What didn’t kill Hawthorn eventually made them far too strong for Richmond.
Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson was rapt with his players’ response after Sam Mitchell was a late withdrawal from their 46-point AFL win on Friday night at the MCG.
Mitchell has been Hawthorn’s best player this season and his absence with a corked calf muscle might have been disastrous.
But other players filled the significant void through the midfield and after three quarters of momentum shifts, Hawthorn buried Richmond in the last quarter.
“I don’t like the fact that Mitch isn’t playing, but it actually forces other players to step up when he’s not there,” Clarkson said.
“We’ve had too heavy a reliance on him in the first part of the year.
“So it was a good chance for them to put their hand up and take some responsibility in that area of the ground … not sit there and think Mitch is going to do it all.”
Friday night was the first time since Clarkson started coaching the Hawks in 2005 that their team did not feature Mitchell, Luke Hodge and Jarryd Roughead.
It was also only the second time since 2001 that Mitchell and Hodge were out of the team at the same time.
James Frawley, another of their best players, was injured as well.
But fellow veterans such as Luke Breust (six goals), Josh Gibson, Isaac Smith and Jordan Lewis stepped up.
And then there was Cyril Rioli, who again did not stand out in the statistics.
But every time Rioli had the ball or was near the ball, something happened – usually in Hawthorn’s favour.
It was instructive that after Richmond kicked the opening three goals in seven minutes, Rioli set up Breust for Hawthorn’s first two goals.
“Just at a time when we weren’t playing well, we just needed something to be the catalyst to get ourselves in the game,” Clarkson said.
“Over the course of the game, he was an important contributor without making it look like (it) was significant on the scoreboard.
“His efforts to create a lot of goals for us were pretty important.”
It was vital that those veterans lifted in the wake of last week’s 75-point belting from GWS, given that several youngsters were also in the team.
Despite their personnel troubles and some so-so form, the Hawks are well-placed.
“While we have those young guys in the side, we don’t know what our ceiling is, in terms of what our best footy is,” Clarkson said.
“It’s been a tough old grind for us – we’ve got ourselves to 5-2 without playing sensational footy.”
Clarkson expects Mitchell to return for next Saturday’s Launceston game against Fremantle.