It’s January 4th, I’m bored and hanging out for the football season to start. I thought I would peer into my crystal ball and make a few predictions for Hawthorn in 2018.
1) Conor Glass will be referred to as the next Dane Rampe
Trends in the game have moved away from traditional forward set ups. Where teams would once play two or sometimes three big forwards, now set ups are based on having one big, mobile forward complemented by defensive-minded smalls with the role of creating second chance goals. These small forwards also apply defensive pressure which stifles the opposition’s ability to rebound. A logical response would be to play someone more mobile in the second key defensive role; a player who shows real pace on the rebound, much in the manner that Sydney has done with Dane Rampe. Glass showed dexterity in contested duels in the match against Carlton late last year when pitted against the much bigger Charlie Curnow. Add this to his jet propelled pace and underrated foot skills and he would be ideal.
2) Leadership will be the difference between playing finals and missing finals
The last two years have seen major changes at the club, particularly with the loss of on-field leaders. The absence of Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis was a huge factor in 2017. This coincided with a change in captaincy from the ‘General’ Luke Hodge to Jarryd Roughead (who was returning from an 18 month layoff due to a cancer battle) and the appointment of Isaac Smith and Liam Shiels as Vice Captains. The new leadership group was largely uninspiring throughout 2017 and at times was found lacking. It stood out that Hodge was still the prominent leadership figure on the ground. Now that he has left, his absence will now place a huge focus on the nominated leaders at the club as well as the youth who will be exposed to more pressure without Hodge’s shielding and guidance.
3) Grant Birchall will remind us all of his importance
It is hard not to see a striking resemblance between Grant Birchall and the immortal Michael Tuck. Both are ‘evergreen’ performers who never play a bad game and who have a huge effect on their team mates through the pressure they take off them and their immense leadership qualities. Birchall’s absence for large parts of last year brought back memories of the effect Tuck’s absence had on the ‘85 season where he missed many games due to a detached retina. In fact, the club missed a real opportunity by not appointing Birchall as captain after Hodge relinquished the role. I have no doubt he would have also emulated Tuck in this regard.
4) James Sicily will struggle with the extra attention from oppositions
Sicily put a real target on his back in 2017. He was a stand out in playing the role of loose man in defence with his high skills in intercept marking, finding space in traffic and kicking. It was no coincidence that the turnaround in the team’s fortunes coincided with him being played in the role that legend Josh Gibson was so prominent in before he was injured. Sicily was aided in this defensive role by Jack Gunston, who rode shot gun as the second loose man in defence. Playing Gunston in defence is unlikely to continue in 2018 due to the effect it had on the team’s fortunes in attack, which will likely bring greater focus on Sicily. The loss of Hodge’s organisational skills and calming influence in defence also looms large, particularly with questions over Sicily’s temperament which was there for all to see when he was marked tight and niggled late in the season against Carlton. These losses will be offset by the return of experienced defenders Grant Birchall, James Frawley and Ben Stratton, returning after missing large chunks of 2017. A huge season lies ahead for the new number 6 for Hawthorn and how he fares will be a large factor in how the team goes.
5) Kieran Lovell will be the club’s rising star in 2018
I love this young midfielder. His recruitment is in keeping with the club’s focus on natural footballers. Lovell just knows where to go to get the footy and is very capable in possession. His ability in tight complements his outside potential due to his pace. He is just what the midfield, that was at times lacking throughout 2017, needs. He can kick a goal as well!
6) Media headlines will focus on Jaeger O’Meara
If I close my eyes I can picture the press headlines now. The first half of the season will have the press questioning Hawthorn’s wisdom in procuring O’Meara from the Suns in the costly trade deal that saw them offload draft picks to other clubs. Perhaps these news articles will compare O’Meara to players of the past who were heavily recruited at a high cost and struggled to live up to their price tag, such as John Pitura (recruited from South Melbourne to Richmond in 1975). The latter part of season 2018, however should see the headlines sprouting something like, “The second coming of Jaeger O’Meara” as I can see O’Meara starting the season slowly, but finishing it strong. He will no doubt rise to become one of the best in the AFL.
7) Speed will kill
The club’s lack of speed on the outside was key to its struggles in 2017. The loss of Brad Hill after 2016 was a huge factor in this with the club investing faith in Billy Hartung to pick up the slack. The fact that Hartung is no longer at the club shows how well this went! The recruitment of Jarman Impey from Port Adelaide will help – but is it enough? I would suggest no, and it will be decisive in the club missing the finals once more in 2018.
8) Tom Lynch will announce that he wants to leave the Gold Coast Suns to join Hawthorn
The rub here is Lynch is a restricted free agent after 2018. This allows the Gold Coast to match any contract offered to him from a rival club and force them into trading for him. You know they will do this for losing him is unfathomable and will be the final nail in the club’s coffin. Also, every club will want Lynch meaning the price tag will be HUGE. He would be the perfect fit for the Hawks but who would the Suns be willing to take in return and just as importantly, who would we be willing to offer?