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Who will be next in the Hawthorn cull?

Will Taylor Duryea be at Hawthorn beyond 2018? - AFL,Hawthorn Hawks
Will Taylor Duryea be at Hawthorn beyond 2018?

HAWTHORN'S famed ruthlessness will be tested next year, with six Hawks already aged 27 or older and boasting varying star power coming out of contract.

Premiership players Shaun Burgoyne, James Frawley, Paul Puopolo and Ryan Schoenmakers, as well as Brendan Whitecross and Ricky Henderson, are entering the last season of their deals.

Dual flag-winning utility Taylor Duryea, fresh from signing a one-year renewal, will also be 27 in April and playing for his football livelihood.

Puopolo (31 at the end of 2018), Schoenmakers (28), Whitecross (28), ex-Crow Henderson (30) and Duryea seem most at risk despite Burgoyne turning 36 in October.

It is the start of a three-year period where many of the remaining architects of Hawthorn's 2013-15 golden era will depart Waverley Park – and not for Dingley, but rather the AFL afterlife.

Big names such as Jarryd Roughead, Grant Birchall, Ben McEvoy and Ben Stratton (2019) and Cyril Rioli and Isaac Smith (2020) will be put under the microscope soon enough. 

Four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson and list boss Graham Wright have made an art form of bold, shrewd decisions with the future in mind.

Brutal honesty with even the most decorated of club champions has helped the two parties – despite some awkwardness – arrive at mutually beneficial arrangements.

Clarkson could not promise Sam Mitchell or Jordan Lewis a playing future beyond 2017 and eventually brokered deals last year to send them to West Coast and Melbourne, respectively.

They were both under contract at the time, a fact that should keep on edge even those with more than one season to go.

"It's been tough for everyone. It's very, very hard to retire players," Clarkson said in a video message to Hawks members at the time.

"We approached both those guys and said, 'We can't guarantee your futures beyond 2017 … do you want to explore opportunities that might create greater longevity, albeit at another club?'."

Mitchell, who retired after one season as an Eagle to pursue a coaching career, and Lewis were not the first and won't be the last to face Clarko's tough love.

A closer look at Hawthorn's list management, particularly in the past five years, uncovers what appears a carefully mapped out strategy designed to stay relevant in the present and future. 

THE HAWK CULL

2017: Josh Gibson (retired), Luke Hodge (traded)
2016: Jordan Lewis and Sam Mitchell (traded)
2015: David Hale and Brian Lake (retired) and Matt Suckling (free agency)
2014: Brad Sewell (retired)
2013: Brent Guerra, Michael Osborne and Max Bailey (retired)

The Lewis and Mitchell calls took some adjusting to, and the Hawks' advanced age profile, plus injuries, saw them stumble at the start of 2017.

A youth-inspired revival left question marks that remain unanswered about how Clarkson will handle the upcoming season and the inevitable list overhaul.

He must decide if Kaiden Brand, Dan Howe, Kurt Heatherley, Jono O'Rourke, Mitchell Lewis, Teia Miles, Harry Morrison, Marc Pittonet, Oliver Hanrahan, Conor Nash, Kieran Lovell and Dallas Willsmore are worthier of new contracts than trusted veterans.

Age is just one factor at a club that publicly declared it wants two of the seven flags it aimed for between now and 2050 within five years.