Thursday, May 24, 2012


This is the second in a multi-part series on the building of the current Hawthorn team.  To see part one go to

As the 2002 season dawned there was a lot of optimism from Hawthorn fans, still bitter over the loss of Croad the fan base still reasoned, with some justification, that he was just one player from the team that fell agonisingly short of a Grand Final and anyway 'this Hodge kid was meant to be a superstar wasn't he?'.   The season began inauspiciously with a loss to Melbourne who were in the middle of their period of swinging from year to year between being a Top 4 then Bottom 4 side, but Round 2 was the real marker of where we are at versus Premiers Brisbane and the reality check was delivered with brutal efficiency, a 102 point flogging at the Gabba.  Whist some Hawthorn fans saw this as the result of the Croad Trade the more astute observers saw this as confirmation that the Hawks had done the right thing, this game more than any other showed just how far Hawthorn was from a Premiership, Brisbane showed the footy world the standard and it was clear the Hawks were clearly more than a single player away from meeting it.  Sitting in the directors box at the Gabba the members of the football department who had made the tough call to trade Croad would have seen this game as vindication.

Following this reality check the Hawks went on to have the very definition of a middling season, finishing 11-11.  But the raw win totals didn't tell the true story of what the season represented.  Other than a late season surprise victory against Collingwood the Hawks were barely competitive against the good teams and routinely got flogged by the real elite sides in the Competition.  They were beaten by 10 goals in the return match with Brisbane, 10 goals again by Adelaide a 40 point drubbing from Port Adelaide and a pair of 10 goal floggings when we travelled out West, even though both Fremantle and West Coast were both very ordinary teams that year.  If you can't even be competitive with the elite and you struggle on the road then your list needs more than  cosmetic changes it is time for a complete overhaul but the Hawks took a confusing strategy into the draft room.

The 2002 draft class came with nowhere near the hype of the 2001 version but there would still be stars hidden in this group and it was imperative for the Hawks that they managed to find as many of them as possible.  Hawthorn were also in a good draft position due to Daniel Chick making it clear he wanted to go home to West Coast and the resulting trade netting us pick 8 from West Coast.  However the gaining of a valuable pick was negated by the Hawks trading away their 1st and 2nd Rd picks (6 & 22) to get mature aged Ruckman Peter Everett from St Kilda.  This is still a baffling decision, after 12 months earlier trading a younger and frankly better player to move up in the draft to get Luke Hodge and supposedly signalling a commitment to youth, to then trade 2 valuable picks for a player who was unlikely to be at the club when Hodge and the other picks from the previous year were in their prime was, and is, incredibly confusing.  Then to add to the confusing strategy they traded their other 2nd rounder for the forgettable Kingsley Hunter from the Western Bulldogs, a player who gave us a total of 2 games and 1 goal.

So after these Trades the Hawks, a team with many holes went into an important draft with 3 picks and only 1 of these in the Top 50.  In the end the 2002 draft turned out to be a complete disaster.  With Pick 8 Hawthorn chose Luke Brennan who ended up playing just 19 games in 4 seasons at the club, with Pick 51 they took Tim Boyle who did have one good year in an injury plagued career kicking a bunch of goals as a 3rd tall forward in 2007 and was playing well in the Premiership year until being injured in Round 13. It is tough to be too critical on Boyle because of the injuries and really getting even one good season out of a pick in the 50's can be seen as a bonus.  The final player in this forgettable draft class was Lochlan Veale who did nothing for Hawthorn but did come to play a prominent part in the Hawks draft strategy 12 months down the road.  Some of the players that the Hawks missed on that were available to them in that draft and could be helping them today.  Daniel Merritt would have filled our now 3 year search for a tall defender quite nicely as would Tom Lonergan, both available after pick 22, the second pick we gave up in the Everett deal.  As for the other pick from the Everett deal, pick 6 well the player taken there was Steve Salopek but one pick later went Andrew Mackie a player that the Hawks would love to have, this also is the first in a long line of misery related to pick 6 and Hawthorn.  What saved this offseason for the Hawks however was sterling work in the Rookie Draft, picking up future premiership stars Michael Osbourne and Brad Sewell this was the start of a great period for the Hawks in this part of the draft process that they can be genuinely proud of.

2002 will always be a perplexing moment in Hawthorn history for me, after having the courage to trade Trent Croad 12 months earlier and after seeing just how far from the elite they remained it seemed obvious that the Hawks would commit to youth, and the narrative in the media has always been that the Hawks bravely committed to a youth strategy after that 2001 season whilst Richmond foolishly topped up on mature aged players.  This narrative has helped destroy the reputation of Danny Frawley as an AFL coach and cement the reputations of the Hawks as geniuses but as usual in the AFL media the desire for a simple narrative is never tripped up by something as meaningless as facts.

The 2003 season was just more of the same for Hawthorn, which is to be expected when all you do is fiddle around the edges of your list.  The addition of Everett did help improve their work at the clearances but they still found themselves outside the 8, although improvements against the top sides were noticeable the question remained were the older recruits just papering over the cracks to give short term respectability rather than being a part of a long term strategy to build a contender, again after the Hodge trade this continued to make little to no sense whatsoever.  The fact they won their last 4 games of the season to finish on a high was also troubling as it signalled that maybe the Hawks would convince themselves they were on the brink of elite status and move further away from the youth strategy that had been signalled in the 2001 draft and then maddeningly put on hold in 2002.

2003 also saw some trades for mature aged players from the Hawks.  Lochlan Veale was involved in a 3 team trade with the Western Bulldogs that netted the Hawks Danny Jacobs and in a complicated trade saw Jade Rawlings move to the Bulldogs in the pre-season draft, the Hawks also jettisoned Daniel Harford a stalwart of our midfield to Carlton along with a 2 no-name players in Brett Johnson & David Loats for Simon Beaumont (yet another win-now player) & pick 51.  We also picked up the anonymous David A Clarke from Geelong in that same deal as Loats was moved on by Carlton.  The big trade news however was the return of Trent Croad, back from a disappointing spell in Perth costing us our first round pick (#10).  Croad was still young and a realistic chance to be a part of the Luke Hodge/Sam Mitchell led era that was clearly coming but the Beaumont/Jacobs trades again created a confusing picture, were we trying to prepare a juggernaut to be ready as Hodge and Mitchell hit their prime or did the Hawks really think they were a trade away from a Premiership.

As draft day arrived once again the Hawks had the equal lowest number of picks of any team in the competition with 3.  They then proceeded to turn those 3 picks into players who really contributed nothing to Hawthorns success over the next 3-4 years as they survived at the club flicking between the VFL side and the occasional game at the top level.  Danny Jacobs played well but was not around on Grand Final day 2008 and was never a part of the Hodge/Mitchell era.  However due to the moving on of Glen Bowyer, Daniel Harford & Jade Rawlings the AFL media conveniently lost focus on our pick up of Danny Jacobs and our lack of draft picks and again fed the narrative of the brave commitment to youth at Hawthorn.

The 2004 season was when the reality check that had been delivered back in Rd 2 2002 was finally driven home with such force that Hawthorn finally faced up to the fact that this list was just not going to challenge for a flag.  10 - 15 goal floggings were handed out by Port Adelaide (twice), Adelaide, Brisbane, Geelong (twice), Essendon, St Kilda (clearly missing Everett), Collingwood and North Melbourne.  This time there was no 4 game win streak to end the season and paper over the cracks.  Peter Schwab’s pre-season boast that we were going to win the flag sealed his demise and it finally appeared that the Hawks would truly commit to the process of rebuilding that it appeared they had begun in 2001 before abandoning it for the next 2 off-seasons.

Alistair Clarkson arrived on the scene promising to commit Hawthorn to a physical brand of football and put the whole playing list on notice that everyone was starting from scratch in his eyes, that there would be no favourites and he was right to do so, though the harsh way he treated Shane Crawford in the beginning seemed to be more like a symbolic attempt to break with the past culture at the club and was seen as too harsh by many it did lay down a marker to the rest of the list that a new regime was in town.  He had say in the Port Adelaide coaching box as an assistant for the last 3 years and so had witnessed the series of 10 goal beltings that the Power had meted out to the Hawks, he was in a better position than most to assess the gap between the elite and the Hawks and he understood that a complete re-build was required. 

The pre-draft trades at last made sense, rather than trading picks for players Hawthorn finally traded their best assets for picks, understanding at last that it was going to be the peak of Luke Hodges career that coincided with a sustained period of excellence not Shane Crawford’s and that it was important that we entered that period with players hitting their prime not retiring.  Nathan Thompson was the first big-name casualty of this approach being sent to North Melbourne for 2 highly valuable picks (10 and 26) The Hawks then used picks 10 and 37 to move up with Collingwood to pick 7, picking up YOUNG PLAYER Bo Nixon in the process, Nixon didn't work out but at least the strategy made sense and that strategy was at last, youth, youth, youth and more youth.

Now finally the Hawks would follow up on their 2001 draft class with another group that could lay claim to matching it, after 2 wasted off-seasons that went away from the plan Hawthorn entered the draft with real ammunition rather than the pathetic 3 picks of the last 2 seasons.  This is what the Hawks went into the draft holding.

Pick 2
Pick 5
Pick 7
Pick 21
Pick 26
Pick 53

Whereas in 2002 they had gone into the draft with 1 pick in the top 50 this year it was 5 in the top 30 and 3 in the top 10.  That is how you dominate not only draft weekend but also the decade to come, if you commit to doing this for multiple seasons.  Despite the disgraceful performance in 02/03 this draft if utilised well combined with the epic haul from 2001 could build the foundation of a real contender.

And thankfully it did, this is what the Hawks did with those picks and what those players have provided.

Jarred Roughead 
142 Games - 262 Goals - Premiership star - Rising Star award nominee.

Lance Franklin
149 Games - 470 Goals - Premiership Star - All Australian - Coleman Medallist - Rising Star Award nominee - Best & Fairest Winner - Acknowledged as most exciting and possibly best player in the competition and is a genuine match-winner.

Jordan Lewis
154 Games - 74 Goals - Premiership Star - Rising Star Award nominee - Vice Captain of the Club.

Thomas Murphy
89 Games - Solid Defender, Role Player who is seen as a leader in the club.

Matthew Little
1 Game - First miss out of this group, nobody bats 1.000 on draft day.

Simon Taylor
85 Games - 17 Goals - Solid Ruck Option, never a superstar but was a solid contributor in the Hawks Premiership year though he was not a member of the Grand Final side being replaced by Brett Renouf and then injuries in the ensuing season served to end his career.

Just an amazing haul, couple that together with the 2001 draft class that included Premiership players Hodge, Ladson, Mitchell and Campbell Brown and the 2 premiership players from the 2002 Rookie Draft, Brad Sewell and Michael Osbourne then you can see that in the 4 drafts from 2001 - 2004 the Hawthorn Football Club managed to put together a third of a Premiership team and a quarter of a list in the premiership year.

Just think how much better things could be if they had not wasted 2002 and 2003 trying to chase the fool’s gold of mature aged recruits.

So as the 2005 season dawned the Hawks had a hardnosed new coach and even though they didn't know it yet, the nucleus of a contender.  Whether they would be a perennial contender or the dominant team of an era would depend on what they did in the next 2 to 3 drafts, had they learned the lessons of the mistakes of 2003 or had the fact that the media were giving them a pass on them mistakes lead to them being repeated.

We will examine this is part 3.

COMING NEXT: PART 3 : The run up to a Premiership season.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Building of a Flawed Flag Favourite


2012 was looking like it would be a lot of fun for Hawthorn fans, as the season approached you were able to open a newspaper or watch one of the now ubiquitous football panel shows without being made aware that the Hawks were one of the favourites for this year’s premiership. With the main players from the 2 Hawks superdrafts of 2001 and 2004 now well and truly in their primes and a bunch of the younger players now approaching the 25-50 game mark things were looking great for the Brown & Gold and the footy world were falling over themselves to crown them as champs before a ball was bounced. However, as any Hawks fan who has been paying attention knew, outside of 2001 & 2005 a host of draft missteps that have haunted this team since the 2008 premiership would continue to cause pain for us in 2012.

As mentioned, 2001 was where the myth of the Hawthorn list management genius was born. The Hawks had suffered through the doldrums of the post Dunstall years, suffered the indignity of seeing Lockett break the 1300 goal landmark whilst our hero was retired on 1254 goals after missing time in his late career with knee injuries as well as missing games in his peak with a fractured skull. This meant that even the small pleasure of seeing a Hawthorn Champion as the Goals record holder was taken from us. From 1998 to the end of the 2000 season this was all we had to think about as the product the Hawks put on the field was underwhelming despite a plucky elimination finals win in 1999 and the bitterness of Melbourne Hawks battle still was fresh in the minds of all fans. However then came the magical 8-0 start to the 2001 season. After a classic opening game win over Collingwood, this plucky young Hawks team led my Nathan Thompson up forward and with Jade Rawlings & Jonathan Hay forming an amazing combination down back rolled through the next 7 weeks, a major scare against North Melbourne survived when Hay made one of the all-time great tackles seconds before the final siren to stop a certain goal and secure the win.

Suddenly, for the first time in years the Hawks were back page news again. Trent Croad got the full double page spread treatment in the immortal "The Business of Being Trent Croad" article in the Herald Sun. The major highlight of the article was a story of when Dermie (who we were told had become a mentor to Croad) had seen Croad smiling and laughing with Matty Lloyd while the Hawks were getting belted by the dominant Essendon team of the late nineties. Dermie grabbed Croad after the game and told him that next time Lloyd wanted to have a chat on the field that Croad was to 'turn around, spit in his face and say 'don’t talk to me or I’ll break your jaw" '. This article, coupled with the fact that our hated historic rival Essendon were dominant during that whole period combined with the giddy unexpected joy of the start to the season meant the Round 9 clash with the Bombers received an epic build up. When the Bombers refused to move the match to the MCG from Colonial Stadium, meaning that 30-40,000 Hawks fans, (including myself) had to watch the game on TV only added fuel to the fire of the pre-match build-up. In the end though it was a colossal disappointment. In a 100 point flogging of West Coast the week earlier Hay had injured his ankle in the last minutes and a sense of foreboding fell over any Hawks fans who were paying attention. Matty Lloyd was at his velvet sledgehammer cheating best in 2001 and Hay was our only hope to stop him. Within minutes of the start of the game Lloyd had milked 2 cheap Free Kicks, taken a couple of huge marks and all but put the game out of reach. Hawthorn left the field that night humiliated and all the hopes that had been raised in those first 8 weeks were replaced by real doubts about what this team could accomplish. When we went winless for the following 3 weeks those doubts only deepened.

Eventually the team did shake off the psychological scars of that night but the confidence that had propelled the team through those improbable first 8 weeks was gone, never to return. Rounds 16 & 17 were the only back to back wins that Hawthorn managed from the remainder of the regular season and when the Hawks lost their last 4 games heading into the finals including a humiliating loss in Round 22 versus a 4 win St Kilda team coming just 5 weeks after losing to the 2 win Fremantle Dockers there was very little faith amongst Hawthorn Fans when looking ahead to the upcoming Finals campaign.

Then the incredible happened, after belting Sydney in the first elimination final the Hawks went across to Adelaide to face the all-conquering Port Adelaide team. At this stage Port Adelaide hadn't gained their September chokers tag as yet. To pessimistic Hawks fans heading into that game they were just the team that had belted us 7 days after the Essendon debacle and were ready to repeat the dose. Instead in one of the all-time great Hawthorn performances a team that talent wise did not come close to matching up with that great Port Adelaide team went into enemy territory and shocked the AFL world coming home with a gutsy 3 point win.

All of a sudden the team that had lost its last 4 games of the season, that had lost to two teams with a combined 6 wins just a few weeks earlier was suddenly preparing for a rematch with Essendon and a place in the Grand Final. This time there was no flogging, Hay held Lloyd magnificently and when down by less than a kick with moments left in the game Trent Croad let fly with an amazing torpedo from inside the square the entire Hawthorn Army was planning their trip to Melbourne for the Grand Final parade 6 days later. Unfortunately as we all now know the ball drifted late in its flight, struck the post and Essendon went coast to coast to kick the sealer and go the Grand Final to face a Brisbane team that had just demolished Richmond.

What does all this have to do with 2012 you may ask, well it’s the way the Hawthorn brains trust responded to this joyous, surprising, frustrating and ultimately confusing season that set us on a path to the sustained relevancy of this current Hawthorn team and also ensured that the Football Department at Hawthorn would have its many draft mistakes papered over by a pliant football media.

The 2001 draft class had been talked about as an amazing talent pool all year, unfortunately for the Hawks there surprising season meant they would be picking in the teens when the future superstars would all be long gone. Trent Croad who had took us to the brink of an unlikely Grand Final was a fan favourite, a key position player (always tough to find) and phenomenal talent. He was also our best trading chip. When rumours started to circulate that the Hawks were considering trading the hero of the preliminary final hero, there were literal protests at Glenferrie Oval, talkback was lit up by enraged Hawthorn Fans and the general consensus was 'we were a drifting ball away from a Grand Final, let’s go win it next year' or 'Croad is top 10 player in the competition (he wasn't, not even close, but his trade value was never higher) so we should not trade him'. In an amazing display of leadership the Hawks football department ignored all the noise emanating from the fans and the media, knowing full well that if they were wrong it was the end of their careers in football. However, they stuck to their guns and made the trade. Trent Croad and the up and coming tall defender Luke McPharlin for the Overall Number One pick along with picks 20 and 36. The Hawks turned those 3 picks into Luke Hodge (1) Daniel Elstone (20) and Sam Mitchell (36) along with their own picks which went on Rick Ladson (16) Campbell Brown (32) and Simon Cox (48).

This was an amazing haul. Yes the Hawks could have picked Chris Judd who is now the consensus top player in the competition and a Brownlow Medallist but there is not a Hawthorn Fan who would trade Hodge for Judd straight up today, Hodgey is beloved by Hawks fans and as a Premiership Player, Norm Smith Medallist and current club captain who leads by example there is little doubt why the love is there.

Daniel Elstone is the one miss on that list, he never played a senior game for the club, Simon Cox played 2 seasons as a senior player draftee and finished 2nd in our Best and Fairest in his 1st year after being picked in the 3rd round.

The remainder remains one of the great draft day hauls in AFL history. Ladson 150 game premiership player still going strong, Campbell Brown the cult figure tough nut defender, premiership player now sadly moved on to the money on the Gold Coast and finally Hodge and Mitchell, both have Captained the club, Mitchell a premiership captain, Hodge the heart and soul of the place for a decade, both amazing leaders and both integral to our 2012 season. The Hawks had committed to youth and were prepared for the short term pain, in stark contrast to Richmond who topped up on mature aged players and consigned themselves to a decade of irrelevancy as a result. More than consigning themselves to irrelevancy the failures at Tigerland helped deepen the belief in the genius of the Hawthorn brains trust, every Richmond loss only served to reinforce in the minds of the lazy football media, locked into their narrative that Hawthorn had been brave (they had) and picked wisely (they had) and were to be given a free pass on any mistakes that might follow (they shouldn't).

So the Hawks entered the early part of the millennium with a fan base who would slowly forgive the Croad Trade and amazingly be prepared to show patience as they watched this young team grow together. There would be more pain to come in the next few years but it was all part of the plan and it all lead to a great day in September 2008. However, as we will see in the following columns there were serious missteps along the way that may mean that 2008 will remain an isolated island of joy in an ocean of missed opportunities.


COMING UP - PART 2 - The Purge of the heroes of 2001 continues and Buddy and Roughie arrive on the scene.