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Season review: Hawthorn

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 3: Hawthorn players celebrate winning the 2015 Toyota AFL Grand Final match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the West Coast Eagles at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, Australia on October 3, 2015. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/AFL Media)
Hawthorn's 2015 season in review.

What worked
- The Hawks cemented their status as one of the greatest teams of all time by clinching the club's first premiership three-peat. Next year they will have the chance to become only the second team in history to win four in a row. 

- Injuries threatened to derail Hawthorn's 2014 flag bid, but this year the Hawks' star veterans got through without long-term issues. Cyril Rioli became a popular Norm Smith medallist after a redesigned training program restored the star forward's confidence in his hamstrings.

- Hawthorn's targeted recruiting from other clubs has been second-to-none and, when questions were asked of James Frawley, he responded with three standout finals performances. Another tick for the recruiting department.

What failed
- It matters little now, but the Hawks missed out on a top-two spot for the first time since 2011 after a wobbly 4-4 start to the year and had to take the hard road to the Grand Final. Their hunger was questioned and Clarkson will have learned plenty to avoid a repeat at the start of 2016.

What we said in the pre-season
"It's difficult to imagine (Hawthorn) dropping off with the lure of a history-making three-peat spurring them on". We'll probably copy and paste this line for the 2016 season preview, too, just changing "three-peat" to "four flags in a row". 

Overall rating
It wasn't quite the perfect season. A rollercoaster start cost a top-two spot, coach Alastair Clarkson had a run in-with a Port Adelaide fan and Luke Hodge was caught drink driving while suspended from playing. But history will remember one thing most – a third straight flag.  

The coach
The year got off to a bad start for Clarkson when he was involved in a physical altercation with a mouthy Power fan and the Hawks struggled to get their season going at 4-4. But the master coach overcame the loss of right-hand man Brendon Bolton before finals, held the club together as Brett Ratten grieved his son and emerged as the most successful coach in Hawthorn history with his fourth flag in 11 seasons at the helm. Has started talks to extend his tenure beyond 2016.   

MVP: Sam Mitchell
Led the Hawks for disposals (31 per game), finished top-three in the Brownlow Medal for the third time and is odds-on to win his fifth Peter Crimmins Medal at the best-and-fairest count this Saturday. It was a masterful season from the champion midfielder, who turns 33 on Monday but isn't slowing down. 

Surprise packet: Billy Hartung
The bitter disappointment of being dropped for the Grand Final shouldn't overshadow a tremendous second season for the pacy wingman. Hartung showed plenty of promise in his first year before suffering an elbow injury and this year the running machine developed into an important cog for Hawthorn in 20 games. Missing out on a premiership should spur him to even greater heights. 

Get excited: James Sicily
The blond-haired forward forced his way into the side early in the year and looks another draft bargain (pick 56 in 2013). Sicily had a standout VFL season, booting 30 goals – including a bag of eight to knock down the door into the senior team for rounds 22 and 23. The 20-year-old is mobile, smart, skilful and destined for more senior opportunities next year.

Best win: 27-point win over Fremantle, preliminary final, Domain Stadium.
Almost everything was against the Hawks as they travelled west for the second time in a fortnight to face the rested minor premiers in front of a hostile Domain Stadium crowd. Freo started quickly, but the experience and class of the Hawks prevailed.

Low point
The tragic death of Ratten's son, Cooper, in a car accident in August hit everyone at the club extremely hard.

The big questions
-Should Luke Hodge hand over the captaincy? Some have already called for vice-captains Jordan Lewis or Jarryd Roughead to take over from the three-time premiership skipper. The way Hodge responded to his drink-driving episode and under-par qualifying final showed he's still the leader of this group.

-How will the Hawks revitalise their defence? Brian Lake signed off with a vintage Grand Final performance and Hawthorn needs to start planning for the future with Josh Gibson turning 32 in March. Frawley and Matt Spangher, if he stays fit, will likely hold down key posts. Kaiden Brand and Kurt Heatherley will be looked at – but don't rule out a trade or free agency play.

-Can the Hawks stay hungry? Recent history suggests that shouldn't be a problem, although the Hawks struggled to get going early in the season and lost close games they normally wouldn't. Hawthorn's best footy is still the best in the competition, but the gap to the chasing pack will eventually close. If the Hawks can secure a top-four spot again, four consecutive flags is a huge chance.

Season in a song
Don't stop 'til you get enough by Michael Jackson

Who's done?

Retirements: Brian Lake wanted to play on and proved he still had what it takes in another excellent Grand Final display, but the Hawks wanted to keep transitioning their ageing list. David Hale was a super acquisition from North Melbourne and, after three premierships, the time is right to step aside for young ruckman Jon Ceglar.

Trades/free agents: Matt Suckling and Brendan Whitecross are both unrestricted free agents and have attracted interest from rivals. Both are loyal to Hawthorn but are likely to weigh up their options. Ryan Schoenmakers is out of contract and has interest from other clubs, although he is also keen to stay at Waverley.

What they need
Another key defender is the most pressing requirement following Lake's retirement. Heatherley and Brand will get their chances, but an experienced tall backman would be handy. With so many midfield champions at the club, now would be a great time to find another star young onballer to be groomed over coming seasons.

What's the time? Midnight

The Hawks are defying equalisation and the clock is stuck at midnight. With Hodge, Mitchell, Lewis, Roughead, Rioli etc. still performing at an elite level, there's every chance Hawthorn will become only the second team to win four consecutive flags.

Early call: 1st-4th
Most of Hawthorn's ageing champions are going around again and showing few signs of dropping off, while the next generation is developing nicely. If the Hawks stay hungry and focused enough to secure a top-four berth, another premiership tilt will be on.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs