How can a guy win his fifth best and fairest for a club one week and be shipped out the very next?

I don’t exactly know where to start with the Sam Mitchell trade. The realities of 21st Century footy are that once a team becomes too successful, their stars make more money, the successful team can no longer afford all their stars under the salary cap and the team breaks up. They fall, and the wheel turns.

It was what limited dominant teams like North Melbourne, Essendon and Brisbane at the turn of the century to a genuine premiership window of only 3-4 years. But Hawthorn and Geelong defied this, reaching the top at the opportune moment when free agency kicked in and staying there for good, à la Manchester United for 20 years.

Geelong’s time had come, until they recruited Patrick Dangerfield and suddenly they weren’t finished after all. Hawthorn are looking at the same idea this summer.

Hawthorn are clever. The teams at the top these days are there because of excellent management rather than the dollar-wash of the 1980s. Hawthorn, needless to say, won three consecutive premierships. They had one chance to win the iconic fourth, but will not submit to a middling second year-after in which they are no longer the team to watch. No point having a dead year now that the other teams have evidently caught up.

Time to renew. To renew, you need salary cap space.

They are probably making the “right” move, I guess. Hawk fans would more remember another premiership with Jaeger O’Meara than a year coming fourth with Mitchell, winning a semi-final against West Coast and then losing a prelim to GWS by five relaxed goals. Change is good, etc.

But wouldn’t Hawthorn be missing a piece of themselves? Would it have the same ‘feel’?

Fans move on. I was spitting chips when Adam Cooney left the Bulldogs. I wrongly blamed the club. But look where we are now.

Still, I read a commenter online succinctly state, regarding Mitchell, “Sad day for the club. You should never trade your icons.”

I think of Geelong. While they have had thirteen (!!) years of almost uninterrupted success, the only Cats team to have gotten all the way to the Grand Final is the ‘organic’ team of 2007-11, the homegrown one. Even the 2013 team of new boys that came through the club like Jordan Murdoch, Josh Caddy, Nathan Vardy and such anonymous names (at the time) almost nipped Hawthorn’s three-peat in the bud, which is more than I can say about the 2016 team.

They could bargain their way to near the top again, but not to the top. The New York Yankees, to take a wild tangent, have had literally double the budget of every other team in Major League Baseball, but only the homegrown boys of the 1990s consistently won titles. The Yankees since have only won one championship in sixteen years despite buying every top player who ever pulled on a mitt.

I also think of Sydney, who were the last chance for my Bulldog dream to go kaput. They won in 2012 because, as alluded by Jay Croucher here, they had an identity. Guys like Ryan O’Keefe, Ted Richards, Lewis Roberts-Thompson and particularly Adam Goodes gave every last piece of sweat to just hold off the team of the decade, a magnificent win.

Perhaps such a nail-biting win from third place was unrepeatable anyway and they needed to top up, but it’s kind of not the same with Buddy and Tippett, as great as Buddy’s been.

Since then they have won two minor premierships but lost two grand finals. The spirit is different. In 2016 in particular the Swans lacked a spark when the moment of truth arrived, blowing last-second games against Richmond, Hawthorn and the Bulldogs and getting blown out by GWS come finals time.

Geelong and Sydney both lacked the je ne sais quoi when it mattered. Hawthorn were of lesser quality than those two this year but having the belief in who they are enabled them to steal many matches they should not have. (Grrrr!) A successful conversion from Isaac Smith, and who knows?

In the middle of all that was, naturally, Sam Mitchell dishing off handballs.

So Hawthorn may win next year (though I’d suggest it’s not their world anymore, it’s GWS’s). But will it feel as complete without their equal-most iconic player of the last decade?

 

Marty Gleason

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