When the frenzied media speculation on the future of free agent Stephan Coniglio ended abruptly with his re-signing at GWS, Hawthorn largely receded from the spotlight for the 2019 trade and draft period.
Acquiring Jonathon Patton was intriguing but hardly buzzworthy given his lowered profile after three ACL injuries.
However, changes to the team list were significant. Eight players over the age of 25 departed the club: Jarryd Roughead (32), Grant Birchall (31), Tim Mohr (31), Ryan Schoenmakers (29), David Mirra (28), Darren Minchington (26) and Kaiden Brand (25) as well as Will Langford (27) who was a non-participatory listed player in 2019. Also gone are Marc Pittonet (23) and Teia Miles (23).
Three mature key position players were added to the list in Sam Frost (26) from Melbourne, Jonathon Patton (26) from GWS and Michael Hartley (26) from Essendon, who, though low profile, could have significant bearing on team structure in the coming season.
That so large a chunk from the mature end of the team list was excised with virtually no effect to the 2019 best 22 suggests list management had allowed more deadwood to accumulate than should be acceptable. In particular, the inclusion of Mohr, Mirra and Minchington on this list suggests the club’s recent recruitment of mature-age and low-cost positional depth has been less successful than they would have hoped.
Roughead’s poor 2019 will see him unfairly labelled a star that played one season too many. The decision to demote him to the VFL ensured he didn’t negatively affect senior performance and provided dependable coverage, though he was never meaningfully recalled. Mitchell Lewis, Tim O’Brien and Conor Nash performed well in the second half of the season, but their development was far from certain leading into the season, meaning Roughead was undoubtedly a required player at that point.
Of the departures, letting go of Birchall and Pittonet could prove regrettable. Birchall may well return to his elite best at Brisbane. If he does, it likely won’t be for long given his advanced age and injury history. In any case Hawthorn’s defensive rebound has remained a strength in his absence.
Pittonet was arguably the best performing ruckman in the VFL over the past few seasons, particularly impressive at just 23. He was behind Ben McEvoy and Jonathon Ceglar, and the coaching staff’s reluctance to play two ruckmen was further limiting his opportunities at the club. He was right to move on.
His unfavourably low-value trade to Carlton created a hole in Hawthorn’s list, with no developing ruckman capable of providing emergency coverage, something the club wasn’t able to address in the remainder of the off-season. However, the risk of being without a remotely competitive ruckman on game day has reduced with the institution of the mid-season draft. Hawthorn was right not to recruit a ruckman that would otherwise not be considered worthy of a place on the list.
Hawthorn’s most pressing positional requirement leading into the offseason was key position defenders which was addressed with the acquisition of Frost, traded for a modest diminution of draft position, and Hartley, taken in the preseason draft. Hawthorn has a propensity to take players with elite attributes and try to manage the weaker parts of their game.
This is Frost – his pace and competitiveness, his blazing away only to turn the ball over. Hawthorn will no doubt be hoping Frost can eventually replace current full back James Frawley, now 31, and he is likely to be moulded into a pure stopper in the same way Frawley was when he arrived at the club. Before this happens, the two will need to play alongside one another.
Largely forgotten given the success of the period, Hawthorn’s previous changing of the guard in this position from Brian Lake to Frawley was not seamless and those two in the same side often didn’t work. Frost’s ability to play on a variety of forward types may help the process this time around.
Hartley knocked back a contract offer at Essendon and arrives at Hawthorn promising reasonable coverage in the key position defensive posts. Hawthorn may even hope that stepping out from Cale Hooker and Michael Hurley’s shadow will prove the making of him as a player. He replaces Brand on the list, whose ability to defend one on one never progressed to a satisfactory level. Certainly Brand boasts fantastic intercept marking, but without high-level footskills to match his chances of making the side as a rebounding defender were slim. It will be interesting to see what will be asked of him at Sydney where he signed as a delisted free agent.
It is likely that Patton was courted before Lewis, O’Brien and Nash demonstrated their potential as key position forwards and he is probably less significant to Hawthorn’s future fortunes than he might have been otherwise. To gain the player that Patton was before his three ACLs would be a huge windfall for the club. However, this should not be counted on. His reportedly reduced but still expensive contract makes him less risk-free than his future fourth-round trade price suggests. It is likely that retaining Schoenmakers was strongly considered, but the acquisition of Patton put paid to that possibility.
Hawthorn recruited new talent in Will Day (pick 13), Finn Maginness (father-son selection, pick 29) and Josh Morris (pick 57) in the national draft, Emerson Jeka (pick 9) in the rookie draft and Harry Pepper as a Next Generation Academy category B rookie selection. The selection of Day with Hawthorn’s first top 15 pick in 12 years comes as much needed high-end investment toward replacing outside midfielders Isaac Smith (30) and Ricky Henderson (31) over the coming years.
Finally, the absence of a young pressure forward remains an issue with Hawthorn’s list after the club failed this off-season to acquire a suitable player to succeed Paul Puopolo, now 32. This may be addressed during the supplemental selection period where Hawthorn appears likely to give the injury riddled Minchington a second opportunity.
Hawthorn didn’t lose any players from their best 22 but they didn’t gain any players that are guaranteed to perform next year. In this respect the list changes might at first appear unremarkable. However, the club has released eight players with enough experience to be called on with some confidence in a clear signal that they believe their youth is ready to take the next step. This team is building steadily and deceptively quickly.