The Alex Docherty Column – Out With The Old At Hawthorn?

Over the past week, we’ve managed to kick off the silly season – rumours of clubs chasing players and wacky potential trade deals being mapped out by former players have been the theme so far of what will be another trade period full of it.

As I sit and think about teams that should be active at this time of the year and rattle them off one-by-one, there’s one team that has caught my attention and I am intrigued to know what their movements and involvements will be this off-season.

No, it’s not Carlton. Like many other writers and journalists, the fascination of Carlton making moves last year was talked about by many, and every single one of them got hoodwinked and bamboozled by the state of the club.

I like that they have gone in on George Hewett, he’ll add quite nicely to a midfield group that does look quite handy on paper and if they get their way, they should land both Adam Cerra and Lewis Young as well; players that both bring copious amounts of potential, but everyone knows what they say about potential, right?

I’m not too concerned about the Blues. What I am concerned about is how Adelaide are going to get Jordan Dawson. Whether or not the Bulldogs bring in coverable ruck depth. Whether Fremantle are going to do much other than try and prise young Jordan Clark away from the geriatrics’ home they call Kardinia Park.

This one however brings the most intrigue to me: What will Sam Mitchell do with this Hawthorn list? Will he do anything?

I’ve said a lot of things about the Hawks this year and not nearly enough of it was positive. For at least 75 percent of the season, they were dreadful – fourth in the competition for conceding the most points, 16th in the league for centre clearances and 12th for total clearances, 15th for inside 50s, 17th for shot efficiency and 15th for shots on goal.

In large portions, they were fine in around the contest, but then there were games such as the North Melbourne game in Round Nine where they well and truly had their colours lowered.

Then, of course, there was the succession plan that never was, that would’ve seen Alastair Clarkson hand the reigns over to Sam Mitchell at the end of next year. This received a swift backlash and a whole lot of ‘he said-she said’ between those at the inner sanctum of Hawthorn and Caroline Wilson.

It was a big story in football that in the end, had no clear interpretation other than it resulting in Clarko walking out at the end of this season and the succession plan brought a whole season forward.

Which now leaves us in this position. The Hawks finished 14th with seven wins and two draws this year and by virtue of their finishing position, have the fifth overall selection in the upcoming Draft. Just as well, they also have picks 21 and 24, as well as a few in the fourth round too.

Under Clarko, and especially during the triple-premiership era, the Hawks looked towards the top-end of the draft quite scarcely, often looking at later selections.

Will Day in 2019 and Denver Grainger-Barras last year were the first picks Hawthorn have taken in the first round since 2015, when they selected Ryan Burton, who managed 47 games in the brown and gold before being traded to Port Adelaide as part of the Chad Wingard deal.

Going even further back, they only had one other first round selection from 2010 up until now, and that was in the 2010 draft where they took some unknown cat called Isaac Smith, I think he turned out to be a bit of alright.

In fairness, Hawthorn have had a good track record of later picks turning into gold. Paul Puopolo was a late pick, yet was a triple-premiership player, as was Luke Breust who was a rookie selection and Bradley Hill was a second-round wingman that needed serious developing.

James Sicily was taken at pick 53 in that 2013 draft that yielded players such as Bontempelli, Josh Kelly and Patrick Cripps, whilst Daniel Howe, a second-round selection in 2014, has shown in several games this year that he belongs.

Earlier this year, as we were discussing about the Hawks and their inability to close out games on the A3 Footy Podcast, Alex Miller brought a suggestion to the table that the Hawks should consider trading away one of Jaeger O’Meara and Tom Mitchell to gain more draft capital.

At the time of recording (I think it was after Round Seven we recorded the episode), I thought it was considered a very ballsy thing to say and even the following week, he followed up that the suggestion was met with mixed responses – some liked it and others thought he should’ve been sent to the looney bin sooner.

Well now we’re here, and in a new era for Hawthorn with a fresh face in charge for what feels like the first time in an eternity. Sam Mitchell has the chance to make a statement and start fresh. He commences at the Hawks with a clean slate.

Why wouldn’t he take it? If you can think back to when Alastair Clarkson took over as the new coach at Hawthorn, within his first three off-seasons, he shipped out Nathan Thompson, Jonathan Hay, Nathan Lonie and Peter Everitt and in return he got a fair portion of that young nucleus that helped shape the Hawthorn side that we all have come to know in the years that followed.

Surely Mitchell needs to entertain this idea of shovelling out the older players to give his younger players the chance to grow. Right now as it stands, Tim O’Brien is certain to be linking up with the Western Bulldogs and Jonathan Ceglar looks to be as good as out as well – where he goes is still up in the air.

But others will follow. By the time 2022 comes around, the 30 and over brigade will be Jack Gunston, Luke Breust, Liam Shiels, Ben McEvoy and Kyle Hartigan. Whilst you’ve got Tom Mitchell turning 29 next May, Sam Frost 29 next August, Jaeger O’Meara 28 next February and Chad Wingard 29 next July.

How many of these guys do you see in Hawthorn’s next premiership? You’d be lucky if you’ve got one of them.

It’s with this, the Hawks have got to look at the prospect of trying to flip some of these players for the best possible result. The three best chances of getting good value in return lie within Wingard, Mitchell and O’Meara.

Wingard is out of contract and a free agent next year, whilst the other two will be out of contract the following year, but contracts mean nothing in the off-season anymore and the loyalty shown by the club towards a player and vice versa is scant at best.

Also out of contract next year are Shiels, Frost, McEvoy, Gunston, James Sicily, and Tom Phillips.

McEvoy won’t go anywhere else, especially as captain. Sicily hasn’t played since last year due to injury, but his intercept work, as well as his rebound and drive off the half back line will be crucial their bid to return to finals football and I can’t see Phillips going anywhere, having just been at Hawthorn for five minutes.

Gunston I’d be hesitant to let go either, given just how reliable he’s been in front of goals all this time, but if he is open to playing for another premiership contender like Isaac Smith was last year, when he signed at Geelong, Mitchell could entertain some offers before he walks.

As for Frost, I’m not sure he’ll get much attraction from a fourth club. I don’t think he’s too bad of a player. He works hard, has terrific athletic traits – it’s just he has those moments of indecision that end up costing his team goals sometimes.

Tom Mitchell is such a bloody polarising player. We know he can play some very good football, a brilliant extractor of the ball and possesses a willingness to get from contest to contest with monotonous regularity. There are games where he racks up 20 contested possessions and 12 clearances in a 40-plus possession game.

But he also has these high-30 possession games with not as much sizzle, and that’s where most of the criticism of him comes from. Is it necessary criticism? Perhaps it is, but having said that, he’s still a very good midfielder and for what it’s worth, if the right offer comes to Hawthorn, they should make a deal sooner rather than later.

But that’s the thing? What is he worth in the trade market?

Over the years, the number of calls I’ve made that have been met with the response that people are “thankful I’m not a list manager” is quite expansive. But the truth is everyone has their own opinions and values of certain players. My value of a man like Mitchell will differentiate to the next person, I guarantee it.

Usually, players in that late 20s age bracket, still contracted to the club and have the accolades and the stats to back themselves up as a good player often generate a high asking price. For someone like Mitchell, the starting base becomes at least one first round pick. Then it becomes tricky as clubs will haggle like Graham Chapman and Eric Idle in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Mitchell is probably worth more than a 16 shekels.

Richmond has been the club linked to Mitchell over the past week and the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. They look as if they’ll get Robbie Tarrant from North over the line, and that alone tells you that they’re going to have another tilt at the flag next year.

Richmond have got a fair amount of picks on offer, including their two firsts this year – imagine if Hawthorn got back Richmond’s pick seven in return? If I’m the Hawks, I’d begin negotiations on that, two top-10 selections are golden in modern footy.

Remember, when Mitchell came to the Hawks at the end of 2016, he was worth one first round pick, which eventually turned out to be pick 14. Since then, he’s won a Brownlow Medal as well as multiple All-Australians and multiple Peter Crimmins’ Medal honours.

Perhaps another first rounder wouldn’t sound too crazy, possibly a future first as opposed to another one of Richmond’s picks this year, but If I was the Hawks’ recruiting office, the Tigers’ pick seven is non-negotiable.

Getting good value for the likes of O’Meara and Wingard will be a lot harder to pry out from other clubs for a handful of reasons.

For O’Meara, it’s more to do about his body and his injury history. At Hawthorn, luckily it hasn’t been as bad as it was when he was at the Gold Coast when he missed two consecutive seasons altogether. Despite just six games in 2017, he has since managed to play 72 games out of a possible 85 since.

This year he averaged numbers that were similar to his 2019 year – 26 disposals, five tackles, six clearances and nearly 12 contested possessions per game.

But who’s willing to take the risk on him? Who’s willing to take on his salary? Assuming it’s in the higher-end of scale, there won’t be many teams that willing to take the plunge on someone with a sketchy injury history in the first place and unless the Hawks offer to pay a part of his salary, I can’t see him going anywhere.

As For Wingard, there is no question in regard to his talent and x-factor, however, his consistency has been a bit of a let down for a number of years now. Whilst in fairness to him, he’s played well in quite a few games since last year, the idea of him becoming that All-Australian threat in the forward line from his younger days looks to be beyond him now.

Being a South Australian native, I doubt Port Adelaide would want him back and Adelaide aren’t exactly in the ‘win now’ bracket. I like the idea of West Coast for some reason, but I know they don’t have the capital or the cap space to bring him in.

Same with Sydney, I think he’d fit in well in a side that is steadily building as a premiership contender, but they’ve also got cap issues they need to solve, that’s a massive part of why Hewett and Dawson are leaving in the first place.

I’m not sure he’ll be going anywhere either. However, if a club did decide to enquire about how much you’d give up for him, where would you start?

For me, he’s not worth a first-rounder anymore, and asking for a young upstart or fringe player might sound like too much. If the Hawks could somehow manage to get a second-round pick for him as a starting point, that might not be all too bad, considering that they might get something lower if he decides to walk away via free agency next year.

Hawthorn have got a good young crop for their spine coming through: Jacob Koschitzke and Mitch Lewis have both shown promise, Ned Reeves looks a likely lad in the coming years in the ruck and Denver Grainger-Barras will only get better next year as he enters his second season in the defensive half.

On top of that, they’ve got kids such as Will Day, Tyler Brockman, Dylan Moore, James Worpel (despite a poor year), Jai Newcombe, Lachie Bramble, Jack Scrimshaw, and Changkuoth Jiath as well, all of who I suspect will be features in their next premiership tilt.

I won’t go into the nuts and bolts of the Draft just yet, and trust me, there’s some work already in store for that, but Hawthorn probably should be looking at best available talent with their first pick.

By the time pick five comes into play, it will most likeky be back-peddled into pick seven with the two father-son selections, but there will still be a quality talent to choose from. Josh Gibcus will most likely be there if the Hawks feel like another key defender, or tall utility options like Neil Erasmus, Matthew Johnson or Josh Goater are players I could also see fitting the bill at Hawthorn.

The Hawks ended 2021 on a positive note, only losing one game in their last six matches. But there could still be some dark moments in Sam Mitchell’s debut year as senior coach next year, with the side now in a more-obvious rebuilding phase than where they were two years ago.

However, if they could manage to snaffle another top 25 pick or two from the trade period this year, the light at the end of the tunnel may move into focus that little bit quicker.


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