This year: 17 wins, 5 losses, 154.59 percentage. Finals record: 2 wins, 1 loss
This year's grade: A
Positives from this year: Despite an ultimately heart-breaking Grand Final defeat to Sydney, Hawthorn can take plenty of positives from season 2012. After a typically slow start to the season, a 62-point thumping at the hands of Richmond in Round 9 proved season-defining for Alastair Clarkson's men. They won 14 of their next 15 matches, averaging 133 points per game in the process.
Granted, the likes of Greater Western Sydney, Brisbane, Western Bulldogs, Essendon and Port Adelaide were cannon fodder for the Hawks but superb wins over Collingwood and Sydney proved they were not purely flat-track bullies. In that period, Hawthorn played brilliant, exciting and free-flowing football with their precise kicking game the envy of the competition. The club's bevy of left-footers – Matthew Suckling, Brent Guerra, Grant Birchall, Josh Gibson and Clinton Young to name a few – ensured the delivery into the forward line was terrific at all times.
Despite missing six games due to a hamstring injury, Lance Franklin (69 goals) was the main beneficiary while Luke Breust (45), Jarryd Roughead (41), Cyril Rioli and Jack Gunston (39 each) all enjoyed impressive seasons in the forward 50.
Franklin and Rioli were rewarded with All-Australian selection, as was Birchall, who averaged 23 disposals per game across the half-back line. Gibson and Sam Mitchell oddly missed out on the team but were both terrific contributors for Hawthorn across the season. Gibson – who was recruited from North Melbourne at the end of the 2009 season – was instrumental in several wins and will go close to winning the club's best-and-fairest award.
The former Kangaroo's main rival for the Peter Crimmins Medal is likely to be Mitchell, who made a mockery of his non-selection in the All-Australian team by finishing equal second in the 2012 Brownlow Medal, polling 26 votes. Mitchell – who was second in the 2011 count also – averaged 27 disposals per game and six tackles. Another tough midfielder, Brad Sewell, also enjoyed a terrific season and if the Hawks had beaten Sydney in the season finale, his match would have been crucial. The 28-year-old won 33 disposals, 19 of which were contested, and made 11 tackles in a performance typical of his season.
The continued development of the club's youngsters will also have pleased Clarkson. Liam Shiels (64 career games), Ryan Schoenmakers (60), Suckling (54), Ben Stratton (52), Shane Savage, Paul Puopolo and Breust (all 41), Isaac Smith (38) and Gunston (33) were all first-team regulars and played in the grand final. They showed terrific signs of improvement throughout the year and will give Hawks fans plenty of hope. Not one player who featured in the 10-point loss to the Swans was 30 or above, while Hawthorn's opponents had five.
Negatives from this year: The failure to convert a brilliant home-and-away season into a premiership win will linger with Hawthorn's players and supporters all summer. Despite conceding eight goals in a row during a horror stretch in the second and third quarters, the Hawks produced a stunning comeback to lead by 12 points in the final term. They should not have lost from that point of the match but did.
They carried far too many passengers in the grand final – Puopolo, Gibson, Rioli, Roughead, Birchall and Suckling were all below-par – and failed to convert their dominance of key statistics (Hawthorn owned the centre clearances, inside 50's and hitouts) into victory.
Another reason for Hawthorn's failure to win their 11th premiership was poor kicking for goal. They booted 11.15 – missing several gettable shots – and the more efficient Swans made them pay. The problem was not restricted to the grand final though as they kicked 382 behinds for the season. Only Geelong (357) got near them in that statistic. While Franklin may be the most exciting player in the competition, his conversion rate – he kicked 69.64 for the season – needs to be improved.
The Hawks again started the season slowly, winning just twice in their first five matches of the season. In the past four years, they have triumphed in only eight of a possible 20 fixtures up to Round 5. That makes qualifying for the top four difficult and Clarkson will look to improve on that shabby record in season 2013.
The club's failure to beat Geelong, again, was also a negative. Since the 2008 grand final – in which the Hawks stunned the Cats in a 26-point upset – the Simonds Stadium outfit have won all nine matches by an average of nine points. Both 2012 clashes were won by Chris Scott's side by two points, with Tom Hawkins' after-the-siren goal in Round 19 giving the Hawks a particularly deflating loss. Given the rivalry, intrigue and big crowd gates for the fixture, it is likely to be scheduled twice a year for the foreseeable future. And for that reason alone, Hawthorn must learn to defeat Geelong, as automatically being 0-2 down in a season heaps pressure on the players to achieve the lofty ambitions set by the club and fans.
Likely departures: Midfielders Cameron Bruce and Chance Bateman have retired, while Clinton Young, Tom Murphy and Michael Osborne are all unrestricted free agents. Osborne is on the mend from a season-ending knee injury and will not be the subject of interest from other clubs but Young and Murphy are sure to attract rival suitors.
After a patchy period from 2009 to 2011 – in which he only played 32 games – Young rediscovered his best form in 2012, playing 20 games and averaging 18 disposals per game. Murphy was dropped for the grand final and is good enough to get a game every week at several other clubs. His hardness and commitment are highly regarded at Hawthorn but he remains on the periphery when everyone is fit, which may entice him elsewhere.
Ruckmen Luke Lowden and Sam Grimley will be 22 by the time next season starts and without an AFL game under their belt, which may see their position on the list brought into question. Kyle Cheney may also be under scrutiny while Xavier Ellis could be trade bait.
Type of players needed:
While Schoenmakers improved in 2012, he still struggled against the competition's power forwards, such as Geelong's Tom Hawkins and Collingwood's Travis Cloke on occasions. Hawthorn's need for a big-bodied defender has been evident for several seasons, yet a suitable player has not arrived through the doors. That could be for many reasons, whether it is because key defenders do not grow on trees or because Clarkson and his fellow coaches feel their side can play 'team defence', with the likes of Gibson and Birchall playing as a 'third man up'. Port Adelaide's Troy Chaplin seems headed for Richmond but would be a smart acquisition, while a quick outside midfielder could also fit the bill for the Hawks.
With nine of the team who played in the grand final having played 64 games or less, the Hawks have plenty of upside. As that group gets more experienced, hardened and used to the rigours of AFL football, the better Hawthorn will become.
Of the club's best players – Franklin, Mitchell, Sewell, Hodge, Gibson, Roughead, Rioli and Burgoyne - not one player is near the end of his career. Mitchell and Burgoyne will turn 30 later this month while the other six are aged between 23 and 28. That means many of that group are in the prime of their career and more good football should be expected.
Injury prone ruckman Max Bailey has managed just 24 matches since being drafted in 2005 but the Hawks still have high hopes for him. Bailey played just twice in 2012 but if he can get fit, could improve Hawthorn's ruck stocks.
Finals in 2013: The Hawks should qualify for the top eight next season in comfortable fashion, with a top-four finish undoubtedly the club's aim. With a grand final defeat fresh in the minds of the players, determination and focus will not be an issue. Hawthorn would love to atone for their slip-up with another grand final success and they are just as likely as anyone to do that.