A straight-sets finals exit was a disappointing result
Photo Source: AAP
It's hard enough winning one grand final – just ask the Bulldogs – let alone four in four years, so Hawthorn were always going to be up against it in 2016 as they aimed to become only the second side to win four consecutive VFL/AFL flags.
Their season got off to a shaky start with a string of come-from-behind, hard-fought wins showing the club's resolve but also suggesting the gap between the Hawks and the rest of the competition had narrowed significantly. Still, by July Hawthorn were sitting clear on top of the ladder and that fourth premiership was looking a little more likely.
The Hawks, however, finished the home and away season the way they started it: unconvincingly. They lost two of their last four games – their final win was by one point over Collingwood and secured the double chance – and Hawthorn entered September looking far less fearsome than they had in previous years. A straight-sets final exit was a disappointing end to their season, and players and fans must still be wondering how different things could have been had Isaac Smith nailed his shot at goal after the siren to beat Geelong in that thrilling qualifying final.
Cyril Rioli had another sensational year, kicking a career-best 47 goals, and Sam Mitchell was excellent, while a handful of youngsters worked hard to impose themselves in a Hawks line-up undergoing something of a transition. It was devastating to hear in May that Jarryd Roughead's melanoma had returned and spread. As coach Alastair Clarkson said after their qualifying final loss to Geelong: "We'd rather finish 18th just to have Jarryd Roughead's health back again."
Six games that shaped Hawthorn's season
Round 3: Hawthorn 14.9 (93) d Bulldogs 13.12 (90)
Young forward James Sicily was the star of the first of the Hawks' many nailbiting wins, booting three last-quarter goals, including the winner from 50 out with a minute left on the clock. Hawthorn opened up a five-goal lead early in the second term but started the final quarter 19 points behind. The Bulldogs smashed them in the third, playing a physical brand of footy too tough for even the hard-as Hawks. The reigning premiers dug deep, however, and booted seven goals to three in the final quarter to clinch the win. Ben Stratton was terrific on Jake Stringer, while Grant Birchall, Smith and Mitchell all played large roles in the victory.
Video - c2aXhwMjE6NnMTk-dtk3CsaoofqDbx9o
Round 5: Hawthorn 17.10 (112) d Adelaide 17.7 (109)
The Hawks staged another remarkable final-quarter comeback to notch their third consecutive three-point victory, this one sealed by Paul Puopolo with one minute remaining. After stealing wins against the Dogs and Saints in rounds three and four, Hawthorn again found something when they seemed down and out. Luke Brown had put the Crows 15 points up at the 18-minute mark of the final term, but the Hawks kicked the last three goals of the game to run out unlikely winners. Puopolo was huge, kicking five goals – including two of those final three – and Cyril Rioli chipped in with four. Clarkson said post-game that his side was lucky to win, and though they were still coming away with the four points, there was a growing sense that last year's premiers were just hanging on.
Video - EweWcxMzE6bWlfnZIzAjQ4Fyb5mTF31Y
Round 6: GWS 24.14 (158) d Hawthorn 12.11 (83)
Clarkson's side looked seriously off the pace as the Giants dealt the Hawks one of their worst losses in years. GWS had almost 100 more disposals than their opponents and easily won the contested possessions, clearances and tackle count. Steve Johnson, who terrorised Hawthorn during their years as Geelong's bunnies, kicked five first-half goals in his new colours as the Hawks found themselves in the unfamiliar position of seven goals down at half-time. From there things only got worse, the Giants kicking 11 goals to six in the second half. Jack Gunston kicked five goals and Luke Bruest three, and Birchall battled all day, but an uncharacteristically high number of Hawthorn players turned in performances to forget.
Video - luc3A3MzE6Axk6JaHFXzzWThZ8Y9KIeI
Round 18: Hawthorn 16.18 (114) d Richmond 5.14 (44)
The Hawks' campaign for a fourth consecutive premiership never looked in better shape than after their 70-point thumping of the Tigers in Mitchell's 300th game. The bitterly cold conditions meant it wasn't always pretty – Hawthorn kicked 4.11 to half-time – and Richmond were theoretically still in the game until goals to Jack Gunston and Cyril Rioli late in the third quarter opened things up, but it seemed the Hawks were finally starting to build some momentum heading into the business end of the season. Mitchell was best on ground in his milestone game, ably supported by Bradley Hill and Jordan Lewis, who both racked up 30-plus touches.
Video - Zub3B3NDE6mhv9ljST50DXdl6hdRmBvv
Round 23: Hawthorn 17.10 (112) d Collingwood 17.9 (111)
The reigning premiers triumphed in yet another thriller to secure third spot on the ladder and give their finals tilt a massive boost with the double chance. The Hawks' experience and tenacity again got them over the line when all seemed lost. Reserve ruckman Jack Fitzpatrick, playing his first game for Hawthorn after six years at Melbourne, kicked a massive running goal from inside the centre square at the 27-minute mark of the final quarter to level the scores, before Paul Puopolo forced through a behind with one minute on the clock to put his side in front. The Hawks lifted after a poor first half and took a two-goal lead into three-quarter time, but the Magpies had looked like causing a massive upset with four consecutive goals in a 10-minute burst late in the last.
Video - Zub3B3NDE6mhv9ljST50DXdl6hdRmBvv
Qualifying final: Geelong 12.13 (85) d Hawthorn 12.11 (83)
It was the Bulldogs who knocked the Hawks out of the finals, but this is the loss that will really hurt supporters. Another pulsating encounter with the Cats went down to the wire, Smith marking inside 50 as Hawthorn trailed by three points with seconds to go. His very gettable kick after the siren drifted wide, letting arch-rivals Geelong off the hook and condemning the Hawks to a semi-final against the Dogs. The lead changed four times in the thrilling final term, with Hwthorn unable to shake off the Cats despite getting out to a 17-point lead midway through the third quarter.
Video - dqaGhzNTE6j-lOW0OzeQjqimNHx7ZeNV
Can the Hawks return to the top in 2017? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Follow SportsFan on Twitter: @sportsfan_live
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of SportsFan.