Hawthorn has broken new ground by becoming the first club to use remote control drones to fly over Waverley Park at training.
Sources have confirmed the Hawks have purchased two small remote-controlled aircraft, which are used to film training from overhead.
Drones - otherwise known as ''unmanned aerial vehicles'' - are best known for their use by the American military and Central Intelligence Agency, which have deployed drone strikes in their War on Terror and for surveillance. They have increasingly been used for commercial purposes, too.
Hawthorn's two UAVs are small aircraft and have been seen recently flying over Hawthorn's training facility at Waverley, where they are operated by some of the club's information technology staff.
The Western Bulldogs allowed television channel Fox Footy to use an 80-centimetre drone to film a training session at Whitten Oval in the pre-season of last year, but Fairfax Media believes no other clubs, besides Hawthorn, have taken the step of buying UAVs and filming training. The Hawks use the footage taken from their UAVs to review running patterns and such.
The use of these devices is the latest attempt by Hawthorn to find an edge in technology to improve its on-field performance. The club has a special fund set aside for innovation.
A few years ago, Hawthorn looked at a multi-camera system called Prozone to perform a similar function to the mini drones. The Prozone set-up involved about eight cameras that would be attached to a building next to the field to gather footage from different vantages. Prozone also produced graphics for the player movements.
Former Hawthorn captain Richie Vandenberg, who retired a year before Hawthorn's breakthrough 2008 triumph, said Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson continued to set the pace in innovation.
"He's a very unique thinker, super, super dedicated to the game," he said. "Clarko's very committed to developing no doubt his team but also himself in the way he does it. I reckon we've all seen that development of Clarko over the years, which has made him not only a great coach but a coach who continues to get better."
Clarkson has also become somewhat of a football statesman this year, pushing for issues such as Match Review Panel reform and the implementation of a coaching accreditation system. Vandenberg believed that Clarkson now felt more comfortable in airing his opinions.
"He's probably got a little bit more confidence these days, and it's certainly well-deserved," Vandenberg said.
The Hawks entered round 21 atop the AFL ladder and despite, a legitimate premiership threat despite a cursed run with injuries to key players including Josh Gibson, Cyril Rioli, Sam Mitchell, Brian Lake and Brad Sewell, the illness-induced absence of Clarkson, and the departure of current Coleman Medal race leader Lance Franklin.
Vandenberg highlighted the club's collectivist culture as a driving force behind its resilience.
"They have overcome an enormous amount of adversity. With injury, with what happened to Clarko, with Buddy Franklin leaving. I think the thing about Hawthorn, the people who really follow the club realise it's never about one person," he said. "I think that's the secret to their success, and they'll be hard to beat I reckon."
Midfielder Jordan Lewis' form has been identified as another reason Hawthorn has maintained its place in the competition's upper echelon. Lewis is averaging 27 disposals a game in 2014, making this year his most prolific to date.
Vandenberg admired the way his former teammate Lewis had re-tooled his game to meet modern demands: "I'm not surprised [at how well he's been playing]. He loves football, he just loves the game. He's one of those people that just puts in 100 per cent. He works super hard to get his body in the right state to play the game the way it's played today. He was a very big, heavy-set guy early in his career, and now he's much more tailored to the way the game is played these days.
"He's definitely matured. When it came time to turn the switch on, he's always been able to do so. But he's like most lads who come from the country who know how to have a good time."