In a nutshell
The Hawks mixed good wins (Melbourne in round four, Essendon and Geelong in rounds 20 and 21, and Sydney in round 23) with disappointing losses (Brisbane twice, and North Melbourne in round five). But they exceeded expectations to finish the home and away season in fourth, even factoring in the straight-sets finals exit.
What we said in the pre-season
Hawthorn's list wasn't deemed "top-four worthy", but was considered good enough to make the finals – the bar set as a pass mark. The AFL.com.au team's weighted prediction was for the Hawks to finish the year in 10th. It was crunch time for Jono O'Rourke, while Port Adelaide recruit Jarman Impey, Harry Morrison and James Worpel were tipped to make an impact.
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Gunston's forward homecoming
Jack Gunston still spent time up forward last year and still spent time in positions other than attack in 2018, but he predominantly returned to being an offensive weapon and made the All Australian team for the first time. Gunston booted 50-plus goals for the fourth time in five seasons.
The handling of the 'Worpedo'
James Worpel was expected to make an immediate impact at AFL level, such was his physical maturity, but the Hawks made him work hard for a senior spot. He had only three appearances under his belt before round 18, then made a huge impact. Worpel will have learned plenty from his finals experiences.
Switching Miles down back
Teia Miles' development at half-back, after previously being a forward, gave him a new lease of life. He dominated in his new role at VFL level, then carried that form into the AFL, where he played the last eight games of the home and away season before being an unlucky finals omission.
The attempts to retain Cyril
Unfortunately for the Hawks there doesn't appear much they could have done to keep homesick star Cyril Rioli at Waverley Park. They gave Rioli extended leave and were very patient, but the pull of his Northern Territory home was too strong for him.
Keeping Burton in defence
There was so much excitement about Ryan Burton last year, but he regressed in 2018, including being dropped in round four. Others shone more down back, so, perhaps, a move onto the wing or up forward might serve him better next year.
The forward structure
Jack Gunston and Luke Breust both kicked more than 50 goals and were outstanding – although they will both want certain finals moments back – but there is work to do to provide them with better support. Jarryd Roughead and Paul Puopolo were solid, but are in decline, while none of Jon Ceglar, Ryan Schoenmakers, Tim O'Brien or Will Langford excelled in attack.
Some shine was taken off with the straight-sets finals exit, but they exceeded expectations in finishing fourth in the home and away campaign after missing out on September action last year.
It was another successful campaign for the wily Alastair Clarkson, even if he didn't add a fifth premiership to his bulging resume. His ability to lead the Hawks back to the finals with some list deficiencies was a strong achievement. Clarkson is out of contract next year, but all indications suggest he will re-sign, possibly for three more seasons, before the 2019 campaign begins.
Four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson is tipped to extend his stay at Hawthorn. Picture: AFL Photos
Jarryd Roughead faced a difficult year personally, with his form scrutinised amid discussion on whether Hawthorn should trade him. Does he keep the captaincy next year? Vice-captains Isaac Smith and Liam Shiels are younger options, so it will be an interesting summer. The leadership group, including Jack Gunston and Ben Stratton, outwardly appeared to do a good job overall.
Tom Mitchell: The ball magnet averaged a ridiculous 35.3 disposals per game and was more damaging than last year, racking up extra clearances, inside 50s, metres gained and score assists, as well as kicking the ball more. Would be a worthy Brownlow medallist.
Harry Morrison: Coach Alastair Clarkson labelled Morrison a potential star on season eve, but no matter the hype it was still a great effort to go from one game in 2017 to 21 this year. The round 20 Rising Star nominee's versatility and game sense make him one to watch.
James Sicily: Surely only a broken wrist robbed Sicily of a maiden All Australian selection this year. His prodigious right foot makes him a weapon with ball in hand, and opponents fear kicking in his direction because of his intercepting abilities. Already a star.
Ryan Burton: So much was expected of the 21-year-old defender in his third season after a breakout 2017 campaign, but his numbers plummeted across the board. Burton still played his role, but didn't look like the star-in-the-making of a year earlier and a positional switch might be on the horizon.
Round four: Hawthorn 18.7 (115) d Melbourne 6.12 (48)
The Hawks destroyed the Demons by 67 points on a wet MCG, rallying from a 21-point first-quarter deficit to kick 16 of the last 17 goals. They laid a season-high 113 tackles and thrashed the much-vaunted Melbourne midfield 56-38 in the clearances.
Best individual performance
Tom Mitchell. Round one v Collingwood
How can you go past Mitchell's 54-disposal effort in the season-opener? He amassed 27 contested possessions, nine clearances, nine score involvements, nine intercepts, eight marks, eight inside 50s and 728 metres gained. Even Nathan Buckley was impressed.
Nothing will top superstar Cyril Rioli's retirement in July, at age 28 and with more than two years to run on his contract. He was electric at his best and his honour roll makes for impressive reading: four premierships, 2015 Norm Smith medallist, three All Australian nods and twice runner-up in the Hawks' club champion award. Rioli will be missed in the AFL scene for so many reasons.
The big questions
Can the Hawks land a big fish or two in the player movement period to reinvigorate their list?
How will Hawthorn handle the potential exits of Jarryd Roughead, Shaun Burgoyne, Paul Puopolo and maybe even Grant Birchall next year?
Should at least two of Mitch Lewis, Oli Hanrahan and Dylan Moore be given an extended run in the senior side next year to freshen up the forward line?
Season in a song
More Than I Ever Expected – Judah Band
Retirements: Cyril Rioli
Unsigned free agents: Taylor Duryea, Ryan Schoenmakers and Brendan Whitecross
How should they approach trade and draft period?
The Hawks look to have narrowly missed out on wantaway Gold Coast forward Tom Lynch, but they could yet lure someone like Dylan Shiel or Steven May – and should do whatever they can to make it happen. Even elite runner Tom Scully was raised as a possibility for Hawthorn in trade whispers during the year, although the Giants firmly denied he was going anywhere. Any players of that calibre would be a welcome addition.
Early call for 2019
So much depends on what happens in October with the Trade Period and free agency. Everyone expects the cagey Hawks will work their magic at that time of year again, but they need to if they want to improve on this year.
Hawk fans: what's your season verdict?
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