share of luck he will have a large influence on the make-up of the final eight.