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Hawthorn season review: MVP, surprise packet, low point, final grade

Recruits Tom Scully (L) and Chad Wingard (C) had mixed results in 2019 but will add further polish next season. All pictures: AFL Photos - AFL,Hawthorn Hawks,Season reviews,Tag-Analysis
Recruits Tom Scully (L) and Chad Wingard (C) had mixed results in 2019 but will add further polish next season. All pictures: AFL Photos
In a nutshell

A season of experimentation seemed headed for a shock bottom-four finish at 5-9 through round 15. However, the Hawks rattled home with six wins from their last eight outings to almost make the finals.

What we said in the pre-season

Hawthorn was a popular answer for AFL.com.au's pre-season question on which club was set to fall. Most reporters had the brown and gold outside the top eight – some just outside but many 12th or lower. Tipping recruit Jack Scrimshaw to play from round one and Mitch Lewis to have to bide his time were predictions that came to fruition.

What worked 

Jarman Impey down back
Impey was a useful utility with great speed until this year but he was outstanding in a permanent half-back role in 2019 until his ACL setback. Became an intercepting weapon.

Dropping Mitch Lewis mid-season
Frustration about Lewis being demoted after round 11 was replaced with acknowledgement when he returned a much-improved player who kicked bulk goals and was a contested-marking menace.

The ongoing experiments
Not everything worked but lots did. From his faith in Tim O'Brien at either end, the series of players employed in the centre, the extended trials for Ollie Hanrahan and Irishmen Conor Glass and Conor Nash, Changkuoth Jiath's call-up and Ben McEvoy being used as a defender, coach Alastair Clarkson used this season to see what he had.

What failed

Chad Wingard as Cyril Rioli 2.0
This is purely based on this season. Injuries contributed to Wingard struggling as a forward in his first season at Waverley Park, but his best form came as a midfielder.

The forward line
Took until the final two rounds to post a triple-digit tally, with Alastair Clarkson regularly bemoaning his side's inability to score as the Hawks' pressure dropped off at the same time.

Grand plans for Tom Mitchell
The Brownlow medallist breaking his left leg in January dashed many of Hawthorn's plans. Not even Jaeger O'Meara's best efforts and James Worpel's emergence could make up for Mitchell's absence. The Hawks had the worst clearance differential in the AFL.

 
Overall rating

C+.

They did OK considering their ageing list, inexperienced youth and being without Tom Mitchell for the entire season, but a 5-9 opening came back to hurt them.

The coach

It was a challenging year on several fronts for Hawthorn, with Alastair Clarkson's frustration spilling over on occasion. Clarkson, who re-signed last year until 2022, was still credited with some 'masterclass' coaching efforts and his Hawks still won 11 games in a season of experimentation.

MVP

James Sicily: This was a competitive race between Sicily, James Worpel, Ricky Henderson and Jaeger O'Meara. Sicily made the All Australian squad of 40, is one of the game's best interceptors, a magnificent kick and versatile enough to play in attack as well.

 
Surprise packet

Ricky Henderson: No one saw this coming from Henderson, who was one of the last Hawks to re-sign last year. The winger turns 31 in September, but averaged career-highs in a number of categories, including disposals (24.6), marks (7.2) and inside 50s (4.2).

Get excited

Jack Scrimshaw: The Hawks have largely ignored the top end of the draft for the past decade, but they secured Scrimshaw – who joined Gold Coast with the No.7 pick in 2016 – for next to nothing. He has a neat left boot and slotted into defence seamlessly with his intercept marking.

Disappointment

Jack Gunston: Fresh from his maiden All Australian selection, Gunston appeared to play hurt for much of this season and kicked only 26 goals in 20 games. Thirteen of those came in three games, while he was goalless seven times.

Best win

Round 8: Hawthorn 10.11 (71) d Greater Western Sydney 5.8 (38)

Hawthorn hadn't beaten the Giants since 2014 before they clashed at the MCG this day. Where most teams were struggling to score, GWS was piling on 97.7 points a week until the well-oiled Hawks befuddled them. Their ball movement was stagnant and they still hadn't found an answer when they met again in round 21.

Best individual performance 

Jaeger O'Meara: Round 6 v Carlton

O'Meara was already putting together a blistering start to the season by the time he amassed a career-best 42 disposals (23 contested) to lead the Hawks to a come-from-behind victory over the Blues. He added 10 score involvements, nine clearances and six inside 50s.

Low point

It didn't get any lower than when reigning Brownlow medallist Tom Mitchell broke his left leg in a training accident in January. Replacing his 30-plus possessions per game and clearance talents proved largely impossible, but he is tracking well in his recovery.

The big questions 

After missing out on Stephen Coniglio, should the Hawks target fellow big-name Giant Lachie Whitfield?

Is it time to start drafting in the first round regularly again?

Should the Hawks move on from Shaun Burgoyne, Grant Birchall and Paul Puopolo?

Season in a movie title

Experimenter. Alastair Clarkson saw this season as a chance to learn what he had. There were multiple mature-age recruits and an AFL-high 31 Hawks out of contract when pre-season started, and Clarkson's experimenting raged on throughout 2019.

 
Who's done?

Retirements: Will Langford, Jarryd Roughead

Delistings: None

Unsigned free agents: Grant Birchall, Shaun Burgoyne, Jon Ceglar, Paul Puopolo, Ryan Schoenmakers, Ricky Henderson, Darren Minchington, Tim Mohr

How should they approach trade and draft period? 

Who are we to tell the Hawks what to do at this time of year? In all seriousness, there are obvious benefits in them using their first-round pick for the first time in four years, as they go through a transition period. However, there are still some nice trade prizes out there and they will be sniffing around.

Early call for 2020

The Hawks' withering finish will buoy expectations for next year, with Tom Mitchell due back, Tom Scully and Chad Wingard sure to be better for getting this season under their belt and the kids having more experience. Expect a September assault.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs