HAWTHORN will start Sunday's clash with St Kilda staring up at Sydney.

The Swans sit one spot higher than their great rival on a ladder where both clubs are placed in the bottom four, after both were still regarded as powerhouses only four years ago. 

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They're linked irrevocably for their epic battles across the past decade, including splitting Grand Finals in 2012 and 2014, as well as trades involving Josh Kennedy, Lance Franklin and Tom Mitchell. 

Seven of their past 10 matches were decided by single-digit margins, with Sydney edging Hawthorn by seven points in the most recent of them in round eight. 

06:45 Mins
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Highlights: Sydney v Hawthorn

The Swans and Hawks clash in round eight

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The Hawks' four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson and Sydney counterpart John Longmire are former North Melbourne teammates.

Clarkson connected the two teams again on Tuesday night, after his men became the first this year to lose to Adelaide. 

"There are a couple of clubs that sit 15th and 16th on the ladder that've been stellar clubs in this competition for a long period of time – and that's Sydney and Hawthorn," he said. 

"Part of it is the cycle of footy, unfortunately. Both us and Sydney have been clubs that haven't wanted to get ourselves into this position on the ladder."

AFL.com.au has looked at how the Hawks and Swans navigated proceedings since the 2016 season ended, and why they might not be side by side in the next few years. 

State of play at the end of 2016

Sydney lost the Grand Final by 22 points to the Western Bulldogs, after finishing the home and away season on top. It was the Swans' second defeat in three deciders under Longmire. Hawthorn, on the other hand, was bundled out of the finals in straight sets despite winning the same number of games as the Swans (17) to enter September in third. Clarkson has since said he owed it to his players and the club's fans to chase a historic fourth straight flag in 2016, even though he knew his group was waning. "In doing so, we've probably set ourselves back a little bit, in terms of our next opportunity for silverware, but, gee, I couldn't explain it to our players or our supporters (if we didn't try)," he said in 2017.

Sydney's Grand Final side had five players aged 29 or older, eight with more than 160 games' experience and nine aged 23 or younger. Among that Swans team were Isaac HeeneyCallum MillsTom PapleyJake Lloyd and Tom Mitchell. The Hawks' semi-final squad had five players aged 30 or older, eight with more than 170 matches' experience and three aged 23 or younger. Like Sydney, only 10 of that Hawthorn side is still on the list. 

AFL.com.au analysis: Less than half of each club's final team in 2016 remains, yet Sydney's remaining group of 10 offered a better long-term base, given James Sicily's the only Hawk younger than 28.

Sydney players slump to the ground after the final siren of the 2016 Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

2016 Trade Period

Hawthorn shockingly sent the winner and runner-up from that year's best and fairest, Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis (both on the wrong side of 30), to West Coast and Melbourne, respectively. Bradley Hill, at age 23, requested and received a trade to Fremantle for pick 23. Then, in separate deals with St Kilda, Gold Coast and Carlton designed to land Jaeger O'Meara, the Hawks effectively gave up their first- and second-round selections in 2017 and two other top-40 choices in 2016, while bringing in Greater Western Sydney's future second-round pick (via the Blues).

And, of course, Sydney traded Tom Mitchell to Hawthorn in a deal centred on the latter's pick 14. Mitchell won the Brownlow Medal two years later. The Swans also exchanged Toby Nankervis for Richmond's pick 46, while engaging in a pick swap with Port Adelaide that handed the Power Nos.14, 17 and 31 for selections nine, 19 and 49. The two top-20 picks were used on Ollie Florent and Will Hayward. The Hawks entered the draft in the 70s, where they snared Harry Morrison and, amusingly, Mitchell Lewis.

AFL.com.au analysis: Hill's departure hurts even more in hindsight. The Hawks' O'Meara and Mitchell trades scored them two quality, established players – the Mitchell one at great value – but Sydney's moves suggest it was already planning longer term. 

Former teammates Jordan Lewis and Sam Mitchell in action in a 2017 clash between Melbourne and West Coast. Picture: AFL Photos

Trading 2017-19

Sydney and Hawthorn are two of the savviest and most aggressive clubs at the trade table – and that didn't change in this period. The Swans offloaded Sam MurrayGary RohanNic Newman and Darcy Cameron for modest returns, and scored two second-round selections for Dan Hannebery and pick 28 in a 2018 swap. They also traded in Ryan Clarke, Jackson Thurlow and Lewis Taylor. Sydney used all its smarts for pick-related trades surrounding Hannebery and blue-chip Academy prospect Nick Blakey. The first helped Carlton unlock its deal with Adelaide for Mitch McGovern (trading pick 13 to the Blues for 26 and 28), while acquiring an appropriate selection for the Hannebery package. The Swans then sent 26 to West Coast for a future third-round pick in the first-ever live trade on draft night, sneakily manufactured to use later selections to match any bid on Blakey. Moments after matching the Giants' bid, they sent their future second-round pick to the Eagles for the latter's 2018 second-round choice.

The Hawks didn't give up much for Jarman ImpeyJack ScrimshawSam FrostJon Patton and Tom Scully, but also received little for Luke Hodge – after he backflipped on retirement to join Brisbane – or Marc Pittonet. However, it's the Chad Wingard trade in 2018 that divides opinions. So keen were the Hawks to bring in Wingard – another mid-20s age target – they parted with young gun Ryan Burton and that year's first-round pick as the main parts of the deal.

AFL.com.au analysis: Sydney traded just one first-round pick – knowing it would still have one by matching a Blakey bid – while Hawthorn (already without one in 2017) sent another out. The Wingard trade, while again bringing in a good player, was the tipping point that leaves the quality youth cupboard pretty bare. 

00:25 Mins
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Blakey breathes life into it right before 3QT

The Swans get within touching distance going into the final term thanks to this goal from Nick Blakey

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Free agency/SSP/Irishmen 2017-19

The Swans secured delisted free agents Daniel Menzel (since cut), Kaiden Brand – a discarded Hawk – and Sam GrayHayden McLean was signed in the pre-season supplemental selection period. Hawthorn lost free agent Grant Birchall to the Lions, while Ned ReevesKeegan Brooksby and Darren Minchington were SSP pick-ups. Both also dabbled in the Irish recruiting space. Barry O'Connor joined Sydney last year, with countryman Colin O'Riordan already on the list, while Conor Nash became a Hawk in late 2016 after Conor Glass committed to the club a year earlier. 

AFL.com.au analysis: None of this has had a notable impact on either club's fortunes.

Conor Glass in action for Hawthorn against Adelaide in round 15, 2020. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Academies and father-sons

As the No.10 pick in the 2018 NAB AFL Draft, Blakey joined Mills (2015) and Heeney (2014) as first-round selections out of Sydney's Academy. The Swans are set to cash in again this year, with Braeden Campbell a likely top-10 choice and Errol Gulden not far behind.

As for Hawthorn, it matched North Melbourne's second-round bid last year on the club's father-son prospect Finn Maginness. However, the Hawks opted to pass on Next Generation Academy graduate Irving Mosquito when Essendon bid on him with pick 38 in 2018. They did recruit NGA product Changkuoth Jiath as a Category B rookie a year earlier and Harry Pepper last year, and can match a bid this year on another NGA player, Connor Downie, who may be a top-30 draft pick.

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AFL.com.au analysis: No club has benefited more from the Academy set-up than the Swans and it's a huge advantage. The Hawks have produced some AFL-calibre talent from this mode, but it's not even comparable. 

Sydney Academy members Errol Gulden and Braeden Campbell celebrate a goal during the Northern Academy Series in August. Picture: AFL Photos

The draft 2017-19

Will Day became Hawthorn's first top-20 choice in four years when he was the No.13 pick in the 2019 NAB AFL Draft. Day already looks a top-line prospect. The Hawks' opening selections in the previous two years were James Worpel (47) and Jacob Koschitzke (52). Worpel's been a recruiting home run – winning the club's best and fairest last season – but key defender Koschitzke is yet to appear at senior level. Outside of Day and Worpel, Hawthorn's other five national draftees in this period have combined to play only 10 games.

Sydney picked in the first round in each of these three years, with one of them matching a bid for Blakey, after splitting its original top selection into two second-round picks. The others were Matthew Ling (14) and Dylan Stephens (five) in 2017 and 2019, respectively. Ling's endured a horror injury run, but finally made his AFL debut this season, while Stephens has played six senior games in his maiden campaign. Ten of the Swans' 11 national draftees in the past three years have played at least two senior games, with Will Gould the only one yet to be selected. The gems in this bunch are Tom McCartin (33), Blakey (10), James Rowbottom (25), Justin McInerney (44) and Stephens, but others are showing promise.

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AFL.com.au analysis: The Hawks nailed the Worpel selection, but what we're seeing is even a great recruiting team can't expect to unearth high-end talent with continual low picks. Not only did the Swans invest in the draft, but their strike rate's been outstanding. 

00:41 Mins
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Inventive Hawk creates Day-light for special first goal

Will Day takes the game on and is rewarded with a career milestone

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The intangibles

Both clubs lost key members to shock retirements. Brilliant Hawk Cyril Rioli called it quits in the wake of his father's heart attack, while towering Swan Kurt Tippett departed early because his body failed him. Tippett's arrival at Sydney for the 2013 season, after that of ex-Hawk Lance Franklin, triggered the AFL to strip the two NSW clubs of their cost-of-living allowance. League headquarters also slapped the Swans with a temporary trade ban that was partially lifted in early 2015 and ended in 2016. There was also the curious case of Xavier Richards, who fell out of the AFL completely after playing in the 2016 Grand Final. Richards requested a trade, but no one was interested. Meanwhile, 2012 premiership defender Alex Johnson played only two games after that decider, because of repeat serious knee injuries. 

AFL.com.au analysis: Tippett's and Rioli's exit hurt both clubs in positions they haven't covered since for various reasons. 

03:35 Mins
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Watch Cyril's 10 best moments

Enjoy the remarkable career of Hawthorn star Cyril Rioli

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The present

Hawthorn will miss the finals for the third time in four seasons in 2020, with a top-four home and away finish two years ago looking a false dawn. The Hawks lost both their 2018 finals, as they did in 2016. The Swans won 14 games and made the post-season in 2017 and 2018 (winning one final in that time), before slipping down the ladder last year with a greater focus on youth. There's been more of that this year. On the flipside, Hawthorn continues to field one of the oldest and most experienced teams in the competition, although it has introduced more kids recently.

Sydney's been blessed with its Academy gravy train, but has also successfully invested in the draft, whereas Clarkson and the Hawks remain indifferent about it. However, Hawthorn should have, at worst, a top-five pick this year, unless the club uses it as a trade chip. The most-recent time the Hawks had a single-digit selection was 2006. The Swans may have a selection before a rival bids on Academy hotshot Campbell, then should score Gulden as well. 

LIST AGE DEMOGRAPHICS AS OF DECEMBER 31, 2020

Club

18-21

22-25

26-29

30+

Hawthorn

14

12

12

9

Sydney

17

13

11

4

 

LIST GAME DEMOGRAPHICS AS OF SEPTEMBER 6, 2020

Club

0-24

25-49

50-99

100-149

150-199

200-249

250+

Hawthorn

21

4

6

4

4

7

1

Sydney

18

9

8

5

3

1

2

 

AFL.com.au analysis: The list demographics suggest Sydney could take off in the next few years, but Hawthorn might take a further step back before going forward again. The Swans were more willing to play younger players, but that's also because they had better talent at their disposal.