FOUR-TIME premiership coach Alastair Clarkson remains defiant Hawthorn can return to flag contention as soon as next year despite an ugly win-loss record.
Saturday's six-point defeat to West Coast means eight of the Hawks' nine losses this season – against five wins – were by 23 points or fewer.
Hawthorn led by eight points past the midway point of the final term, but a Jamie Cripps goal with barely a minute remaining snapped the deadlock.
Clarkson was visibly disappointed post-match as he faced the media, but his unshakeable confidence in the Hawks' ability to rebound is instilled from past experiences in doing so.
"It feels like we're off the pace at the minute, and everyone's saying it's the end of an era, but it was the end of an era after (winning the flag in) 2008, too," he said.
"We were battling at 1-6 in 2010 and then by the end of 2011, we're playing in a prelim against Collingwood and lost by a kick, and by the next year we were playing in a Grand Final.
"This competition, as long as you stay the course and you don't throw the toys out of the cot when things aren't going so well for you, just because the win-loss isn't satisfactory, (you can change your fortunes).
"The capacity to be able to turn things around in this competition is as quick as I've ever seen it, and that's going to be our approach."
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With a finals appearance as good as dashed, Clarkson said results in the club's final eight games of the season would not be his primary focus.
"For the next eight weeks of the season, whether we win all eight, lose all eight, win half, lose half – it doesn't really matter for us," he said.
"It's just like, 'Are we taking positive steps forward, with where we think we can take this footy club over the next two to three years?'. We think we're on the right track."
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Clarkson bemoaned losing the clearances by 12 in the last quarter and 20 overall, as well as his side's wayward kicking in the third term, but took heart in troubling the reigning premiers.
"Our season's looking like we're just hanging on, but we've got another game in six days and another opportunity in terms of being able to keep working on our game," he said.
"We kicked 9.17 today, we had the same inside 50s as West Coast had, so there are some things to come out of the game that we're really pleased with.
"For us to score from (almost) 50 per cent of the entries we had, or somewhere thereabouts; to get opportunities like that against a pretty good West Coast side is a good sign for us."
Clarkson also offered praise for recalled tagger Daniel Howe, who held All Australian Elliot Yeo to 16 disposals, including just 10 in the first three quarters.
"It's hard to work out which one of the West Coast midfielders to go to, because they've all been very strong players for a period of time," he said.
"We took Yeo this time, but then (Luke) Shuey and (Andrew) Gaff get off the leash, so it's hard to keep them all down.
"Howey did a really good job on Yeo but they still win the game, so you win the battle but lose the war … that's the sign of a really good side, when if one guy gets quelled, there's someone else who can step up."