February 29, 2012 in Blogs
HAWTHORN’S time is now. And that’s more than just conjecture. The demographics of the 2012 AFL lists confirm it. The Hawks have the necessary artillery to land this year’s premiership. And ominously, they also have an average age and experience typical of the modern era’s flag-winning sides.
So does St Kilda. And while the Saints aren’t nearly as popular a tip to make a big impact this September, coach Scott Watters will have at his disposal, in games terms, the most experienced list, collectively and individually.
A detailed look through the senior lists of all 18 clubs reveals some interesting shifts in list dynamics. Geelong, which last year fielded the oldest premiership team in 67 years, has, after the retirements of a cluster of veterans, slipped to sixth in the age stakes. Brisbane Lions, who also farewelled a cast of old hands at the end of last season, have gone from the sixth-oldest list to the second-youngest – in overall age terms greener even than the fledgling Gold Coast.
But it appears all set up for Hawthorn. The Hawks continue to benefit from the careful list-building that not only delivered the club a flag several years ahead of schedule in 2008, but at the same time offered the sort of safety net from which it has been able to cherry-pick the players that, regardless of age, can help turn in a repeat performance four years on.
In 2012, Hawthorn, with an average age just two weeks short of 24 years, will be the second-oldest club in the competition, behind only Sydney. Its average of 67 games per player ranks second only to St Kilda. And its 14 players with 100 or more senior games under their belt likewise. That’s close enough to the standard set by the last dozen premiers, where the typical age of players has averaged 24 years and 145 days.
All the loading up on kids Hawthorn did in the middle part of last decade has borne fruit several times over. But a particularly happy consequence is that as the Hawks have had to pursue more trades and more seasoned recruits from left-field because of draft concessions and higher ladder finishes, their list demographics have remained balanced and healthy.
The likes of Shaun Burgoyne, Josh Gibson and David Hale have bumped the Hawks’ average age up, as have previously untried but older recruits Paul Puopolo and Isaac Smith, but Alastair Clarkson’s team still sits comfortably within the confines of a typical flag-winning list of the modern era.
But it’s St Kilda which is now the most experienced player list, with an average 69 games per player across its group of 46 (including rookies). Fifteen Saints have at least 100 games to their name.
It’s an imposing roll-call of, by-and-large. still-performing older hands, names like Riewoldt, Goddard, Dal Santo, Montagna, Hayes, Fisher and Milne, with even lesser lights such as Adam Schneider, Farren Ray and Brett Peake hardly short on experience.
The downside is a relative hole left in the middle reaches of St Kilda’s list. The Saints have 10 players who have played at least 160 games and, after loading up on kids at the last national draft, a whopping 24 who have played 25 games or less. And it’s something of which Watters is very conscious.
”I’d certainly like a lot more players within that 23-27 age bracket that had played between 20-50 games,” he says. ”But you can’t change that. All you can do is make sure that our development brings players on as quickly as possible, and we’ve invested a lot of time and resources into our development academy for that exact reason.”
But Watters isn’t subscribing to the ‘having to go back to go forward’ theory”.
”We certainly don’t believe in needing to bottom out, that’s not where we intend to go as a club,” he said.
”I think we’ve got a strong group of players that still have a significant amount of football in front of them, and we’ve got an emerging group that we really need to make sure we push through hard from a selection point of view.
”If we only played those in the 27-plus bracket every week and didn’t expose some of our emerging talent, at some point there’d be a reckoning. Every week we have to have an eye on our immediate performance, but like any selection process, we need to have an eye on where we’re going as well, so it’s a balance.”
It’s Brisbane which has had the most dramatic shift in age profile between seasons, even with the addition of ruckman Ben Hudson, who turned 33 last week, the consequence of the departures of Luke Power, Brendan Fevola (retained on last year’s list despite being sacked), Xavier Clarke, Mitch Clark and Jamie Charman, and the addition of half-a-dozen draftees.
But, ominously for those hastening the demise of Geelong, the reigning premier appears to have an even better blend of experience and youth.
With the retirements of Cameron Ling, Brad Ottens, Darren Milburn and Cameron Mooney, the Cats have gone from the oldest list to sixth-oldest. The loss of that quartet has shaved more than a dozen games off Geelong’s average, but the Cats will have more 100-game players than last season. That’s keeping an eye on the future while still living very much in the here and now. And like fellow flag fancy Hawthorn, a reward for a lot of succession planning.