Clarko’s cluster flower: Hawks pre-draft

As part of a club-by-club series, we look at Alistair Clarkson trying to put poor Humpty Dumpty together again in 2010.

Hawthorn Hawks Training Session

Live selections: 39, 46, 57, 58, 69
Rookie promotion selections: 70 (Matt Suckling)

The signs were already there on grand final day of 2008, though Hawk fans like me may have chosen not to see them. Celebrating after the siren sounded were Trent Croad on crutches, Clinton Young with a busted ankle, Luke Hodge with chronic soft tissue issues, Lance Franklin with thumb and back problems… not to mention Shane Crawford and Stewart Dew who would never play senior footy again. Add long-lingering injuries this year to Xavier Ellis, Steven Gilham, Robert Campbell and even backups like Garry Moss, and not since the 1990 season had we seen such an injury toll on the previous year’s premiers.

Now that the wreckage has settled, the Hawthorn list is looking rather ragged. Croad is at least nominally the Hawks’ best defender, but there’s no guarantee he’ll ever play again, in the style of the recently-retired Matthew Egan. This leaves the tall defender stocks extremely bare without him, with Gilham as the only genuine option to cover gorillas. Campbell Brown and Thomas Murphy are too small, while Ryan Schoenmakers and Jordan Lisle need at least another offseason after this one in the gym to pump iron into their muscles. Beau Dowler and Grant Birchall, while arguably big enough and experienced enough, have shown that their defensive skills are lacking when playing on genuine talls. Thus the increasingly frantic talk among Hawk fans about pulling the emergency cord and wasting multiple draft picks trying to plug the gaping hole. Everyone from Matt Maguire to Nathan Carroll to mature-age smokies from the SANFL like Michael Coad of Sturt has been canvassed.

The retirement of Campbell due to persistent injury also leaves another weeping wound in the depth charts. Neither Brent Renouf or Simon Taylor are ready to take on #1 ruck duties, and they had been struggling as #2s behind Campbell to this point. I suppose it could be argued that Carlton’s midfield seemed to do alright this year without any sort of decent ruckman at all, but they didn’t get very far in the finals when facing Mitch Clark, did they?

All of this makes me wonder about the Hawthorn hierarchy’s strategy in trade week. Instead of going after a tall – any tall – their main target was Shaun Burgoyne, an aging midfielder with questionable injury and attitudinal history. He is a fine player, don’t get me wrong, but what happened to drafting for need? Then when it came to searching for replacements for their missing pieces of the fabled perfect structure, they get an undersized reject from North Melbourne in Josh Gibson who spent much of this year tagging in midfield, and another North alumnus whose injury history is legendary in Jesse W. Smith. Left on the trade table with no interest at all from Hawthorn FC were Darren Jolly, Shane Mumford and Mark Seaby.

In addition to this chicanery, tomfoolery and malfeasance, the Hawks not only gave up sharpshooter Mark Williams as part of the Burgoyne trade, they lost Ben McGlynn and favourite son Josh P. Kennedy for next to nix. Their first live national draft pick is in the third round, for Hudson’s sake. This is a sorry state of affairs.

No wonder the fans (and recruiters) have been scouring the lower leagues for smokies. I know the Australian Football League is becoming faster and more athletic, but too many teams are downsizing their list with not enough 190cm+ blokes. This is a high-risk strategy by Alastair Clarkson – admittedly one he was forced into in some ways, but one that leaves no room for mediocrity by his new boys.

Right, rant over. Now for the fantasy perspective. Hawthorn kids were in a lot of fantasy squads last year but should have been even more popular than they were, with Dowler, Brendan Whitecross and Garry Moss creeping up on most of us unawares as insanely good rookie cash cows. You might think there’s not much in the well to go back to this year, but there’s usually value to be found in the first year that a senior player moves clubs – think Brad Symes, Martin Mattner and Farren Ray. Perhaps the fact that all three of those are halfback rebounders might tell you something about Gibson and/or Smith. Keep an eye on Lisle, too, who will be rookie-priced but could be a Nathan Grima type. Whoever Clarkson and Chris Pelchen pluck out of obscurity, particularly if it’s Coad, should also be looked at very seriously.

Finally, the departure of Williams and Mitch Thorp leaves a hole at third tall forward. You’d probably expect a combination of existing mid-priced players to fill that with not much fantasy impact, though a draftee could still come through in the late stages, particularly a mature-ager.


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