Lessons from 2009 drive Hawks in AFL

Hawthorn’s AFL season of history-making potential is brought to you by the numbers 2009, 30 and four – as in Fourthorn.

You will hear the Hawks talk repeatedly about the first number and occasionally about the second.

Don’t waste your time asking them about that other number, even though it’s the most important.

If they win this year’s premiership, they will become only the second AFL team after the 1927-30 Collingwood Machine to claim four straight flags.

Understandably, Hawks fans have christened this season the Fourthorn campaign.

But coach Alastair Clarkson only wants to focus on the four points at stake in their Easter Monday season opener against Geelong.

He will also speak of the need to finish the regular season in the top four and gain the vital finals double chance.

The chance to make history can wait until September.

The history that Clarkson will readily discuss is 2009 and the searing lessons from that season.

After upsetting Geelong to win the 2008 grand final, the Hawks plummeted out of the top eight.

Four grand finals and three flags later, their wasted year still reverberates.

“It wasn’t just me, it was the playing group that identified that just being good enough at playing footy wasn’t going to be good enough,” Clarkson said at Hawthorn’s 2016 season launch.

“We needed to have a real, real strong focus on the development of people.”

It is a policy that has served Hawthorn spectacularly well – and not just with silverware.

Clarkson notes that Hawthorn has faced more turmoil than most clubs in the last two to three years.

From his own illness to captain Luke Hodge’s drink-driving episode to Cyril Rioli’s repeated hamstring twangs and other challenges, the Hawks have not had it easy.

Essendon would rightly disagree with Clarkson’s contention about which club has endured the toughest time, but his point was well-made.

Every time the Hawks have had a setback – and there have been a fair few – they have overcome.

Now they will be without star ruck-forward Jarryd Roughead for half the season as he recovers from a posterior cruciate ligament reconstruction.

And then there’s that other key number – 30.

Hodge (31), Shaun Burgoyne (33), Josh Gibson (32 on March 13) and Sam Mitchell (33) are all past the unofficial age when AFL players have passed their peak.

One of the keys to this Hawthorn dynasty is that all of them remain frontline players.

But once a player hits 30, injuries take longer to heal.

How do the Hawks cope if one or more of these stars does a calf or nicks a hamstring or is hobbled by a grumbly knee, and just cannot overcome it?

At the season launch, Clarkson spoke of up to 10 young Hawks who are yet to make their mark.

James Sicily and Tim O’Brien are being touted as options to fill in for Roughead.

Billy Hartung, Daniel Howe, Will Langford and Angus Litherland are others on the senior team’s fringe.

Clarkson noted that one of Hawthorn’s strengths in the `70s and `80s was that players had a reserves apprenticeship before becoming regulars in the senior team.

We will soon find out whether that group contains the next Hodge or the new Roughead.

The club’s once-in-a-lifetime bid to become Fourthorn could well depend on it.


Coach: Alastair Clarkson

Captain: Luke Hodge

Last five years: 3-2-1-1-1

Premierships: 13 (1961, 1971, 1976, 1978, 1983, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991, 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015)

Key Five: Jarryd Roughead, Cyril Rioli, Sam Mitchell, Josh Gibson, Luke Hodge.

One to watch: James Sicily. Mitchell says Sicily reminds him of Hawks great Dermott Brereton with his blond hair and aggressive on-field attitude. How the Hawks would love Sicily to start matching Brereton’s achievements at centre half-forward, especially with Roughead to miss half the season.

Ins: Ryan Burton (North Adelaide, SANFL), Jack Fitzpatrick (Melbourne), Conor Glass (Ireland), Blake Hardwick (Eastern U18), Kieran Lovell (Kingborough, Tas), Kade Stewart (South Fremantle, WAFL), Luke Surman (Norwood, SANFL).

Outs: Jed Anderson (North Melbourne), Sam Grimley (Essendon), David Hale (retired), Jared Hardisty (delisted), Brian Lake (retired), Jonathan Simpkin (Essendon), Matthew Suckling (Western Bulldogs).

Best line-up:

B: Josh Gibson, James Frawley, Grant Birchall

HB: Shaun Burgoyne, Ben Stratton, Taylor Duryea

C: Isaac Smith, Sam Mitchell, Bradley Hill

HF: Cyril Rioli, Jarryd Roughead, Luke Hodge

F: Luke Breust, Jack Gunston, Ryan Schoenmakers

R: Ben McEvoy, Jordan Lewis, Liam Shiels

I: Paul Puopolo, Jonathon Ceglar, Billy Hartung, Angus Litherland

Predicted finish: 1st

Betting (William Hill)

To win the flag: $4

To make the top eight: $1.07

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