It has never been clearer that Hawthorn is Sam Mitchell’s team.

In an extraordinary final half hour before the trade period deadline, the two midfield stars the Hawks targeted under Alastair Clarkson’s coaching – Jaeger O’Meara and Tom Mitchell – were shipped to rivals.

O’Meara is headed home to Western Australia to play for Fremantle, while Mitchell became a Magpie – and Jack Gunston already left for Brisbane.

They were supposed to lead the post-threepeat era and help Hawthorn defy the AFL’s equalisation methods but the club barely made it out of mediocrity in Clarkson’s final seasons.

Mitchell departs with a Brownlow Medal and two All-Australian blazers but he and O’Meara played in the finals only once in six seasons in brown and gold.

There was no greater sign of the generational shift at Waverley Park than the fact Cooper Stephens, a 21-year-old midfielder who was Geelong’s No.16 pick in the 2019 draft, was the main return for Mitchell.

Lloyd Meek, a lightly played but promising 24-year-old ruckman, was part of the compensation for O’Meara.

Both Mitchell and O’Meara spent increasing time out of the centre playing up forward in coach Mitchell’s first year in charge as the likes of Jai Newcombe and top-10 draftee Josh Ward gobbled up extra opportunity.

There was also an early season statement when Liam Shiels was dropped to the VFL after round 1.

James Worpel, who Sam Mitchell worked closely with even before becoming senior coach, has the perfect chance now to bounce back from his difficult 2022 campaign.

Expect the smooth-moving Will Day to go through the middle more often next year, too.

“We’ve made no secret we have a clear strategy of getting games into our younger guys,” Hawks list boss Mark McKenzie said.

“I think we’ve seen that this year with the number of younger guys who’ve played games, and they’ve shown some real improvement.

“We’ll continue on that trajectory and tonight (Wednesday) we’ve been able to add to our group but also add to our draft hand for this year and next.”

Shiels joined captain Ben McEvoy in retirement at season’s end and Kyle Hartigan was delisted, leaving Luke Breust – who the Giants tried to lure back to NSW 12 months ago – as the only Hawk older than 30.

GWS also launched an unsuccessful bid for Chad Wingard at this time last year, while O’Meara chose the Dockers over the Giants on Wednesday.

The obvious concern is whether Hawthorn has cut too deeply and left a major void in the leadership stakes but McKenzie believes they prepared for this scenario.

“It’s an interesting one because I think this year coach Sam Mitchell flattened the leadership group, which allowed a lot of our younger guys to develop their leadership,” McKenzie said.

“That’s really taken away the age of the person and we’ve seen guys like Dylan Moore, Mitch Lewis, Jack Scrimshaw and ‘CJ’ (Changkuoth Jiath) come through, just from that.

“It’s their club, there’s responsibility there and those guys jumped up and did a really good job.”

Star defender James Sicily looks the odds-on favourite to be McEvoy’s captaincy successor and will be one of the older players at the club as he prepares to turn 28 in January.

The rest of the experienced crop includes Wingard and Sam Frost (both 29), Jarman Impey and recruit Karl Amon (both 27) and Blake Hardwick (25).

They will almost certainly be the youngest team in the AFL next season, a fascinating comparison to the Dad’s Army squad under Clarkson towards the end.

“There’s no ceiling in what you can achieve,” McKenzie said.

“We’re not going to shy away from the development path we need our players to go through as players and leaders.

“If that means there is going to be some ups and downs, there may be at times, obviously, but we definitely won’t shy away from improving as quickly as possible.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *