If 2018 was about squeezing the last vestiges of juice out of the golden era, 2019 was about acknowledging those days weren’t coming back, and that preparation for a new era had to begin.
In 2019 there was a Brownlow sized hole in the midfield. Paul Puopolo, Jack Gunston and Luke Bruest could no longer cover the crack in the Hawthorn forward line. And the defence, which when the Hawks had at their best had always felt a little like a child seat in a Ferrari (functional, but maybe not quite fitting) suddenly had to step up.
In the season preview we though the Hawks would be watching the final from the outside and ninth feels like a fitting position to end. They won games they should have lost, lost many they should have won, and ended up smack bang where everyone thought they would. It was depressingly predictable.
Winning six of the last eight would put many in the mindset that 2020 is trending up. Many of false dawn has been predicted from late season victories against sides looking over their opposition’s shoulder deep into September.
Hoping for Hawthorn to be that successful in 2020 feels a stretch, but it’s undoubtable that things seem on the improve. They’ve begun to build for tomorrow rather than trying to patch up a rapidly collapsing bandwagon. The focus for the first time in years is on tomorrow.
What Went Right?
At a team level Hawthorn were consistently inconsistent. They were a flawed side, missing their best players and desperately trying combinations that worked.
What resulted was some very good victories. They beat the Giants twice, once in the Canberran snow. Victories over the Magpies and Cats book-ended their best period of the season.
In the meantime they learned that Mitch Lewis could be the solution to their problems up front. James Worpel and Jaeger O’Meara provided a good reason to think the midfield could join the competition’s elite assuming Tom Mitchell returns to his best in 2020. And with James Sicily continuing to improve at the back, the Hawks have the spine of an excellent side in place. It’s something they can build on.
What Went Wrong?
But when you’re struggling for combinations and talent, there’s bound to be mishaps. The Hawks struggled early, losing to St Kilda and Melbourne before the season even really got rolling. They managed to get to the week 12 bye at 5-6, then dropped the next three to make that mountain towards the finals nearly impossible to climb. Losses to Sydney and North in addition to the aforementioned games with the Saints and the Demons revealed a side that hadn’t worked out how to be its best on a regular basis.
Of course the Tom Mitchell injury was a massive part of that. It was equally sad to see Jarman Impey go down just after he started to establish himself. Chad Wingard never really found his feet, and you’d hope it gets better in 2020.
The major problem was the Hawks never really worked out how to score, which you know, is kinda important. They only cracked 100 in the last two rounds of the season, and one of those was against Gold Coast. Jack Gunston only managed 26 goals across the season, and half of them came in three games. Paul Puopolo only managed 10, down from 34 in 2016 and 20 in 2018. Jarryd Roughead only played sparingly in the top grade.
Beating Collingwood was just fun but putting a cat amongst the pigeons in the last round by thumping the Eagles was peak comedy and was my favourite win of the year.
Jaeger O’Meara, James Worpel and Ricky Henderson also deserve mention here. Mitch Lewis end to the season will give even the most sceptical fan heart. But for me James Sicily was the standout performer, showing he’s an excellent and fundamental part of the Hawks defence.