‘Two years too late’, but Brereton backs Hawks rebuild

The Hawks are preparing to celebrate 40 years since they won what was a record-breaking premiership, but Dermott Brereton’s focus is also on the now.

The man known as the “five-time day, five-time night” premiership star, a charismatic and champion centre half-forward, and innovative marketer, has backed the deep rebuild the Hawks are orchestrating under coach Sam Mitchell. A former club board member, Brereton, 58, only wishes this had begun earlier.

“I love it. It came a couple of years too late. The issue with Hawthorn to me was, and you can’t blame the previous coach, Alastair Clarkson, for wanting to do it, he had always been able to select players for the need required, and put them in those positions so they complemented the core players they had. That kept them up there and made them win flags,” Brereton, who now commentates with Fox Footy, said.

Hawks great Dermott Brereton is backing the rebuild under coach Sam Mitchell and new president Andy Gowers – and hopes Mitchell gets the chance to see the project through.Credit:The Age

“Then, at the end of that era, he has tried to do the same thing again, but the difference is, when they went out and got [Josh] Gibson, [Ben] McEvoy, [Brian] Lake, [James] Frawley, they were putting them in around the core of [Luke] Hodge, [Sam] Mitchell, [Lance] Franklin, [Jordan] Lewis. The difference was, Alastair tried to make the core players of Tom Mitchell, [Chad] Wingard, [Jaeger] O’Meara, whereas they needed to have a core there before they added those guys.

“But, you can’t blame him [Clarkson] – that worked once [with three straight premierships]. That put us a bit behind, so I think a total build now is what is required.

“They will finish somewhere around the bottom four, and we are looking for how they play, how they respond to the coach, and the growth in those players.”

The Hawks, 13th last year (8-14 win-loss record) are a unanimous pick to finish bottom four, even last, by expert commentators, but there was much to like about their six-point loss to Collingwood in an official practice match last Thursday.

Where there had been much to worry about after a heavy loss to Geelong in a scratch match, youngsters including Cam Mackenzie, the No.7 selection in the 2022 draft, shone against the Pies. Insiders hope emerging star Jai Newcombe, Josh Ward, Will Day and Sam Butler, can form a potent midfield alongside a revitalised James Worpel and wingman Karl Amon. Tagger Finn Maginness shapes as a serial pest for rivals.

A deep rebuild is typically full of potholes, and Brereton hopes the Hawks, under new president Andy Gowers – Brereton’s 1991 premiership teammate – allow Mitchell, in his second season, to see the process through.

The Hawks and Bombers were arch enemies through the 1980s, with emotions exploding early in the 1985 grand final. Dermott Brereton was reported twice.Credit:The Age

“If you look at a graph, a team is right in the window at the top, then they bottom out. Rarely does a coach get the team just as it’s about to bottom out and has to go through the bottom out, and then comes up the other side, rarely, does the coach get to the other side,” Brereton said.

“And the teams that have stuck with a coach that has done are the likes of Richmond and Damien Hardwick. I hope that Hawthorn are brave enough to stay with him [Mitchell] for the whole journey.”

Skipper James Sicily says the Hawks can win a premiership by the end of 2027, pointing to Collingwood and Sydney’s recent rise. It’s a timeframe Brereton believes is possible.

Hawk Dermott Brereton rallies after he was crunched in the 1989 VFL grand final.Credit:The Age

“People are saying it’s a two- or three-year build – nah, it will be four or five. If you are talking about being a powerhouse team, you are looking at blokes like Ward, 19 – still five years away [from peaking],” he said.

The Hawks open the new season on a Sunday afternoon at the MCG against Essendon, their arch-enemies of the 1980s, although Carlton threatened in 1986-87.

Their ’83 premiership over the Bombers, a romping and spiteful 83-point win – a grand-final record winning margin to that point – will be celebrated before the latest chapter.

It was Brereton’s first flag; at 19 he was known as the “kid” at the time, and set the platform for a record run of seven straight grand finals for the Hawks, including four premierships. “My first memory of it was the heat went out of the match after half-time,” Brereton said.

“I was a bit starstruck. I just didn’t realise grand finals could end that easily. I thought it was going to be something that you had to fight tooth and nail to the death, but it turned into a very easy game in the end. It was a bit willing and spiteful at the start, but every game with Essendon in the ’80s was willing and spiteful.”

Norm Smith medallist Colin Robertson was voted best on ground for tagging star Bomber Tim Watson out of the game, and he was involved in a controversial incident when he felled Watson off the ball in the first quarter.

“I know he [Robertson] whacked Timmy in the ’83 grand final, he gave him a belt. I didn’t see it. I wished I had seen it, I can’t comment on it,” Brereton, one of the game’s true hard men, joked.

Robertson received death threats after the game.

The two clubs met again in the 1984 and 1985 grand finals, the Bombers prevailing in both, the second by 78 points in a clash memorable for a bench-clearing brawl on the wing in the opening minutes.

The Hawks, however, regrouped in ’86, and went on to be the team of the decade.

“I stupidly thought we could make a grand final every year – it almost worked out that way,” Brereton said – with a laugh – of his career.

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