FOUR-TIME Hawthorn premiership defender Grant Birchall will undergo a posterior cruciate ligament reconstruction after failing to overcome persistent soreness in his knee. 

It has been a wretched season for the 30-year-old who has managed just five games this year because of various ailments including a fractured jaw.

Hawks elite performance manager Andrew Russell told on Tuesday that his knee had not responded to extra training loads, so the decision has been made for surgery ahead of the start of the 2018 pre-season later this year.

The Hawks also confirmed star forward Cyril Rioli won’t play again this year following his recovery from a PCL injury. Russell said Rioli would have been right to play if the Hawks had made the finals and had just "run out of time". Ruckman Jon Ceglar will also miss the rest of the season, having not played at all because of an ACL injury late last season. 

Josh Gibson (groin), James Frawley (toe) and Jonathan O’Rourke (hamstring) are all on track to play before the end of the season. Gibson is a strong chance to play in round 23 in what could be his farewell game alongside Luke Hodge.

Small forward Paul Puopolo is training well after missing six games with a groin strain and should be back for Sunday’s University of Tasmania Stadium clash with North Melbourne, while as long as he passes a fitness test later this week, midfielder Jaeger O’Meara will make his long-awaited return to football this weekend, almost certainly for Box Hill in a VFL clash against Essendon at Windy Hill on Saturday. 

"He looks strong and powerful and his skills are getting better," Russell said.

And O’Meara could play up to six matches before the end of the season, with the Hawks content to leave him in the VFL for the rest of 2017, making him eligible to play in the VFL finals for Box Hill, which sits atop the ladder with three games remaining.

According to the VFL rules, O’Meara will be permitted to play in the finals as long as he doesn't play any more AFL games before the end of the year. And given he hasn't played any football since the end of April because of a bruised patella, the Hawks believe he would benefit most by playing up to six games in the VFL and gaining real continuity than perhaps two at AFL level. 

They believe the more games the 23-year-old can play this year will put to bed any lingering doubts about his knee and will allow him and the club to rest easy before attacking the start of next pre-season.

O’Rourke, who will resume next week, will be eligible for the VFL finals having already played several games for Box Hill before injuring his hamstring.