HAWTHORN coach Alastair Clarkson started Friday's standing-room-only media conference with an amusing anecdote about demoted former captain Jarryd Roughead.
The club's media theatrette was packed because of Thursday night's announcement about Roughead, but the wide grin on Clarkson's face attempted to defuse the seriousness of the situation.
Last week could have been his last game for the footy club, but I'd hope that's not the case, because he's still got 15 games to go - Alastair Clarkson
Clarkson was raking leaves off his front lawn on Friday morning, only for an electrician working next door to quip: "You shouldn't be doing the leaves, you should get 'Roughy' to do that. He's got nothing to do on the weekend."
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With the jokes out of the way, the four-time premiership coach got to business.
Clarkson quickly made a point of saying he hoped Roughead, who is out of contract, had not played his final AFL match – but stopped short of guaranteeing the champion forward a 282nd game.
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"It's always tough. He's been a staple player of this footy club for 15 years," Clarkson said.
"But there's a time where everyone's form and critiquing of that form is going to be subject to whether or not they're playing their role well enough to stay in the side.
"Rough, by his own admission, (wasn't playing well). We'd had these conversations as far back as the middle of last year.
"We were looking at this year and what it meant, and understanding full well a significant part of the legacy he can leave for our footy club is preparing our club for post-Jarryd Roughead and the emergence of younger players like Conor Nash and Mitchy Lewis and these sorts of guys."
Clarkson wasn't specific about what Roughead, who had just eight disposals, one goal and no marks against Melbourne last week, had to do to win back a senior spot.
However, he admitted a number of variables would help make that decision, including whether Hawthorn is winning games and presumably still in the finals race.
"I'd be hopeful that he'll play some footy, but is that next week, is that the week after, is it never again? I don't know," Clarkson said.
"All we do know, he knows, you know, I know, that he's in the backend of his career and last week could have been his last game for the footy club, but I'd hope that's not the case, because he's still got 15 games to go.
"But whatever happens in the next 15 games, he's got a significant contribution to make to our footy club – no matter whether he plays seniors or at Box Hill. That's really all we're really searching for.
"As I said before, the real key element of this is not what's best for Jarryd Roughead or Alastair Clarkson or any of the other players – it's what's best for the club."
The Roughead call is likely to be the first of many similar ones on a series of Hawk veterans who are on the wrong side of 30 and coming out of contract at season's end.
That group includes injury-ravaged defender Grant Birchall, evergreen utility Shaun Burgoyne, key backman James Frawley, goalsneak Paul Puopolo and even in-form winger Ricky Henderson.
"I think every club is thinking about the future. Every good club should be thinking that way, so you've always got one eye on the now and one eye on the future," Clarkson said.
"All those things will come into the mix, but that's no different than what we'll have to face with a Shaun Burgoyne or a James Frawley.
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"Shaun's 36, he's going to be 37 at the end of the year – just by coming into the side last week, he tops up our average age pretty significantly with a 36-year-old coming into the side.
"(But) it's not a use-by date just because of your birth certificate.
"It's a use-by date in terms of whether you can contribute and play the role that you can – and just at this point in time, we didn't think 'Rough' was doing that."
Roughead's Box Hill appearance on Sunday, against Footscray at the MCG, will be his first in the VFL since March 2012, in what was his return from a serious Achilles injury the previous season.