FOUR-TIME premiership coach Alastair Clarkson has struck fear into his rivals, declaring Hawthorn is on the way to regaining the belief that made it a competition force.
The Hawks led Geelong for most of their Easter Monday clash – and by as many as 25 points – before a Jarryd Roughead behind in the dying minutes secured them a one-point victory.
An 86-point thrashing to the Cats in the corresponding match last year was part of a horror 1-5 start for Hawthorn that sparked predictions of extended doom and gloom.
But the Hawks were already back on track by the second half of the 2017 season and now boast wins over Collingwood and Geelong to start this year.
"Whenever you knock yourselves around a bit and fall out of the eight; it takes a little while to get that genuine belief back that you can seriously challenge against some of these really good sides," Clarkson said.
"We're just chipping away at that – we're not anywhere near our best at this point in time – but we're competitive enough in games."
The time wasn't right for Clarkson to beat his chest too much about Hawthorn's remarkably quick rise after being stone motherless last four rounds into last season.
But he took a veiled swipe at those clubs that have hedged their bets almost entirely on retooling with mass draft picks.
"For some clubs, Grand Final day is towards the end of November and that's because they've got all these high draft picks, but that's never been our go," Clarkson said.
"Our go is to put together a list and we'll do that whichever way we think is best for the footy club.
"That's sometimes through the draft, but sometimes it's through trading and free agency."
The Hawks made hard decisions to move on or retire veterans – most recently Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis, after finishing one-two in the club's best and fairest – that now look like masterstrokes.
They were also willing to absorb external criticism for giving up a swag of picks to bring Jaeger O'Meara into the club after he sat out the 2015 and 2016 seasons with a knee problem.
Tom Mitchell arrived in the same off-season as O'Meara and has become the AFL's premier ball-winner and probably has maximum Brownlow votes through two rounds.
Mitchell had 40 disposals, 13 clearances – nine out of the centre – and two goals against the Cats, after accumulating a record 54 possessions in round one.
Securing Jarman Impey from Port Adelaide last year already appears a major success.
Clarkson also repeated his previous stance of how injuries to star players and the slow start to 2017 fast-tracked the next wave of Hawks.
"We've made a lot of improvements to our side by injecting some young players. We needed to go through that process," he said.
"I don't like the fact we had to drop down the ladder to do it, but we gave lots of opportunities.
"That's helped us with those guys having the belief that they can be bonafide and consistent AFL footballers."
Hawthorn's next challenge is reigning premier Richmond at the MCG on Sunday and it will have four fewer days to prepare than the Tigers, who lost to Adelaide last Thursday night.
"We feel like some of the players who've come in over the course of the last 12 months and two years, and had some exposure to senior footy, are going to be long-term players for us," Clarkson said.
"But the jury is still out on whether or not that's going to be good enough for us to challenge seriously.
"We beat a pretty good opponent today and that should give our boys some belief in what's going to be a pretty torrid encounter against the Tigers next week."