‘Strip it back as far as you can’: Dunstall backs Hawks’ scorched-earth plan

Hawthorn’s influential former champion and ex-football director Jason Dunstall has strongly backed his old team’s courageous list strategy of off-loading senior players, saying that clubs in Hawthorn’s position are better to pare back their lists as far possible.

While Hawthorn’s decision to trade leading midfielders Jaeger O’Meara (Fremantle) and Tom Mitchell, coupled with the retirement of Ben McEvoy and loss of free agent Jack Gunston (Brisbane) is viewed as brave, Dunstall said he did not subscribe to the idea that a club could go too far in stripping the list of experienced players.

“I’m not a subscriber to the strip-it-back-too-far theory,” Dunstall said at Fox Footy’s season launch, when asked about Hawthorn’s strategy of removing experienced players from an already young list.

Jason Dunstall has backed the Hawks’ strategy under Sam Mitchell. Credit:AFL Photos

“If you’re going to strip it back, strip it back as far as you can. You get a little bit more hurt in the short-term, but the long-term benefits I think outweigh that.”

The Hawks have an average game of 42.6 and an average age of 22.9 – easily the least experienced in the AFL. They have 30 players with fewer than 50 games.

Dunstall said he “absolutely” backed Hawthorn’s plan. “If they’ve got a vision of what they want their list to look like, and you know the players they’ve got traded out who have been terrific players and contributed to the club,” said the ex-champion spearhead, who, as football director on the board, was instrumental in Hawthorn’s successful era.

“But you’ve got to look at what’s the next finals campaign going to look like and if they’re not going to be there, and they have opportunities elsewhere, by all means.”

Hawthorn’s list strategy is viewed as courageous – Jordan Lewis, Sam Mitchell’s four-time premiership teammate said the coach might not see the rewards of his brave list management calls – given the time it has taken some clubs, notably Carlton and North Melbourne, that have stripped back their lists.

“I think he [Mitchell] and the club are on the same wavelength. I would imagine they’ve had good discussions about the method, the process and how long it’s going to take,” Dunstall said. “I know supporters, they want to see more wins, but you’ve just got to be patient.”

Dunstall said the Hawks should not be judged on wins and losses.

“I’m certainly not going to judge that. You’re just looking for improvement in the young kids. I don’t think you put a cap on what they might win,” he said.

“I think when you look at list and when you look at form, they could be potential bottom four. But a lot of things have to happen for that. Teams need a lot of luck with injuries. You get some all of a sudden get opportunity to play well and that’s all you want to see from the Hawthorn list.

“I think they’ve got some young leaders there that will emerge. I like James Sicily, I think leadership will sit well with him, and hopefully they can unearth some good, young players.

“We know it’s going to take some years, but you can’t fix it overnight, you can’t click your fingers.″⁣

Dunstall presided over a rebuild at the outset of Alastair Clarkson’s tenure at Hawthorn, when Jonathan Hay and Nathan Thompson were among the senior players traded for draft picks that ultimately netted Lewis and Grant Birchall.

“The other thing is, you’re trying to get good young players in, you’ve got to trade something … you can’t just get a lot of young players without giving something up,” he said.

Dunstall said North Melbourne also were “in for a tough year” due to their list, but that Clarkson would improve them in setting standards.

“They’re going to be a hell of a lot better club having him there and setting some standards and challenging the players. No disrespect to anyone that’s been there before, but I think it can only help the club, what he brings.”

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