HAWTHORN coach Alastair Clarkson does not understand why pundits continually write off Geelong, saying the Cats' outstanding system enables them to remain flag contenders.
The Cats have had a remarkable run of success stretching back to their drought-breaking 2007 flag.
In the six completed seasons since, they have added another two flags (2009 and 2011), finished runner-up (2008) and lost in two preliminary finals (2010 and 2013), with their worst performance an elimination final loss (2012).
Commentators have widely predicted that the Cats would fall down the ladder as the holes left by departed premiership stars such as Gary Ablett, Cameron Ling, Brad Ottens, Matthew Scarlett and Paul Chapman finally started to pinch.
But Clarkson was having none of that after the Cats' 19-point victory over his team at the MCG on Easter Monday, even taking a gentle dig at the underdog status Geelong claimed in the lead-up to the clash.
"(Geelong) play it beautifully, 'Hawthorn are the standouts, everyone's got to be chasing them'. There might be a few chasing the Cats now," Clarkson said.
"There are three or four sides that are really, really talented sides and, as we always say at our club, just get to the top four and see how it all settles in the last part of the season.
"But the Cats are going to be right up there, they're a good football side.
"Everyone keeps writing them off. I don't know why because certainly we (don't) at our club. We've lost 12 out of 13 against them, so we know what their talent is (like)."
Clarkson said the Cats' football system was so strong the inevitable departures of older stars would not hurt their on-field performance.
"It's got nothing to do with the blokes that are playing, it's all got to do with their system," Clarkson said.
"And their system has been very, very powerful, the same as Sydney, blokes will come and go ... but it's their system. It's an outstanding system.
"It's why they keep competing at the top end of the ladder.
"Everyone keeps going, 'Oh Lingy's retired, they'll be no good'. Scarlett retires, 'Oh yeah, they're not going to be any good.
"They just get blokes to come in and replace them and do exactly the same roles. They're an outstanding club."
Clarkson defended his decision to leave Kyle Cheney on Tom Hawkins, despite the Cat spearhead's match-high five-goal haul and his three last-quarter majors that helped snuff out a spirited Hawthorn comeback.
The Hawks coach said with full-back Brian Lake not fit enough to play against the Cats he had taken the calculated gamble that Cheney, 187cm and 90kg, could rise to the challenge against Hawkins, 197cm and 105kg.
"We always knew that Cheney was going to battle in a one-v-one against (Hawkins). I don't think that's any surprise to anyone," Clarkson said.
"One bloke's about 150kg and one bloke's about 80kg, so he's going to get nutted from time to time when it's a one-v-one.
"We knew that, but we thought if we had enough pressure on the ball through the middle of the ground that he'd be able to get some support from his fellow defenders.
"And we did that pretty well for the bulk of the day, but the dam wall opened in the last quarter."
Clarkson said he had no regrets about not playing Lake, but said last year's Norm Smith medallist might be ready for Sunday's clash with Richmond after playing 160 minutes for Box Hill over the past two weeks.
"We're more prepared to lose a game of footy than we are prepared to lose a player that's not conditioned properly to play," he said.