IN OCTOBER 2009, the Hawks acquired two mature players in an attempt to put themselves back in the premiership mix.
Both were recruited to fill specific holes that had suddenly opened up following the retirements of Trent Croad and Shane Crawford.
Josh Gibson was the bargain. He cost the Hawks pick 25 in the draft and a loss of 10places in the third round.
Gibson, runner-up in the best and fairest last year, is among the club’s most indispensable players; St Kilda’s Justin Koschitzke and Nick Riewoldt feasted on the high ball in the defender’s absence last week.
Melbourne’s Mitch Clark will appreciate that Gibson won’t be jumping in front of him at the MCG tonight.
Ominously, the other purchase arrived on crutches, having had a knee operation during 2009. But the Hawks were committed to Shaun Burgoyne, knowing that he had the capacity to deliver a premiership. He was a scintillating performer at Port Adelaide, where he could explode from a stoppage and finish with class; on his best days, he was Chris Judd-like, his standing in the game obscured by the anonymity of Alberton.
Burgoyne was a risk at the price Hawthorn paid, but many savvy operators in the game reckoned he was worth the punt. A senior official from a competing club yesterday recalled that he had considered Hawthorn’s Burgoyne deal ‘‘a masterstroke’’ that might well bring home a premiership.
‘‘I thought that the decision and effort to get him was one of the best decisions they’ve made,’’ the official said, but adding that this ‘‘beautiful player’’ had not delivered value commensurate with his price.
Another football department official simply observed: ‘‘The cost far outweighs the output.’’
To say that Burgoyne has been ‘‘a bust’’ would be overstating it. A more measured assessment is that he was acquired at A-grade rates but has produced B-grade performances.
The reverse is true of Gibson. Burgoyne’s cost was hefty — $500,000 or so a season for three years, with pick No.9 traded, and pick 16 that Hawthorn received for Mark Williams (from Essendon) going to Port.
Former Hawthorn coach Peter Schwab deemed the Gibson deal a winner, but felt Burgoyne was ‘‘a bit expensive’’ given the Hawks had given up picks No.9 and No.16 in what was a favourable deal for Williams. ‘‘They probably could have gotten a couple of good players at nine and 16,’’ Schwab said.
This was a uniform view among various officials canvassed, with one list/recruiting manager noting that it might have cost the Hawks the opportunity to land a key defender.
Port, for the record, selected Andrew Moore at pick No.9. Others selected subsequently included Jake Melksham (10), Jordan Gysberts (11), Kane Lucas (12), Daniel Talia (13), Lewis Jetta (14), Christian Howard (15), Jasper Pittard (16), Daniel Menzel (17), Luke Tapscott (18), Ben Griffiths (19), Nathan Fyfe (20) and Ryan Bastinac (21).
Numerous others who have made an impact — such as Sydney’s Sam Reid — were selected later, but we don’t know whose name the Hawks would have called.
Burgoyne has proven durable enough once he overcame knee surgery early in 2010. Last year, he played 24of 25 games and has suited up in all six games this year. He was 10th in the best and fairest and was a steadying influence in September. But more was expected from a player of his top-end talent.
Burgoyne averaged 18.4 disposals last year, 7.5 of them contested. He booted 16 goals.
This year, the numbers are similarly respectable (17.7 disposals, 6.5 contested, with two goals).
Clearances are roughly half his 2006-2008 levels, a reflection of the fact that silky Shaun spends fewer minutes in the midfield, mixing his time between there, half-back and half-forward.
Hawthorn, of course, doesn’t have a ruckman of the calibre of former Port Adelaide ace Brendon Lade, who had a remarkable understanding with Burgoyne.
The Hawks recruited Burgoyne, in part, to redress a lack of acceleration and ‘‘spread’’ from the midfield — the same 2009 thinking that conspired against Josh Kennedy, who was competing with other highly accomplished, one-paced inside-midfielders. Burgoyne had what Kennedy didn’t.
That said, the transactions were not connected. The Hawks let Kennedy go because he was rated behind Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge, Brad Sewell and Jordan Lewis.
Burgoyne hasn’t provided the run or zip the Hawks felt they needed. He’s given them a smidgen of class, versatility and poise. The positives also include his sound character and leadership over the club’s indigenous contingent.
Hawthorn’s most successful coach, the late Allan Jeans, once told a homily about purchasing shoddy shoes during a gladiatorial grand final (1989), asking the Hawks: ‘‘Are you willing to pay the price?’’
Coach Alastair Clarkson and his football department were willing to pay the price for an All-Australian who might make the difference. To date, Gibson has recouped their investment. Burgoyne hasn’t.
The consoling thought is Burgoyne is still playing and, as Stuart Dew demonstrated in 2008, one great performance when it counts would redeem the deal.
‘‘If he delivers in a grand final, you’d be saying it’s the best deal you’ve ever had,’’ Schwab said.