HAWTHORN is in a deep on-field hole that's going to take some time to climb out from.

It's just three short years since the Hawks finished in the top four and six years since completing a historic three-peat of premierships.

However, with a series of top-up recruits that haven't panned out, a lack of high-end draft talent, and a spate of injuries to key players, Alastair Clarkson's team currently sits in 17th place and appear unlikely to be moving in a hurry.

It's the first time since 2005 – Clarkson's first year at the helm – Hawthorn has looked so far from mixing it with the heavy hitters.

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The master coach conceded as much following Sunday's 38-point loss to West Coast in front of a sparse MCG crowd.

"By and large we just need to hang in there with this group of lads that are getting some exposure to play, and we've just got to keep their spirits up as high as we can," Clarkson said.

"And our coaches as well.

"We're working hard, but we're just not seeing the results on field as much as we'd like."

Perhaps it's unfair to compare the current crop to the premiership era, but it's instructive to illustrate just how far the Hawks have tumbled. And why they've fallen so rapidly.

Alastair Clarkson addresses his young Hawks against West Coast in round eight, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

In their star-studded team that won flags in 2013, 2014 and 2015, they played a high-kicking, high-possession game that wore opponents down methodically.

They controlled the ball, controlled territory and controlled the game.

In those three years they were ranked first in the competition for inside 50 differential, time in forward half differential and subsequently led the league in scoring.

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It was largely a veteran team with excellent ball users like Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge, Jordan Lewis and Grant Birchall – that were all moved on – and a dynamic, diverse forward line.

Jordan Lewis, Sam Mitchell and Luke Hodge. Picture: AFL Photos

Hawthorn never focused too much on clearances and contested possession – ranked mid-table for both – but managed to be the masters of scoring from both turnovers and stoppages.

Once they were bundled out in the 2016 semi-final by eventual premier Western Bulldogs, the big-picture list changes began.

For a deeper dive, have a look at what AFL.com.au wrote earlier in the year, but the problems were many.

The decision to continually top-up with mature recruits from other clubs had served the Hawks well for so long (think Shaun Burgoyne, Brian Lake, James Frawley, Josh Gibson and too many others to list), but eventually they struck out.

Triple-premiership trio David Hale, Josh Gibson and Brian Lake were all relatively cheap trades for the Hawks. Picture: AFL Photos

Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O'Meara and Chad Wingard were all added and are still integral, but all came at the cost of first round picks.

Former Giants Tom Scully and Jon Patton came at little trade cost, but their respective absence from the list so early in 2021 has seriously hurt depth.

The result has been a form of 'mid-table mediocrity' the past two seasons as Clarkson's coaching nous and a tiny bit of talent have kept Hawthorn competitive.

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Ultimately though, it has rarely selected from the top-end of the draft, and the lack of genuine match-winners is becoming obvious.

Will Day (No.13 in 2019) and Denver Grainger-Barras (No.6 in 2020) are the only two first round draft picks taken in recent years, and unfortunately both are currently injured.

Injuries are definitely part of the problem. Missing O'Meara (a test to play this week), James Sicily and Jack Gunston (both out indefinitely) has robbed the team of crucial players on each line.

The dearth of quality in their absence has put the onus on Clarkson to devise a plan to keep his team competitive.

They lead the competition in uncontested possessions, suggesting a want to play similarly to the premiership years.

But the statistics elsewhere make for grim reading.

The Hawks are dead last for inside 50 differential – going inside the danger zone an average of 13 times a game less than their opponents.

They also sit bottom for time in forward half differential, and are bottom four for nearly every other major statistic, including scores from stoppage differential and scores from turnover differential.

It's hard to see a definitive style Hawthorn can hang its hat on.

Clarkson's genius that has helped propel the Hawks to their only two wins of the seasons, monumental comebacks over Essendon and Adelaide, can only work so much.

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For the rest of 2021 it's about development.

"It's great for the future of our club, but at the moment we're doing some hard yards," Clarkson said.

That's an understatement that looks like taking many years to resolve.