AFL

Jarryd Roughead injury: Is this the first of 1000 cuts to kill the Fourthorn?

Is this the first of a thousand cuts to kill the Fourthorn plan?

Jarryd Roughead will not play for at least the first half of the season after needing his posterior cruciate ligament reconstructed. Frustratingly, for player and club, the need for the op has emerged now and was not apparent at the end of the season. The injury happened mid-year but after being managed with rest and training tweaks there was no need to put him under the knife. Plainly he would not have been playing International Rules last year if it was felt then that there was even a remote need for surgery. The knee was being managed until pain flared after Christmas, so the disappointingly late surgery now means the recovery bleeds long into the season.

Sidelined: Hawthorn's Jarryd Roughead
Sidelined: Hawthorn's Jarryd Roughead Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

The Hawks' forward line withstood the loss of Lance Franklin with nary a blip. It has withstood the regular losses of Cyril Rioli to hamstring troubles and has been comfortable when Roughead has been out such as last year when he had his melanoma cut out.

This time Roughead's absence is long and its impact unknowable. Structurally they have other players to fill a hole but filling a hole and being Roughead are different things.

Ryan Schoenmakers last year emerged as if from nowhere to be a genuinely good player after spending his first years being anything but. His emergence could not have been foreseen for he was hitherto a cringeworthy player in defence then became a star as a forward. More will be expected of him this year.

There are a handful of kids – James Sicily and Tim O'Brien etc – who will be offered similar chances to shine. They might.

They also have the rucks – Ben McEvoy and Jon Ceglar – who will play in tandem more easily now that the sub rule has gone and David Hale is retired. The recruited Jack Fitzpatrick will also get a game.

One of these options could work and the Hawks will likely just rumble along as they have in the last three years accumulating wins and waiting for September. A fresh Roughead in the second half of the year sounds like an injection they would welcome. Though one man's fresh player is another's underdone.

Hawthorn has proved that winning flags is founded on strong mature experienced players in key roles. Yes Jack Gunston was but a callow stripling when he booted four goals in the 2013 grand final but he did so with Roughead at one shoulder and Franklin at the other.

The Hawks great virtue has been their critical mass of experienced elite senior talent. They have a big seasoned midfield that is clever and strong. They have players across all areas of the ground of a level of age and experience they play the game they have without hesitation as though it is intuitive.

The downside to that strong profile is that physically the years can catch them. Hawthorn have four players older than 29-year-old Roughead: Sam Mitchell and Shaun Burgoyne (both 33), Luke Hodge (31) and Jordan Lewis (30 in April). That is an entire midfield. Not all of them play there exclusively, but all still do play there.

It may prove more important that they have 10 more players who are in their prime – 25 to 29 – and so they have a greater ability to absorb personnel losses.

Premiers have been brought undone in the past trying for successive flags not by a single injury or issue but by the cumulative effect of many. Brisbane found that in 2004, Collingwood in 2011, Hawthorn itself in 2009.

Last year Hawthorn confronted myriad issues on and off the field from the melanoma to Roughead to the tragic loss of Brett Ratten's son and yet prevailed. They could do so again, but year on year it gets harder.

The football world has waited year on year for the Hawks to drop. At each point the Hawks resisted Newton's Law. Roughead's absence could be the making of someone else, it could prove just a wrinkle on the road to Fourthorn but it could also be the first cut that begets a thousand more.

 

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