THE OLD Waverley Park was Robert Harvey's home ground for seven years of his decorated playing career with St Kilda. He won his 1997 and 1998 Brownlow Medals while outrunning and outworking the rest of the competition up and down its long and straight flanks.

Which makes much of his new place of employment so familiar and welcoming. Be it the lightning quick green traffic light arrow at the Wellington Road turnoff to the howling winds blowing in all sorts of directions, Harvey might just be a few weeks into his role as Hawthorn's new midfield coach, but the surrounds already make him feel comfortable.

"Obviously the ground is a bit smaller and the exterior has changed, but it still has that Waverley feel about it. It's good to come back," he told "Even the old grandstand they've kept parts of it intact, so it feels a bit like coming home to me."

Harvey and Hawthorn seem like the right fit and there is mutual excitement as they embark on their new partnership. New coach Sam Mitchell, a childhood St Kilda supporter, feels giddy about it all.

"We're still calling him 'Mr Robert Harvey'," he said. "Most of us in my age group grew up idolising him. The star factor is just starting to wear off and I haven't come around to calling him 'Banger' on a consistent basis."

Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell at training on November 29, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

Even though they were centre-square opponents for several years and have been rival midfield coaches more recently, they barely knew each other before Mitchell approached Harvey to fill the remaining position on the Hawthorn coaching staff. Whereas the other assistant coaches – David Hale, Adrian Hickmott, Chris Newman, Andy Collins and Andy Otten – have existing or previous relationships with Mitchell either at the Hawks or West Coast, Harvey is the outlier of the group.

"You don't want groupthink, or just being Hawthorn or having known someone," Mitchell said. "The last thing we want is for everyone to agree. You're not speaking openly or thinking critically. There's always that robust conversation and having Robert Harvey gives us a strong x-factor in that group."

Harvey is looking forward to offering a fresh perspective to the coaching group. "The other guys have the relationship with him. I've come in with new eyes and give that feedback to see it from afar. That's how I see it."

And he needed the change of environment after 10 years at Collingwood as an assistant, which included the second half of last season as the stand-in senior coach after Nathan Buckley's resignation.

Buckley and Mitchell are not dissimilar. Both star midfielders (and Brownlow medallists) but whose people skills as players were questioned at times. It took Buckley some time, but Harvey was there observing as he grew to become a warm, caring and highly empathetic figure as coach and signs are that Mitchell is tracking well down the same path.

"You have perceptions from the outside, but he is different to how I have perceived," Harvey noted. "He's a bit light and loose in a lot of ways, but he knows what he wants. He hasn't had to give them a bake yet, but he has that in him."

At Hawthorn, Harvey takes charge of a midfield led by Tom Mitchell, who since joining the Hawks in 2017, averaged 44 disposals in games against Harvey's Magpie midfield. 

Tom Mitchell dishes off a handball against Collingwood in round 21, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Harvey is looking forward to exploring what further wrinkles he can add to Mitchell's game but more importantly, developing him and Jaeger O'Meara as the on-field leaders of a unit that has grown significantly in numbers as a result of the recent NAB AFL Draft during which the club loaded up on young midfielders.

"We have had a couple of chats already, but at Tom's age, to be able to impart his knowledge on the young midfielders will be good. The group here is so big, but it is young so it's a great chance to get involved with those young players and bring them through," he said.

Hawthorn's midfield is probably the last piece of the team building puzzle. The backline is stacked, the forward line just needs to get games and experience under its belt, and Harvey's brief is to help rebuild a midfield that lacks star power after Mitchell and Jaeger O'Meara. 

"The improvement will come with those young mids and having guys such as James Worpel and Harry Morrison to jump up and take that next step," he said.

Hawthorn's James Worpel celebrates a goal against Fremantle in R17, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

Worpel is intriguing. He won the Peter Crimmins Medal in 2019, the year Tom Mitchell was sidelined with a broken leg, but has struggled to find a role and consistent form ever since. But Harvey sees things differently.

"He has a number of tricks and I don't think at his age (22) he is anywhere nearly complete as a player. You are going to see a lot of improvement, just through learning the game. But he is powerful and a big inside player with he the ability to get to the outside as well. From the short time I've been here there's good scope to get some variety going."

The draftees are midfielders but come in all shapes and sizes. Harvey wasn't in the draft room but he did watch some vision ahead of the draft and offered some insights. "There's good variety and it will be good for the older guys like Tom and Jaeger to work with them."

Hawthorn draftees (L-R): Ned Long, Sam Butler, Josh Ward, Connor MacDonald and Jai Serong on November 29, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

Harvey has been in the mix for senior coaching roles before. He enjoyed temporarily filling the chair at Collingwood last season while fully aware that the club would likely look elsewhere to fill the position on a permanent basis. 

He hasn't ruled out putting his hand up for a senior role sometime in the future, but he is also keenly aware that he has a lot to offer as an assistant coach, a position in the game with a high churn rate. Many assistant coaches move into administrative and managerial positions or leave the industry entirely because of the demands of the role and the limited opportunities for progression.

But through stints at Carlton, St Kilda and Collingwood, Harvey has endured and thrived. He was so well regarded at the Magpies that the club issued a congratulatory media release when he won the role at the Hawks.

"I do enjoy it and particularly being around young guys, getting inside their heads and helping them as much as I can. I really enjoy that," he said.

"I was due for a change to get into a new environment and new people and this is the right group. It's good for me and really, it's what I needed."