Hawthorn young gun Will Day produced a break-out season in 2023. He sat down to chat to us about about his move from the backline to the middle, his take on leadership, and his faith in where the Hawks are heading. 

You had a stellar season in 2023 which resulted in your maiden Peter Crimmins Medal. Looking back to the start of the year, where did you want to take your game?

"I think deep down I probably knew I could get there, but because of my form last year and my body wasn’t where I wanted it to be it seemed a bit distant. Having the training block that I had in the pre-season and raising my training standards, the more the pre-season went on the more belief I had. Working with our Assistant Coach Adrian Hickmott as well was important in building that self belief that I probably didn’t have the year before."

Was there a particular game this year that made you believe that you were capable in your new midfield role?

"Round 1 I didn’t play great, and that was my first game as a pure midfielder. After that game I still didn’t think I was going to have the year that I had. In Round 2 against Sydney, that’s when it clicked for me after I played well. From there I just went into each game just really backing myself in which I think has been the biggest change from year to year."

Our midfield group thrived this year under the watch of Assistant Coach David Hale. Tell us about that dynamic you, Jai Newcombe, Conor Nash and James Worpel have formed? 

"Haley has a great footy brain, each week us midfielders go into the game with a really clear direction, we know what we're doing. There’s no doubt when we go out there, so we can play to our strengths and use our weapons. We’re all good mates and the more games we play together the more we know what each other’s strengths are. I think we all complement each other really nicely. In previous years it felt a bit clunky, but this has been the first year where it’s felt like we are rolling pretty well together."

How did Sam Mitchell support you in that role this year?

"Sam, a lot like Hick, is all about self belief. I had a chat to him at the end of last year going into the pre-season and we spoke about just focussing on myself and that if I do that, it’s going to be for the betterment of the team. Last year and previous years, I’ve probably had more of a focus on others. With leadership I thought that it was always talking to others, helping others. But getting myself right first, I’ve actually been able to naturally lead a bit better."

How did you go about changing your leadership perspective to put yourself first?

"I felt like I was always trying to find every opportunity to speak up and I naturally thought that’s what leadership was. At the start of the year I’d find myself wanting to say stuff and help others, but I’ve put a bit more time and effort into myself now and that’s lead to me performing better, which is what a leader needs to do. Because I'm performing better I know I have some better knowledge that I can now begin to teach others, it’s naturally progressed really nicely."

We took a few big scalps this year... what has been the most memorable win for you this season?

"We built the Collingwood game in Round 21 to be a really big occasion for us, we didn’t shy away from the fact that the Pies were on the top of the ladder, there was going to be a pretty big crowd. We knew it was going to be a big showing of where we are at. Going into it there was just a different energy. Not only did we go into the game do okay, but we actually performed exactly how we scouted them and then executed it really well. That win probably gave us the most confidence out of the whole year that we’re on the right track."

How much has an injury-free season helped your confidence?

"The goal for me this year was to not miss a game due to my body – and I’ve ticked that off this year. That was really big for me, to get that continuity and just to have the confidence in my body. I’ve felt like this year I’ve been able to do things that I’ve always thought I could, but my body was always holding me back a little bit in previous years. I’m really looking forward to going into another full pre-season and attacking that. It was a step up this year, but I know I’ve still got another level to go to."

Did you ever have any doubts about your body being able to get back to where it is now?

"I knew eventually that I could get it to where I wanted it to be, but I was pleasantly surprised with how quick I could. I probably underestimated what a proper pre-season really does for a young player. To have had a really good training block in that pre-season was really nice to have that confidence, which is why I’m so excited for another one."

You inked a new long-term deal earlier this year. What are you most excited about moving forward with this group? 

"For me it was about repaying the favour to Hawthorn. My time here has been awesome. The club took a bit of a punt on me when they drafted me so highly. I was just the ‘skinny kid’ who was probably picked more on potential. To sign for four years, I wanted to show that I was in for the journey, I’m really excited. I feel like we have the core group for where we want to go, it’s pretty special."


You were a top-15 draft pick back in 2019, have you ever felt any pressure with that?  

"It was a bit different for me as I was a bit of a bolter. Coming through as a junior, I was pretty good, but my body was just so skinny. I didn’t get picked for any representative teams or anything like that. In my draft year it all happened really quickly, it was a bit of a whirlwind. With state footy my goal was to just get one game in, but I ended up playing them all and doing pretty well. That was the theme for my whole draft year – I just kept playing well and was rising up draft boards. At the start of the year it was still just a dream to get drafted but by the end of it I was getting talked about being a first-round pick. I guess the pressure wasn’t there so much that year, it was more once I’d been taken then. Being selected as Hawthorn’s highest pick since Cyril Rioli in 2007, that was probably when the pressure came a little bit more."

You celebrated your 50th game this year, what are some of your future goals?

"Finals footy is the one thing that’s next on the agenda. Having finally getting a full year in, and playing well for myself has probably kicked a box. Now I know that week in, week out I can be reliable for the team I now am looking more towards the team success. Finals is definitely the next step for us as a group."

What has your form this year meant more broadly for your ambitions for your career as well?

"After my first year playing midfield, I still know there is so much more to be learnt. To be able to play the way I have gives me confidence that there is still so much to do in terms of being a midfielder. That goes for my body as well, I’ve still got a lot of strength to come with my fitness. As much as I may have had a bit of a break-out year, I’m looking forward to next year even more."

Tell us about some of the things you've done off-field this year? You visited the NT in the bye week earlier this year alongside Jarman Impey, Connor Macdonald and Dylan Moore… is connecting with the community/being involved where you can important to you?

"I think it’s pretty important that with the position we hold that we try to be involved in the community. It was pretty cool to go up to NT and visit the community that we went to. Even just hanging out with the kids adds perspective for us, but it also brightens their days as well. To learn about different cultures and things like that is pretty cool. We have a pretty good opportunity to use our platforms and our positions for some good."

Your grandfather Robert played in Hawthorn's 1971 premiership. Did you barrack for Hawthorn growing up?

"My cousin (Sam Day) plays at Gold Coast so I was actually a bit of a Suns nuffie. But I always had a soft spot for Hawthorn. All the grand finals we’d get together as a family with my grandpa to watch them."

Which teammate has had the biggest influence on you at the club?

"I think Jars (Jarman Impey) has been good for me, he’s always got an eye out for me. Whenever he sees me doing something well that others may not, he will always make sure to let me know that I’m doing well or on the right track. He’s been awesome. Another one is Dylan Moore. When Sam had a chat to me about taking my training standards to the next level, Moorey was the one I looked to. He probably wouldn’t know that he had much of an impact, but watching what he did and trying to emulate that as much as I could was really big for me. We live together as well, so I see how he goes about it, and that’s been really good as well. I probably wouldn’t tell him that though to his face."

Last one, how does it feel seeing many young kids don the number 12 on their backs?

"At the start my career there were a few 12s, but I knew that was purely just a few old James Frawley or Brad Sewell guernsey’s. Now when I see number 12, I can sort of say it is because of me, which is nice. Growing up I was always the one to have players on the back of my back. So, when you think of it like that, it’s pretty cool."