For the first time, Vendetta Sports Media is covering the Australian Rules Football in 2021. Before the AFL season kicks off in mid March, we’re taking a look at each and every team and how their premiership chances shape up. For all of our previous assessments, click here. Today we’re taking a look at the once dominant Hawthorn Football club. For the first time in over 15 years, the Hawthorn Hawks are in a rebuild. How does demanding coach Allister Clarkson balance his veteran stars with the need to develop the next generation of high flying Hawks?

Hawthorn’s home guernsey

Season 2020

15th: 5 wins, 12 losses, 84.1%

The Hawks started the 2020 season meaning business. Comprehensive victories over eventual top four team Brisbane and premiers Richmond in the first three rounds proved a false dawn, with the Hawks winning only two of their last 11 contests.

Of the veterans, Brownlow Medallist Tom Mitchell returned after missing a full year with a broken leg. Jack Gunston turned back the clock, leading the Hawks goal kicking on his way to winning the club Best and Fairest. Sam Frost’s move from the Demons proved a success, though other imports in Jon Patton and Michael Hartley had far less of an impact.

The Hawks blooded an array of youngsters, particularly as the season slipped away from them, though with respect to solid seasons from Mitch Lewis and James Worpel, only Will Day stood out as a potentially elite talent.

Key Ins: Kyle Hartigan (Crows), Tom Phillips (Magpies), Denver Grainger-Barras, Seamus Mitchell, Connor Downie, Tyler Brockman (all draft)

Key Outs: James Frawley (Saints), Isaac Smith (Cats), Tom Scully, Ricky Henderson, Ben Stratton, Paul Puopolo, Conor Glass (all retired)

The Hawks, as they did after the 2019 season, have lost a lot of veteran talent to retirement or defection. The club have attempted to make up for the loss of key defenders Frawley and club captain Stratton through the signing of Hartigan from Adelaide. Tom Phillips – coming in from Collingwood – will look to replace the departed Isaac Smith and retired Tom Scully.

The playing list as a whole is somewhat of a mixed bag. There is definitely some talented youngsters in there, but the bulk of the recognised names on the Hawks roster are, whilst still match winners on their day, clearly on the back end of their careers. Ben McEvoy (aged 31), the still incredible Shaun Burgoyne (38) and Luke Bruest (30) are all past their primes, whilst Gunston, Hartigan and Liam Shiels all turn 30 through the season and have a serious amount of wear on their tyres.

Much of Hawthorn’s prime aged elite talent also carries concerns. When healthy, Tom Mitchell is one of the very best players in all of football. He’ll miss the start of the campaign and wasn’t 100% last year coming off his broken leg. Jaeger O’Meara looks to finally have his body right, but he’s spent a decade in the AFL wrapped in cotton wool – it would surprise precisely nobody if he gets hurt again. Jon Patton won’t start the season in the side either, after a somewhat controversial off season. There are rumours that he won’t return to league football, but as serious as his troubles away from the game may be, that seems far fetched.

Overall the Hawks have a solid midfield and a respectable defensive lineup, even if both are severely lacking in proven depth. It’s up forward where they’ll struggle. With Gunston and Patton sidelined, too much will fall to the undersized Bruest, the unproven Mitch Lewis, or James Sicily – a true jack of all trades, but master of none.

Prediction: 15th

Publicly, the Hawks have talked of committing to the rebuild, but they haven’t yet seemed to fully embrace the concept. After 15 years of competing at the very peak of the league, including four premierships in an eight year span, the idea of bottoming out has to give them heartburn.

No matter their commitment to youth, this version of the Hawks is simply not good enough, especially if a few of their veteran big names either don’t perform or get hurt.

It’s a shame to see such a wonderful generation of players go out like this, but as they say, all good things must come to an end.