Well aware Hawthorn are unlikely to feature at the pointy end of the AFL season, coach Alastair Clarkson is instead embracing the buzz of handing out AFL debuts and fresh starts.
Off the back of last year’s 15th-placed finish, 2021 shapes as another year of rebuilding for the four-time premiership coach – starting with Saturday night’s clash with Essendon at Marvel Stadium.
Three youngsters – exciting tall Jacob Koschitzke and draftees Connor Downie and Tyler Brockman – will debut while former Crow Kyle Hartigan and ex-Magpie Tom Phillips will play their first games for Hawthorn.
“We’re excited – it’s where we’re at as a footy club,” Clarkson said on Friday.
“We understand that we’re building towards our next premiership and our capacity to challenge for silverware, which – if we’re brutally honest in terms of the reality of it – it’s probably unlikely to be that we’re challenging really seriously at the end of this year.
“We know where we’re at as a club but it’s selling to our members and our supporters and probably to the wider football community that we’re just on the path.”
The Bombers also experienced an off-season of change, with five new faces to face the Hawks.
Former Giant Jye Caldwell, ex-Sun Peter Wright and former St Kilda dasher Nick Hind will play their first AFL games as Bombers while first-round draft pick Nik Cox and second-year tall Harrison Jones will make their league debuts.
Clarkson admitted it was difficult to get a proper read on Essendon given a limited preseason.
“They played the Cats a couple of weeks ago down at Kardinia Park and they did particularly well in that game and it was touch and go right to the end – and we rate the Cats highly so they’re to be a difficult opponent to defeat,” he said.
“But our preseason form – we played the Dogs and the Kangaroos and we won both those games.
“So we take a level of confidence the things that we’ve been practising over the summer are working well, knowing full well that it’s going to take a long time to master some of the things that we’re trying to do.”
Hawthorn gun midfielder Tom Mitchell (shoulder) is fit, but best and fairest Jack Gunston (back) and Chad Wingard (calf) are unavailable.
Meanwhile Essendon skipper Dyson Heppell will play in a new role off half-back but forward Jake Stringer (achilles) and veteran David Zaharakis (knee) won’t feature.