Hawthorn had a rollercoaster of a season in 2021, as the young Hawks lingered in the bottom four for most of the season before a late-season surge.
Opening the season with a stirring come from behind win over rivals Essendon at Marvel Stadium but would struggle thereafter only winning just two games in the first half of the season.
The Hawks would then storm home losing just once after Round 18. With Alastair Clarkson departing at the end of the season the legendary coach would go out on a high.
Wins over top eight sides Brisbane Lions, GWS, Sydney and the Western Bulldogs would also be highlights from a mixed bag season.
The change of style in the back end of the season paid off, holding the top of the ladder Demons to a draw and scalping the Bulldogs and Lions in Launceston.
The Hawks transitioned to a defensive style of football which suited a young side that was getting exposed against the better teams of the competition.
The use of Jacob Koschitzke as a key forward in the absence of Jack Gunston also worked well, being the second-highest goal scorer at the club with 27 goals.
The Hawks’ ability to keep its best defenders on the park proved to be problematic throughout the season, with the backline coming under fire multiple times in 2021.
James Sicily wasn’t expected to recover from last year’s injury and run out in 2021, but the Hawks lost more valuable defenders as the season wore on.
Changkuoth Jiath’s knee injury over Fremantle ended his season while both Jarman Impey and Will Day succumbed to ankle injuries.
The coaching succession plan would also prove to be a bust, with the club scrapping it just one month after they officially established a handover process between Clarkson and Mitchell.
With growing frustrations from the playing group over a clear game plan with the two coaches simultaneously implementing their own ideas, the club ultimately decided to end Clarkson’s rein at the end of the season.
Tom Mitchell is once again a front runner for Hawthorn’s best and fairest, with the midfielder in contention to earn his third Peter Crimmins Medal.
The leading ball winner of the competition, Mitchell was the general of the Hawks midfield, averaging 34 disposals a game while being the second leading clearance winner for the Hawks.
With 754 total possession for the season, Mitchell broke the AFL record, becoming the only player in AFL history to record 750 disposals or more in three seasons.
Fellow midfielder Jaeger O’Meara was also impressive, averaging career-best stats. He’d average 26 disposals a game while leading the clearances for the Hawks.
Chad Wingard put in his best season as a Hawk, rotating through the midfield and forward line. Though only kicking 12 goals for the season, he was a spark for the side in creating scoring opportunities, especially during the first half of the season when the team struggled.
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A major highlight for the Hawks was the form of its young players they blooded.
The aforementioned Jacob Koschitzke was pivotal up forward, while both Changkuoth Jiath and Dylan Moore shone with breakout seasons in the brown and gold.
First-year players Jai Newcombe, Lachlan Bramble, and Tyler Brockman all turned in several encouraging performances throughout the season to leave Hawthorn fans excited about the future.
By far the side’s worst performance of the season came in Round Seven against the Saints.
Scoreless in the opening term and down by four goals, the Hawks day wouldn’t get any better thereafter eventually going down by 69 points, their heaviest defeat of the season.
It would be Jack Gunston’s only appearance for the season in which he looked underdone coming back from a back injury and wouldn’t feature again for the rest of the season.
Defender Michael Hartley has managed just five games for the Hawks across two seasons, and despite injuries to multiple Hawks defence still couldn’t break into the side.
With Tim O’Brien now settling down back and Denver Grainger-Barras developing, 2021 looks to be Hartley’s last as a Hawk.
Keegan Brooksby is also facing a nervous wait to see if he will be retained next season. With Ben McEvoy and Jonathon Ceglar the preferred ruck options and Ned Reeves emerging in the wings, it’s unlikely the big man will be offered a new deal.
Number one off-season priority?
If season 2021 is anything to go by, the Hawks appear committed to playing the kids hence they’d need to make sure they recruit smartly in the upcoming draft.
With the midfield struggling at times to influence the game, a particular player the Hawks should look to target in the draft is a big-bodied midfielder that can be a bull and dominate out of the centre.
The Hawks seemed on the brink of disaster winning just two games by the midway point of the season but saved themselves with their last month of football.
Though with Sam Mitchell now in charge the jury will be out on whether the side can build on that momentum next year in his first season as the senior coach.
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