It’s fair to say Hawthorn out-performed expectations in 2018 – while many experts had them tipped to make finals, few would have had them finishing top four.
The Hawks bombed out of the finals in straight sets, but master coach Al Clarkson has once again done a remarkable job in maintaining team success while transitioning to a new-look outfit.
In one of the biggest stories of the year, Cyril Rioli announced his retirement from football effective immediately. With the exit of Rioli and recent departures of Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis, Hawthorn are experiencing a changing of the guard.
Jack Gunston made the All-Australian team for the first time, kicking 51 goals (sitting second on Hawthorn’s goal-kicking table behind Luke Breust on 54).
James Worpel was given an opportunity, which he grabbed with both hands. Young Harry Morrison also impressed, and new recruit Jarman Impey showed dash and poise.
Tom Mitchell had a career-best season, ultimately taking home the Brownlow Medal. Jaeger O’Meara provided solid support in the middle (before missing the semi-final with knee soreness), and Ben McEvoy remained strong in the number one ruck position.
Blake Hardwick stepped up, and James Sicily proved that he is a star. Ryan Burton had a disappointing year, but is still a big loss – hopefully Chad Wingard thrives under the guidance of Clarkson and the Hawks make the most of the trade with Port Adelaide.
Hawthorn fans would have to be pleased with the year overall, despite their ignominious exit from the finals.
Below is what Hawthorn’s best 22 looks like pre-draft:
FB: James Sicily, Ben Stratton, Blake Hardwick
HB: Jarman Impey, James Frawley, Shaun Burgoyne
C: Isaac Smith, Tom Mitchell, Ricky Henderson
HF: Chad Wingard, Jack Gunston, Liam Shiels
FF: Luke Breust, Jarryd Roughead, Paul Puopolo
Fol: Ben McEvoy, Tom Scully, Jaeger O’Meara
INT: Grant Birchall, Daniel Howe, James Worpel, Harry Morrison
Replacements for veterans Jarryd Roughead, Shaun Burgoyne and James Frawley will be needed at some point.
A tall forward in the Roughead mould may well be the priority – and in terms of players already on the list, Conor Nash has shown a bit – but the Hawks will definitely be on the look-out for a key forward in this year’s draft.
With their impressive trade period acquisitions, it’s hard to see where Hawthorn are lacking. A fit best 22 should see them make finals again, and potentially win at least one in 2019. Perhaps some dash and tackling pressure to replace Cyril Rioli could be the final piece of the puzzle.
Draft picks: 53, 90
Who could they target?
Hawthorn have officially nominated small forward Irving Mosquito for this year’s draft through his membership with the Hawthorn Next Gen Academy.
The 175cm pressure small is reportedly a hard trainer, and models his tackling game on Hawthorn legend Cyril Rioli (according to a feature on the youngster by AFL.com.au).
He could add forward pressure and goal-kicking nous to the Hawks line-up should they snag him late in the draft.
The Hawks need a key forward and could look at Will Kennedy or Dillon O’Reilly if they make it to pick 53.