Clarko slams ‘compromised’ draft as rebuild looms
Hawthorn's embarrassing loss to a previous winless Adelaide signalled a serious rebuild is the best way forward for the most successful club of the modern era.
That might be unpalatable for coach Alastair Clarkon and president Jeff Kennett - two competitive beasts whose will-to-win mantras course through their veins - but it looks the only way for this proud footy club to again put itself in the premiership frame.
It won't be easy or swift - given the compromised nature of the 2020 draft - but tough decisions must be made in order to rebalance this Hawks' list.
If there was any doubts beforehand, Tuesday night's loss to the Crows surely closed any further debate, even if Clarko forecast the club might look at some left-field alternatives, given the number of academy compromises in this year's national draft.
"When people say 'why don't you just rebuild and go to the draft' - you can't go to the draft, it's so compromised," Clarkson said.
"You have to do it with other mechanisms like free agency and the depth of your rookie list.
Kayo is your ticket to the 2020 Toyota AFL Premiership Season. Watch every match of every round Live & On-Demand. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
"What is frustrating for coaches and clubs and general managers of footy, there's not a pure draft anymore.
"The draft is so compromised with father/sons, academies, it's a bugbear of mine for instance in this talk of Queensland getting the grand final and wouldn't it be great for the code up there … there are two clubs up there that get the whole state in terms of access to junior talent.
"A national competition that is meant to have equality there are so many compromises, GWS and Sydney share the whole state of NSW and the talent that come in that state.
"So when there is that compromise in a national competition it makes it very difficult to find the talent necessary to give you a good chance.
"Gold Coast has access to parts of the NT as well so any Aboriginal talent like Cyril Rioli is going to go to the Gold Coast system
"That is going to make it enormously difficult for clubs like a North Melbourne, like us who find ourselves in the bottom part of the ladder to find a path back is difficult, it sounds like I'm sooking but for the club we've been a strong club for a period of time and we will bounce but it makes it difficult given the compromised nature of the draft."
Hawthorn has won four matches so far this season - and only once since heading into an interstate hub.
Even allowing for the abbreviated COVID-19 season, that ranks as the lowest number from any of Clarkson's seasons - the previous lowest was five in 2005 - with tough games to come against St Kilda, Western Bulldogs and Gold Coast.
Clarkson said of the club's plight: "We're quite realistic. There's a couple of clubs sitting 15th and 16th who have been great clubs in recent history and that's Sydney and Hawthorn. That's part of the game. This year has perhaps fast tracked our views about where our next piece of silverware is coming from."
"While we're disappointed in where we are, it's a mountain we're willing to climb."
Clarko is contracted until the end of 2021 and no one would ever doubt his motivation, drive or capacity to turn this thing around.
He used the national draft and later canny trading as the catalyst for four flags in the space of eight seasons, the last coming in 2015.
He can do it again, but he needs time and he needs to make some tough calls - and fast.
AGE OF REASON
Hawthorn fielded the equal-oldest side in 123 years against the Cats earlier this season when its average age per player (28.21 years) tied with Richmond's team from Round 15, 1923, according to Champion Data.
And if it hadn't been for Paul Puopolo's late withdrawal the following week, it would have held the record outright.
Having added another three mature age trades ahead of 2020, the Hawks clearly thought they were still in the finals window more than others believed.
Now they have no choice but to make hard calls on some of the club's most experienced warriors.
We'd all love to see Shaun Burgoyne play his 400th game next year. He's been an ornament to the game and an absolute jet.
But given he will turn 38 next month, he won't be a part of the Hawks' next flag, as Jonathan Brown acknowledged on Fox Footy on Tuesday night.
Let Burgoyne play out the rest of the season then slot him into an important off-field coaching role where the man affectionately known as 'Silk' can help guide and direct the club long into the future.
Decisions will have to be made on thirty-somethings Puopolo, James Frawley and Ben Stratton - players who will forever be feted as premiership stars, but are under pressure to remain in 2021.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
No club in recent years has used the trade period as ferociously as Hawthorn with plenty of examples of success and only a couple of busts.
Mostly that has been about players coming to Waverley.
Maybe there is the chance to do it the other way this time around and offer up a player with serious currency in order to buy back into the draft.
In an ideal world, the Hawks would never give up the likes of Jack Gunston or Luke Breust.
Clarkson would be reluctant to trade either of the triple premiership forwards, given their importance to the structure of the team and their popularity at the club.
But what would an opposition team contending for a flag next year give up for the talent of Gunston or Breust.
It's worth asking the question.
Isaac Smith has a decision to make, too. He was courted by the Bulldogs last year before opting to stay, but will he exercise his free agency options now or seek to remain a one-club player?
It's time for Clarko to fall back in love with the draft again.
Admittedly, this is going to be a hell of a lot harder than it was back in 2004 when he and the Hawks cherrypicked Buddy Franklin, Jarryd Roughead and Jordan Lewis among the first seven picks. That proved part of the catalyst for the Hawks' golden era.
Drafting looks a lot different and far more complicated in 2020.
This national draft will be one of the most compromised in history, and you could hear Clarko's frustration about the academies boil over in his post-game presser.
Still, the Hawks need to somehow work their way into a solid draft hand and do their best.
Across the past decade, the Hawks have selected only four players using first-round picks: Smith (Pick 19, 2010), Ryan Burton (Pick 19, 2015 and now at Port Adelaide), Kieran Lovell (Pick 22, 2015) and Will Day (Pick 13, 2020).
The last time the Hawks used a top-10 pick was 2006 (Mitch Thorp, Pick 6).
That will change this year as they eye off a high first-round pick plus a second, two thirds, two fourths and a fifth.
They have to make them work, despite the difficulties.
PLAY THE KIDS
Hawks superstar Dermott Brereton couldn't have been clearer with his message on Fox Footy as the Crows' match slipped away.
It's "time to start playing the kids", Brereton implored.
Hawthorn brought back a raft of senior players for Tuesday night's game including Burgoyne, Stratton, Frawley and Jarman Impey, in an effort to hold off the Crows.
That was understandable, given the high stakes. But not even that experience could get them over the line.
Clarkson said: "You can't throw 10 or 12 kids in straight away. We'll do it bit by bit as they're ready, and able to deal with the emotional loads of the game. Then hopefully they'll go on to become stalwarts."
Now the season is officially over, Brereton would love Clarkson to pump up for the younger players in the remaining three matches.
It's time to find out as much as we can about the kids and whether they can cut the mustard in 2021 and beyond.
IF THE CAP FITS
The Hawks have to make a decision on Stratton's playing future so it goes without saying that a new skipper might be required next year.
Time to make Jaeger O'Meara captain.
Yes, O'Meara has been plagued by injury throughout his career, but he is a genuine leader and should take over next season.
He is still only 26 and can lead the next wave of Hawks deep into the future.
Originally published as Clarko slams 'compromised' draft as rebuild looms