Hawks ready to step up in AFL finals

Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson learnt the hard way in 2012 that an AFL side’s form throughout the season counts for little in September.

So Clarkson isn’t fretting the Hawks have a few problems they must fix to contend for a record-equalling fourth consecutive premiership.

Hawthorn dropped two of their final four games of the regular season, while they would have finished outside the top four if not for a one-point win over Collingwood in the last round.

“I refer back to 2012 and we played some of our best football that year that we’ve ever played (but it was) in home and away,” Clarkson said on Tuesday.

“We got rolled in a grand final … it’s important that you’re playing your best footy at the right time of the year.

“There’s plenty of people lining up to write the Hawks off but we set ourselves a goal at the start of the year to win as many games as we could and get ourselves into the top four.

“We’ve won 17 games this year, which is one more than year.”

That’s not to say Clarkson is in denial about on-field woes ahead of next Friday’s qualifying final against Geelong at the MCG.

“We know what we need to do, at different stages we haven’t been pleased … we’d like to perform a little bit better than we have,” he said.

“We’ll keep those internal but we got a lot of areas of our game (to work on).

“We’d like to think we’ve got some improvement in the way that we play all facets of the game.”

The return of injured big men Ben McEvoy and Ben Stratton should help in that regard.

Ruckman McEvoy missed the Hawks’ final-round win over Collingwood because of a sore back.

“He’s still doing some recovery … we expect he’d be available to play,” Clarkson said.

“But we’ll just have to wait and see.

“Hopefully that settles well and he can get himself into the full program by early next week.”

Defender Stratton hasn’t played since tearing his left pectoral muscle in the round-20 loss to Melbourne.

“We thought it was about a three-week injury. He’s missed those three so unless there’s a hiccup we’d expect him to play,” Clarkson said.

Skipper Luke Hodge declared his side’s status as triple reigning premiers was “irrelevant”.

“The reason we’re back here is because every year we regroup,” Hodge said.

“We’ve put ourselves into another position to have a red-hot crack this year.”

Collingwood are the only club in VFL/AFL history to win four consecutive flags, a feat they achieved in 1927-30.

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