The Hawks looked primed to wreak havoc when they turned their strong end to last year into a 3-1 start in 2020. However, everything collapsed from round five, when they suffered defeat to Greater Western Sydney, a side they twice handled with ease a season ago. Alastair Clarkson's men lost 11 of 12 outings before routing Gold Coast in their season finale.
Former Demon Sam Frost slotted seamlessly into Hawthorn's backline and was one of the club's most consistent performers. It possibly took too long for it to happen, but the Hawks, like in the second half of 2017, rolled out more youth and found a few with promise. Will Day was clearly the best of them, but there was enough to like about James Cousins, Damon Greaves, Changkuoth Jiath, Josh Morris and even Dylan Moore. Clarkson admitted the future was fast-tracked once they fell out of finals contention.
The Hawks were the AFL's worst, or close to it, in contested possession and clearance differential and that severely impacted their ability to win field position. Jack Gunston kicked bulk goals in the second half of the season and Chad Wingard showed glimpses, but they'll be disappointed with their forwards in general, given none of Jon Patton, Mitch Lewis or Tim O'Brien had a good campaign. There must be some doubts about Jon Ceglar's suitability as the No.1 big man as well despite Ben McEvoy fitting in well down back.
This honour goes to Jack Gunston, who kicked multiple goals in 10 of his 16 games this year, with his second half of the season particularly exceptional. Gunston played a lone hand at times, with few other Hawks forwards consistently playing well. James Sicily would have been in strong contention if not for his season-ending knee injury in round 12.
There is no correct answer other than Will Day, the boy wonder with deep Hawthorn family links. Day's under-developed body suggested he was a longer-term prospect, but he's deceivingly tough, doesn't lack for confidence and boasts the composure of a veteran. Played in defence and on a wing, and looks a star-in-the-making.
Equal billing for key forwards Mitch Lewis and Jon Patton. Lewis ended last season on fire, but ex-Giant Patton's arrival and a pre-season injury left him on the outside looking in. Even once Lewis' chance arose, he was way off last year's form. Neither forward kicked multiple goals in any game until Lewis did in round 18, with Lewis booting five overall in eight matches and Patton three in six.
Hawthorn slayed Richmond in round three, six days after suffering a 10-goal beating from Geelong. The Hawks upended the Lions and Tigers in the first three rounds – after claiming six of their last eight matches in 2019 – and looked on track to play finals. Ben Stratton's goal in his last appearance in round 18 was a high point as well, ending the AFL's longest active games streak without one (184).
James Sicily's season-ending ACL setback was a bitter pill to swallow. He's become the Hawks' best player and a genuine leader, whose skillset is pivotal to the way they want to operate. Sicily faces the prospect of missing most of the 2021 season – and maybe all of it. Becoming the first team to lose to Adelaide certainly wasn't a highlight, either.
How should they approach list management?
Ben Stratton and Paul Puopolo retired, as did Ricky Henderson and Conor Glass, while Shaun Burgoyne will play a testimonial year-of-sorts next year before joining them. That leaves decisions to make on fellow veterans Isaac Smith and James Frawley. They hold the No.4 draft pick, which may slide to six once potential free agency compensation and an Academy bid are factored in. The Hawks are typically aggressive at the trade table, but should keep their highest picks this time around. Securing another bargain Sam Frost or Jarman Impey-type would still be prudent.
Early call for 2021
Despite missing finals in three of the past four seasons, Hawthorn is, perhaps, only at the start of its rebuild. That suggests next year could be tough again. At the same time, there's still a decent amount of experience and quality to be competitive.
D. To start 3-1 but finish 5-12 and in 15th place was disastrous. They were on the road from round five and that didn't help, but the Hawks are finally losing their fight with AFL gravity.