It was a happy team at Hawthorn in their final hitout of 2020 against the Suns, as they put on a clinic to send off several of their retiring stars and take the momentum of a win into the offseason.
However, a couple of defections and a forced list cleanout due to list size cuts left Hawks impresario of recruitment, Graham Wright, with a task ahead of him and an unaccustomed high draft pick.
The reversal of James Frawley’s retirement and Isaac Smith’s departure via free agency didn’t hurt the club as much as losing a pair of premiership heroes would normally set back a list, especially given Hawthorn’s preference for moving players on a season or so before their time.
So it was a significant coup that Kyle Hartigan was able to be traded in for a future fourth-rounder on the second day of trade, which filled an immediate position of need for the undermanned Hawks defence in the key position stocks.
Then, on the final day of the trade period, Hawthorn was able to trade for a plug-and-play wingman, Tom Phillips, who came cheaply from Collingwood for pick 65 and a renegotiated contract.
After remaining quiet through the final weeks leading up to the draft, the Hawks became very active with live pick trading, finishing with three pick trades for the night that gave the club the four selections they wanted while negotiating around having to match an expected bid for their NGA-tied player.
As these frantic trade machinations were going on, the Hawks were hovering to strike as the big names came off the board and their pick came at five, where they made an audacious bid on Swans Academy wunderkind, Braeden Campbell. Yet although Sydney had just picked at four and matching such a high bid cost them dearly, they matched and Hawthorn was back on the clock with pick 6.
With five of the highly touted best seven players of the 2020 draft gone from the board, it was really only down to two players and the Hawks went with Western Australian tall defender from Swan Districts, Denver Grainger-Barras.
Despite the flurry of pick trades, the Hawks were getting out of the draft rather than into it, so when the sixth-fastest 20m sprinter from the AFL draft combine and Bendigo Pioneers small forward, Seamus Mitchell, was there at pick 29 early in the second round, the Hawks snapped him up.
As with many clubs in this draft with tied players, Hawthorn developed a draft strategy that revolved around matching a bid whenever it came for Connor Downie, while still being able to go after another target without having to wait until the end of the draft.
So when they matched their Eastern Ranges NGA-tied boy at pick 35, after he’d slid past their second pick, they were also able to pick Tyler Brockman from Subiaco, Western Australia, with pick 46 ending their night on a high note.
Coming back the next day to collect Jack Saunders in the rookie draft was the final player Hawthorn was to add, although they’ll still have a spot to fill as the preseason supplemental period gets underway in January.
Hartigan and Phillips are not trades that will get Hawthorn back into grand finals any time soon, but they are just the kind of grand final experienced veterans that the club needs to have for depth as they return to the draft in order to gradually turn over the list.
Grainger-Barras provides a new dimension in defence where he should slot straight in as the second key defender having cut his teeth on senior football this season, where he will fit in very well with other Hawks first-round talent.
Mitchell may have been a bolter into the early second round, but if he can fulfil his promise then the Hawks may be able to develop him into another speedy small forward as they renew that part of the list.
Downie has long been touted to get to the Hawks, although given their history of passing on NGA and father-son bids, it was a relief to fans when the outside midfielder slid out of the first round and well into the second because he could very well be playing in Round 1.
Brockman was the main beneficiary of the late NGA bid-matching because it gave the Hawks a late third-round pick to snatch him before the Western Australian teams could get him in the fourth round, with Wright identifying small forward as a priority position to fill.
Saunders is another small forward bolter, this time taken in the rookie draft with the fourth selection. He’s able to go through the middle and can find the goals, so he will be among three new players looking to claim the spot vacated by Paul Puopolo’s retirement.
Graham Wright can rightfully be regarded as a genius, with his ability to assemble one of the very best lists of the modern era and continue to keep it capable of winning without having to go to the draft too often, however, this year was different in many more ways than just the disrupted season, with the Hawks list losing some serious talent and experience.
Yet, with a modest draft hand that really only took shape due to some well-placed trades and the club’s poor ladder position, along with a third-round compensation pick for Smith in free agency, the recruiters can be happy with their haul.