Still a happy team at Hawthorn?

When your list surgery cuts deep you risk hitting an artery.

Sam Mitchell and Brad Hodge have been the lifeblood of one of the all-time great teams of any era.  The imminent transitioning to life without the two champion leaders was always going to be a challenge for the Hawks’ brains trust.

Whether moving Mitchell onto West Coast will be regarded as bold, brilliant or foolhardy will only be known with the passage of time.

For a club that’s been at the top for so long, accepting a slow and methodical rebuild was never going to sit well.  Alastair Clarkson is of a mind he can walk while chewing gum, and why not?  It is possible – Sydney have done a remarkable job of massaging a list capable of challenging for more than a decade now.

Landing elite non-free agents always comes at a cost though.  Beyond Mitchell, other stalwarts such as Lewis have been shopped around.  Even Sicily, who one might have thought was an untouchable given the Hawks’ forward line challenges. Others must be wondering if their name has been mentioned in dispatches.  Just as every player seems to want to go to Hawthorn, only Brad Hill wanted to leave.

Tearing at the fabric of a team so tightly bonded by success is an enormous risk.  As seen with Collingwood, one pulled thread or two can see things quickly unravel.   On the flipside, Brisbane, having achieved the same feat as Hawthorn a dozen seasons ago, were unwilling to make hard calls and endured a slow downward spiral.

Success in the AFL requires a degree of ruthlessness, no one doubts that.  Canny drafting is one thing but it’s the yearly meat market where a club’s immediate prospects can rise or fall markedly.

In recent years retirements and Roughead’s misfortune have seen Hawthorn’s depth take a sizeable hit.  Leadership stocks have thinned.  They simply don’t have the surplus quality players they once had to trade up.

Whilst Sam Mitchell’s departure may go half way to snaffling a couple young guns, what price are immeasurables such as player harmony and club culture?  Is there still a place for sentiment and loyalty in football?

If the esteem Luke Beveridge and his charges held Bob Murphy in is a guide, the answer is yes.  Good average teams can indeed achieve the impossible dream if they are unified and individuals feel unequivocally valued for services provided, rather than commodities to be traded on a whim.

That said, given the passage of a long pre season, it may well be business as usual at Hawthorn come Round 1, 2017.   And should Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara’s dodgy knees mount the dais in brown and gold at some stage in the next 10 years Clarko will once again be hailed a genius.

To be continued…


About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Yes, very interesting times at Hawthorn, JD.
    Not often a 5-time (current) b & f winner walks out the door only for steak knives.

    As a neutral observer I will be most interested to see how Clarkson manages the list transition. As usual, it looks like he is thinking outside the box. And with 4 flags on the board, not to mention a host of former assistants now coaching at other clubs, his legacy is huge. Why wouldn’t you back him to the hilt?

  2. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    No room for sentiment at Hawthorn JD. Maybe that’s why they’ve won 13 flags since 1961 while our Pies have only 2.
    If Bucks fails next year, I’d be moving heaven and earth to get Clarko and Graham Wright to Collingwood for 2018.

  3. *Luke* Hodge!

  4. As a Geelong supporter I’ve watched my club tear the fabric apart (Kelly, Johnno et al) in the hope that a patchwork is the same as a team. The Hawks seem to be falling for the same trap. It’s a mistake, but a mistake I’m glad Forlorn , sorry, Hawthorn, is making.

  5. Earl O'Neill says

    The Sam Mitchell trade won’t cause ructions, he probably suggested it. He’s looking ahead, planning for his future and good luck to him. Might be coaching Brisbane in 2020.

  6. Sammy’s letter to Hawks fan was genuine and heartfelt. His comments on SEN re Hodgey’s joke text shows their bond is pretty strong. All this is to say I reckon the footy world and fans context and discourse is almost unconnected to players and teams plans and reality. I was as gutted as could be even while I understood my emotional connection is really at best superficial. This appears to be something thought through and planned well in advance of the news ‘breaking’. And is about a person’s plans for a future beyond his footy playing career. If we were considering this as if it was a profession we would be impressed with how insightful was this career move. In sport, in footy, our emotional attachment makes it almost impossible to appreciate such clear sighted career planning. So while I will struggle with the mighty Mitch in WC Evils colours I also applaud his, Clarko and Hawthorn’s mature handling of such a sensitive decision. Cheers

  7. Nice to see you’re able to reconcile Sam’s departure with such pragmatism Rick!

    The source who had the mail on Mitchell’s departure a week in advance also says Lewis wants out, despite what Graham Wright said yesterday.

    For Mitchell the move is likely to be a very good one (it wasn’t his suggestion and it took some time to come around). Footy is a business but like any business, losing certain staff and in a certain manner can have wide ramifications. Perhaps only a coach like Clarko is capable of smoothing over the cracks that are threatening to develop.

  8. While I understand and I am sure the plan is for Sam Mitchell to be the Hawks next coach for 2017 it is a huge risk to effectively give him the boot ( don’t be dumb enough not to think salary cap relief is not a part of it ) as a succession plan v good for 2017 no let’s not forget he is the reigning b and f.
    A lot of players have played for unders to keep this incredible group together ( and recruit the cream re free agency in Lake and Frawley to play vital roles ) but to recruit,Vickery paying him way overs
    ( they forgot the decimal point immediately after the 5 ) has quite rightly caused friction plus the unknown re Roughy,O Meara ( recruiting him and then getting him consistently playing) Tom Mitchell to receive more opposition attention than he did at the swans they desperately need a fit Ryan Burton
    ( he only fell down the draft order because of his horrific leg injury ) the kid can seriously play
    Overall yep jury out if forced to make a prediction they are on the slippery dip and sliding thanks JD

  9. To the lay person trading Mitchell for two fat ladies in the draft and ‘not to free up cap space’ just doesn’t make any sense Rulebook. There must be a grand plan going on behind the scenes but I feel for diehard fans having to swallow this. If it was Pendlebury at Collingwood I’d be furious. But with 4 flags in the bag I guess there’s licence to do just about anything.

  10. Ashley Hornsey says

    One would hope Sam Mitchell is seen as an important part of Hawthorn’s future and has been sold the idea of leaving the club for a while to learn the coaching trade and perhaps return in a few years to succeed Alistair Clarkson. Of course, there is no better teacher than Clarkson but coaching teammates can be difficult. Then again, it could prove to be a mistake similar to last year when they retired defender Brian Lake a year too early. The former Bulldog had three seasons with the Hawks for three premierships and proved something of a lucky mascot. The Hawks would admit their defence was very suspect this past season with Lake banished.

  11. Brian Lake did not retire a year too early – he left right on the buzzer. Time was starting to catch up with him, and had he played in 2016, he would have embarrassed himself – and the Club. Caroline Springs was the perfect fit for Brian in 2016.
    Sam Mitchell is different – as this year’s B&F winner, there’s no sense he was starting to slide, despite his age. Moving west a year earlier than he had planned made sense for his family, but it is unclear how this piece fits into the bigger jigsaw Hawthorn is putting together. In 2017 Sammy was to be a veteran on reduced pay, so it’s hard to see a big salary cap contribution here.
    But the Hawks are good planners, and unafraid to die wondering (as distinct from plenty of other clubs). In the first instance, we all need to wait until the trade period is over. The chatter from club insiders suggests more action ahead. I also wonder what deals are made or at least foundations laid for next year. Hawthorn have been rewarding their loyal and trusting fans for many years now – let’s hope it continues!

  12. george smith says

    “Maybe that’s why they’ve won 13 flags since 1961 while our Pies have only 2.”

    God that feels better to say than it was in 1989!

  13. Hawthorn is an iceberg – we only see above the surface. The decision makers (Wright and Clarkson) do not loose their smarts overnight. They know what is happening inside the tent – all we can hear is the crashing and banging and hope all is well. Losing Lewie as well as Mitch (and who knows who else to get the O’Meara trade over the line) is very sad, but no dount the product of cool calculation and planning. Yes Lewie may play on well for many years – but 2008 champions Clint Young and Mark WIlliams might have as well…but didn’t. You trade in, you trade out, based upon what you know…and what we punters do not know. Cut the whinging Hawks supporters…and the smug self satisfied “oh joy of joys, the beast is dead” from the Anyone But Hawthorn brigade. Rumours of the Hawks’ death may just be greatly exaggerated.

  14. The hardest part is the realisation that two of the four most venerated numbers at Hawthorn – 3, 5, 23 and 26 – become vacant at the same time in circumstances where the holders, at least in part, relinquish them against their will. Who will be the next to carry on the proud tradition?

  15. Daniel Flesch says

    Graser , not quite right , mate. No. 26 Liam Shiels isn’t leaving , at least that’s what Hawthorn is saying.
    (Like they said Lewis was , hmmmm, we’ll know soon enough as i write this 3 hrs. before it’s all over)
    There are high hopes for new-ish no. 23 Tim O;Brien who showed a bit this year. Don’t know how all of Gunston , Scisily , Schoenmakers , Vickery and O’Brien will all fit into a Hawk forward line though. Not sure why they got Vickery when they really need a big backman to help ageing Gibson and patchy Frawley.
    As an aside , the Hawthorn website has taken Sam Mitchell off the players’ list , but Lewis and Brad. Hill are still there . Someone told me it’s the geniuses at Telstra who run all the AFL clubs ‘ websites except for Essendon who run theirs themselves. So the Bombers got that one right, and i don’t care if they get O’Meara too . He’s a big risk with that knee worry.

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