Thursday, May 24, 2012

THE MYTH IS SOLIDIFIED

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

http://www.ozsportsdude.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/building-of-flawed-flag-favourite.html

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.

PICK 2
Jarred Roughead 
142 Games - 262 Goals - Premiership star - Rising Star award nominee.

PICK 5
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.

PICK 7
Jordan Lewis
154 Games - 74 Goals - Premiership Star - Rising Star Award nominee - Vice Captain of the Club.

PICK 21
Thomas Murphy
89 Games - Solid Defender, Role Player who is seen as a leader in the club.

PICK 26
Matthew Little
1 Game - First miss out of this group, nobody bats 1.000 on draft day.

PICK 53
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.

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