Hawthorn was never going to idly slip back into the pack after one of the most sustained periods of success in the modern era of drafts and salary caps.
Alastair Clarkson’s team were front and centre of the trade period, with an aggressive approach to revamping its midfield that has polarised opinion outside the club.
No matter what your thoughts are on the Hawks’ moves in the trade period are, one thing is certain – they have got form for getting these things right. Very right.
If we boil down the club’s major moves they dealt Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis for two younger models in Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara.
Cutting out the emotion of the ‘transactions’ that makes business sense.
At the very least it marks a staged succession plan to keep the Hawks relevant as its ageing core begin to bow out.
But at what cost?
Has Hawthorn sold part of its soul to keep its premiership window open for a little while longer?
Here’s my take on the ramifications of Hawthorn’s bold trade period, with a simple for-and-against analysis.
Argument for Hawthorn’s trade moves
The foundation of Hawthorn’s decisions were purely and simply built around regenerating its midfield.
If you take the moves at face value it has moved on two 30-somethings for two of the most promising young midfielders in the competition.
That’s hard to argue with.
Injuries permitting Jaeger O’Meara and Tom Mitchell pose as the heartbeat of the Hawks midfield for the best part of a decade.
Sam Mitchell and Lewis won’t be around that long. In a clouded trade scenario that is one certainty.
Hawthorn was always going to have to give up something pretty significant to free up the salary cap space to bring in its two midfield targets, and the club has shown considerable faith in the incoming players by sacrificing a club legend in Sam Mitchell.
That point should not be underestimated.
Jordan Lewis’ case was slightly different, but after refusing to meet his contract demands the club opened the door for his exit.
While keeping Lewis for another season would have been the ideal scenario, his departure to Melbourne gives the Hawks plenty of wriggle room in next year’s free agency period, when the likes of Nat Fyfe and Dustin Martin could have their heads turned.
That premiership window might just open wider again.
For outsiders the deal to move Sam Mitchell might appear to have been brokered in cold blood, but removing emotion from this sort of decision-making – and instead leaning on calculated risk – offers a higher reward for a club that has made a habit of getting these things right.
Hawthorn know that in 12 months Sam Mitchell could be hanging up his boots.
His move to West Coast has carried a strong whiff of suggestion that season 2017 will be his last before taking up the coaching role in Perth that apparently first endeared him to a move west.
There’s little doubt the Hawthorn hierarchy, and fans, would have loved Sam Mitchell to play his last AFL game in the brown and gold, but if his earlier-than-expected exit has prevented it from slipping back into the pack, it could be viewed as his last parting gift to a club he won four premierships at.
You don’t trade club legends.
You don’t trade club legends that have just gone one-two in the best and fairest.
You don’t trade club legends effectively for rarely-used draft picks.
When Hawthorn made the decision to move Sam Mitchell it knew there would be backlash from some fans.
Sam Mitchell is idolised among the brown and gold faithful – four premierships, five best-and-fairest awards and, possibly, a Brownlow Medal will do that.
Jordan Lewis can’t boast the same amount of personal accolades, but he’s got four premierships too. Just ask Matthew Pavlich how precious that is.
Their exits were cut-throat, especially Sam Mitchell.
Hawks fans didn’t see it coming. Sam Mitchell didn’t see it coming. Sam Mitchell’s team-mates didn’t see it coming.
That has to have wider ramifications.
Hawthorn has done well to stage-manage the situation, with Sam Mitchell declaring himself content with the move. A happy man who knows the time has come to ride west into the sunset.
But what about the fans and his team-mates?
There’s some unease among Hawthorn supporters at this move, but the club has enough credit in the bank that they are prepared to let it fly.
Just what the rest of the squad are thinking, however, would be interesting to know.
What is apparent is that the club has sent out two clear messages.
- They want to be a contender net season.
- Sentimentality will not stand in the way of progress.
The last point must surely linger with every player in the squad.
If a player as important to the club as Sam Mitchell can be tapped on the shoulder and told his time is up, then everyone’s job security is at risk.
When your job security is at risk it is hard to prioritise loyalty quite so highly.
The Hawks can’t let that drift into their squad or the deconstruction of their culture will have begun.
Indeed, Lewis’ exit hinted at that has already happened.
After seeing Sam Mitchell leave he could have been forgiven for wondering why he should feel compelled to wait around for his club-prescribed expiry date.
And he didn’t. He left. Just walked out the door.
It clearly worried the Hawthorn hierarchy as they felt compelled to explain themselves to the fans in a 17-minute video that admitted to a “teary-eyed” goodbye.
It was about the first admission of emotion from the club during the trade period.
Sam Mitchell’s exit had been a calculated gamble, but Lewis’ departure was an unfactored by-product of their clinical thinking.
It’s a valuable lesson, and not just for Hawthorn.
The trade period is not 10 days of transactions. There is a human capital involved with every deal that must be factored in.
Hawthorn traded away a significant part of their culture, for pick 88, and then saw more of it literally walk out the door for the club with the longest premiership drought in the league.
That doesn’t appear a very good valuation.
And if we are to suggest that Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara are the missing factors in that equation then that is a pretty sizeable void for them to fill before they’ve even played a game in the brown and gold.
No pressure then.