THE game plan is not the problem, Alastair Clarkson says, and he doesn't think the Hawthorn players' belief has been damaged by their failure to close out big games. But the coach yesterday made the significant admission that their ''spirit and energy for the contest'' vanished last weekend.
The Hawks' immediate prospects of overcoming a rocky start to the season depend on whether that spirit returns against St Kilda tonight at the MCG.
While Clarkson declined to respond directly to critics, including Age columnist Robert Walls, who said Hawthorn ''rolled over'' in the second half against Sydney and had become ''too nice and comfortable'', the coach agreed the team had left itself open to such accusations.
He could not fault the competitiveness in the first four rounds, but those games produced just two wins, and losses by less than a kick to Geelong and West Coast. Add to these the preliminary final defeat to Collingwood and three 2011 losses to the Cats and you have an awful lot of effort for little reward against the best teams.
Clarkson could not explain the dramatic fade against the Swans, but does not believe this pattern has taken a psychological toll.
''You can look at it with a cellar-dweller type of attitude and it's just disappointing, but those games against West Coast and Geelong, the Geelong game if it goes for an extra five seconds, Michael Osborne's goal gets paid and we win. In the West Coast game, at the 29-minute mark of the last quarter, Cyril [Rioli] has a shot on goal that just grazes the post, and if that goes through, we win, and we're not talking about any of this,'' Clarkson said. ''That is pretty much the attitude we have taken. We are a competent enough side to be able to win games of footy and we've got full belief that we will be able to get ourselves there in the long run.''
Nor does he believe his players ''dogged it'' in Launceston.
''I question anyone who has been involved in the game at a high level to question the endeavour of players and their want to be involved in a contest. Sometimes you just lose your spirit and your energy for the contest. That happens to every club at some point in time throughout a season and we're hopeful it's not going to happen to us too often. When they do, you've just got to bounce back as quickly as you can.''
The Hawks are ranked 16th in clearances this season, which is attributed partly to the absence of ruckman Max Bailey, while they have slumped from fourth to the bottom five for hard-ball gets and contested possessions. Walls wrote that other clubs had cottoned onto the high-possession style that relied on precise kicking in the back half, denying Hawthorn players the space to take uncontested marks. But Clarkson does not believe he needs to overhaul the game plan beyond the tinkering that is required as part of the game's rapid evolution.
''We have got a belief that our footy, when it's played well, [is good enough], but as I said, if you don't compete in the hunt, no game plan works,'' he said.