AFL 2022: Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell declares there is no ‘speed limit’ on when his Hawks can soar again
Sam Mitchell has addressed Hawthorn’s heavily scrutinised trade period, making no apologies for moving on veteran stars.
Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell warns of “ups and downs” to come for the retooling Hawks but stands by the strategy to trade star midfielders Jaeger O’Meara and Tom Mitchell.
Mitchell and list manager Mark McKenzie oversaw an exchange period where Karl Amon signed as a free agent then young pair Lloyd Meek and Cooper Stephens arrived in the O’Meara and Mitchell trades.
Jack Gunston chose to exercise his free agency rights and join Brisbane but the clubs agreed on a trade that gifted Hawthorn the No.48 pick this year and a future fourth-round selection.
But the Hawks’ experience drain was the headline of their trade period, after captain Ben McEvoy and Liam Shiels retired and fellow 30-something Kyle Hartigan was delisted.
Luke Breust is now the sole Hawthorn footballer older than 30, while Blake Hardwick is the seventh-oldest Hawk at just 25.
As coach Mitchell outlined in a letter to club members, they fielded more players aged 23 or younger per game than any other team in his first year in charge.
The path forward under the Hawthorn premiership great is clear and he said the Hawks “must stick to our plan”.
“We spent a long time building a strategy to bring us our next premiership and personally, I am very pleased with our progress 12 months in,” Mitchell said.
“Part of this strategy was a commitment to invest in the development of our younger players and embed a game style that will withstand the pressure of finals footy when our time comes.
“But, in saying that, there is absolutely no ceiling on what this group can achieve, or speed limit on how quickly it can be done, and what is more important than me believing that, is the players’ belief in our direction.”
Mitchell pointed to the emergence of Jai Newcombe, Mitch Lewis, Ned Reeves and Dylan Moore as the first external signs of the direction they wanted to head.
With O’Meara and Mitchell gone, the likes of Newcombe, James Worpel, Josh Ward, Conor Nash, Will Day, Finn Maginness, Stephens, Connor MacDonald and Sam Butler are set to receive increased on-ball opportunities.
They could add to that rotation with the sixth pick in this year’s draft.
“This year’s free agency and trade period was the next step in a longer plan to develop our list and return to premiership contention,” Mitchell said.
“To be honest, we don’t get there if we follow the path of least resistance.
“This is about building our next phase of talent. I have no interest – and I know the players feel the same – to just sneak into the finals … (but) premiership teams are not built overnight.”
Mitchell said they prepared for this scenario in the past 12 months, with a “flattened leadership structure” helping next captain James Sicily, Moore, Hardwick, Lewis and Jarman Impey blossom.