Hawks keep defying AFL dogma

The unsociable Hawks and their very un-socialist doctrine are the AFL’s unstoppable force.

There will be debate about where Hawthorn’s Alastair Clarkson era ranks among the game’s great dynasties.

But no side since the introduction of the draft and salary cap has done such a thorough job of defying the AFL’s socialist dogma.

Brisbane won three premierships in a row, lost the 2004 grand final and plummeted.

Geelong won three in five years, but have come off the boil post-2011 and this season finished out of the top eight for the first time since 2006.

After winning the 2008 flag and now the last three as well, Hawthorn may not be done yet.

They will go into next season as the favourites to win their fourth premiership in a row – a feat only achieved by coaching immortal Jock McHale and the Collingwood Machine of 1927-30.

The key will be the Hawks’ core group of seven four-time premiership players – captain Luke Hodge, Grant Birchall, Shaun Burgoyne, Jordan Lewis, Sam Mitchell, Cyril Rioli and Jarryd Roughead.

Keep them together, fit and healthy and they are the sun at the centre of the Hawthorn universe.

“I’m a great believer that the footy gods actually determine a lot of things that are going to happen in a game,” Hawks legend Leigh Matthews told Channel Seven’s Game Day.

“I reckon Hawthorn have a few footy gods playing for them and Hodge is one of them.”

But Hodge, Mitchell and Burgoyne are over 30 – the acknowledged tipping point of an AFL player’s career – and Lewis will join them next year.

Clarkson rightly noted after Saturday’s 46-point belting of West Coast that the veterans should not be ushered out the club door because of their birth certificates.

While Hodge keeps leading by example and kicking freakish and Mitchell racks up 30-plus possession games, they are crucial players.

But the devil in the detail will be that all it can take is a calf muscle tear and a veteran can be found wanting quickly.

Saturday’s lineup was the oldest premiership team in AFL history.

“That’s the only stat that gives the rest of the competition hope,” Matthews said.

“At least you think eventually, a lot of these champions are going to retire.”

David Hale is probably the only player from that side likely to call time on his career in the next few days, although key defender Brian Lake has yet to be offered a new contract.

On the flip side, add “Destination Club” to the other monikers given to Hawthorn, alongside the Family Club and the Unsociable Hawks.

Burgoyne, Hale, Lake, Jack Gunston, James Frawley, Josh Gibson and Ben McEvoy were key members of this year’s premiership team.

All were recruited from other clubs.

Their ongoing success is a huge carrot that recruiter Graeme Wright can dangle during the trade period.

In Clarkson’s coaching tenure, Lance Franklin is the only star to leave Hawthorn in the prime of his career for another club.

And his departure actually helped the Hawks develop their forward line structure.

Then there are the clear benefits of playing in the past four grand finals.

The Hawks banner on Saturday summed it up perfectly – “Our House, Our Rules”.

West Coast and the hot weather put pressure on the Hawks either side of halftime.

But when the game was in the balance, only one side made costly errors.

The Hawks, having learned harsh lessons about composure in the 2012 grand final loss to Sydney, made sure it wasn’t them.

Matthews thinks this current team needs to win at least one more premiership to match the Hawthorn juggernaut of 1983-91.

Clarkson’s Hawks might just have it in them.

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