IS HAWTHORN'S slide down to form, its list profile, or simply an unsettling year?
Alastair Clarkson can't put his finger on it. But the legendary Hawks coach does concede it is an "enormous coincidence" that his side's form has dropped away significantly in the aftermath of being forced around the country in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Hawthorn had won nine of its last 12 matches before moving into interstate hubs, including victories over every top-six side on the ladder from last season.
However, since heading interstate in order for the campaign to resume safely back in July, the Hawks have lost four straight games to drastically drop into the bottom-four.
"The last eight games of last year, we won six of those games," Clarkson said.
"Chad Wingard had an interrupted start to his season, then played some really good footy. We didn't have Tom Mitchell last year. Jack Gunston and Luke Breust both had seasons below their high standards.
"The injection of Jon Patton – who unfortunately hasn't been able to get on the park on a regular basis – and also Sam Frost … we thought there was some blue skies (ahead).
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"We'd won six of our last eight games, including victories over GWS, West Coast, Collingwood and Geelong. They're all sides that we respected hugely. Then we started this season 3-1, including victories over Richmond and Brisbane.
"In the space of 12 games, we'd won nine of them across the last part of last year and an early part of this year. And we'd beaten the best six sides on the ladder from last season in that period of time. It gives us the view that our capability is there."
So, what's changed? Hawthorn has gone into hubs around the country, spending a month in New South Wales before travelling to Western Australia for its next spate of matches.
"That's a pretty significant factor," Clarkson said.
"We've gone on the road. We left 3-1 and we're now 3-5.
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"Now I can't tell you why that is the case and why we're not playing anywhere near our best, other to say that it's an enormous coincidence that we're playing pretty average footy when we're in a different environment and we're in this hub.
"I'm not complaining about the hub, our players aren't complaining about it, but it's made it very, very difficult for us to find our best form and for us to try and turn around what has been pretty scratchy form.
"We're endeavouring to do that as best as we can. We'll see how we go.
"We've got another game tomorrow night (against Carlton) and we'll try our best to put our best foot forward, knowing full well that at some point in time things are going to click into place and our confidence levels will improve.
"That will mean our ball movements looks a little bit better and our capacity to defend looks a little bit better. Both of those have looked particularly scratchy in the last month. But in the first month of the season, those things looked really, really strong for us."
As for Clarkson's take, hubs – and the ever-changing nature of a season significantly impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic – are hurting older teams more.
"My observation is that any club that has got a significant group of players that are older, have had success, have played a lot of senior footy … it's more of a challenge for those guys than it is for the younger players," Clarkson said.
"We fall into that bracket. We're trying our best to address that. It's a difficult environment, but at the same time we know we need to play some better footy than what we've shown over the last three or four games."