15/04/2024

Hawthorn recorded victories over Sydney, West Coast and Port Adelaide during its maiden AFLW campaign. (Photo: @hawthornaflw Twitter; Design: Will Cuckson)

Entering the AFLW competition in its inaugural season, a youthful Hawthorn outfit carved out an admirable campaign, offering glimpses of what looms as a promising future for the brown and gold.  

Finishing position: 15th (three wins, seven losses)

What worked?

Ahead of season seven, Hawthorn’s squad comprised 18 players without AFLW experience. Externally, many predicted a tough campaign for the Hawks, especially given the rawness of the playing list in comparison to the rest of the competition.

However, it was this exuberance of youth that proved to be a shining light for Bec Goddard’s side over the course of the season. With many determined to prove themselves on the big stage, Hawthorn profited from the eagerness of its budding playing group to embrace the challenge of AFLW football.

Remarkably, all 30 members of Hawthorn’s inaugural AFLW list featured at some point in the season. This level of squad rotation represents a major positive moving forward, allowing Goddard and her coaching team to gauge which players will likely form part of the club’s ascent up the ladder in the years to come. 

From an on-field perspective, Hawthorn quickly established its reputation as a high-pressure team, committed to a contested brand of football. Statistically, the Hawks ranked fourth for tackles during the home and away season.

Captain Tilly Lucas-Rodd drove standards through the midfield, averaging 17.6 disposals and 8.4 tackles per game. A reflection of her ball-winning capabilities, Lucas-Rodd was Hawthorn’s leading possession winner on seven occasions.

She was ably supported by fellow hard nut Tamara Smith, who thrived in the contest. Smith laid a total of 83 tackles across 10 matches, the fifth-highest across the competition.

The Hawks also demonstrated a willingness to take the game on and put speed on the ball whenever the opportunity presented.

This free-flowing game style suited the attacking flair of Aileen Gilroy, with the former Kangaroo utilising her pace and penetrating kick to launch countless attacks for the Hawks.

Central to this outside run was also Kaitlyn Ashmore. Renowned for her huge engine, Ashmore provided the Hawks with a constant outlet on the wing, using her supreme endurance base to influence games in defence and attack. The 30-year-old’s polish with ball in hand was invaluable too.

Both Kaitlyn Ashmore (left) and Aileen Gilroy (right) proved to be valuable additions to Hawthorn’s inaugural AFLW squad. (Photos: @hawthornaflw – Twitter)

More AFLW Season Reviews

AFLW Season Seven Review: West Coast Eagles

AFLW Season Seven Review: Port Adelaide

AFLW Season Seven Review: Sydney Swans

What didn’t?

Despite often matching opposition teams at the coalface, Hawthorn largely struggled to capitalise on its forward 50 entries, particularly in the first half of the season.

Their lack of efficiency inside 50 culminated in the Hawks being ranked equal 13th for goals kicked in season seven.

Notably, Hawthorn was restricted to a single goal on four occasions throughout the season, leading to heavy defeats against St Kilda, Richmond, Brisbane, and the Western Bulldogs.

A lack of a focal point in the front half proved to be problematic. A season-ending ACL injury sustained by Tamara Luke was a major blow early on, with the 34-year-old key position player able to provide a strong presence in the air when fully fit.

This meant that the Hawks were forced to rely more on swift transition to get out the back of opposition defences. Although this method often served Hawthorn well, Goddard will likely be searching for a more sustainable avenue for scoring moving forward.

On a more humorous note, Lucas-Rodd will be hoping to rectify her misfortune at the coin toss. The Hawthorn skipper failed to win a single coin toss throughout the campaign, with the 26-year-old now boasting a lopsided 0-11 record (including an official practice match).

Breakout stars:

Having invested heavily in the 2022 AFLW draft, Hawthorn oversaw significant growth in some of the most talented youngsters to join the competition in season seven.

Selected with pick two, Jasmine Fleming showcased exactly why she was so highly regarded during her draft year.

Fleming’s burst away from stoppage and class by foot proved to be trademarks of her first AFLW campaign.

The 17-year-old midfielder averaged 14.4 disposals per game and didn’t look out of place against more experienced midfield groups. A Rising Star nomination in Round 5 was a well-deserved reward for effort.

Lucy Wales was another to earn Rising Star recognition, with the young ruck quickly finding her feet at AFLW level. In the absence of Luke, Wales assumed increased responsibilities with aplomb, utilising her ruck craft and aerobic capacity to average 16.8 hit outs and 9.7 disposals across the season.

In the forward half, Tahlia Fellows and Aine McDonagh proved themselves as valuable mature-age recruits.

Fellows’ strength and speed provided the Hawks with a terrific spark inside forward 50. The 22-year-old booted six goals across eight appearances and all signs indicate that she will be a vital cog in Hawthorn’s future plans.

Meanwhile, McDonagh burst onto the AFLW scene upon earning her debut in Round 4. Hailing from Ireland, the 24-year-old exhibited tremendous athleticism and aerial prowess.

She also kicked some crucial late goals during successive victories over West Coast and Port Adelaide.

Highest point:

For any expansion side, the inaugural win is always memorable.

Hawthorn’s was no exception, with the home side clinching a nail-biting four-point victory over fellow newcomers Sydney in Round 5.

Trailing by 20 points at quarter-time, the Hawks were in need of a rev-up from coach Bec Goddard at the first interval.

A stirring comeback followed, with the Hawks booting the next four goals of the match to hang on for a historic win.

The dynamic Fellows was instrumental, slotting three goals in what proved to be a match-winning performance.

A coast-to-coast goal during the third term was also a major highlight, with brilliant link-up play finished off by Gilroy to edge the Hawks in front on the scoreboard.

This triumph over the Swans sparked a three-game win streak, including victories over the Eagles and Power.

Across this stretch, Hawthorn executed some of its best football for the season, providing its supporters with plenty of excitement.

A three-goal haul from the now-retired Jess Duffin against the Eagles drew many plaudits, whilst Lucas-Rodd also celebrated her 50th AFLW game in style with a thrilling win over the Power.

Lowest point:

A 53-point thumping at the hands of St Kilda in Round 2 was a dirty day on multiple fronts.

At the opening bounce, Tamara Luke immediately went down with a knee injury, ending not only her afternoon but also her season.

Things then went from bad to worse minutes later as Louise Stephenson sustained a fractured ankle. With both Luke and Stephenson members of Hawthorn’s leadership group, the pair’s injuries represented a cruel blow to a developing side.

In the short term, the Hawks struggled to assert any dominance over the Saints on the scoreboard, failing to win any quarter despite ultimately gaining the ascendancy at stoppages.

Hawthorn would no doubt have liked to mark its first home game in AFLW history with a more competitive performance.

Where to next?

A common theme shared by coach Bec Goddard during season seven was Hawthorn’s commitment to making progress. With one campaign now under their belt, the Hawks will be looking to continue to build upon the foundations established over the past ten weeks.

Given the club’s success at the draft in acquiring young talent, attention may now shift to adding a few more experienced players to the list. This will help offset the departure of Duffin and complement the overall makeup of the squad.

Nonetheless, all early signs indicate that Hawthorn is on a positive trajectory. There’s no reason to suggest that the Hawks can’t improve their win-loss record next season.

Whether that leads to finals football will be interesting to watch.

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