Liam Shiels of the Hawks gets a handball away.
Liam Shiels of the Hawks gets a handball away. BEN MACMAHON

Future Hawks leader learning off the best

AFL: With change comes opportunity. And at Hawthorn, there has been plenty of both over the past few months.

The end of a dynasty that yielded three premierships in as many years was signalled by the departure of club greats Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis during the recent trade period.

Both four-time flag winners with the Hawks, their defections to West Coast and Melbourne respectively meant 571 games of experience walked out the door.

Now, it is up to a suddenly much more youthful batch of footballers to fill their void and take the club through to its next successful period.

One man hoping to lead that charge is Liam Shiels.

At just 25, Shiels is now among the most experienced campaigners in the Hawthorn engine room and is expected to make the step up to the club's leadership group in 2017.

But the tough tackling midfielder knows the responsibility to fill the void of the likes of Mitchell and Lewis in that on-ball brigade won't fall purely on his shoulders next season.

"One of our greatest strengths as a club is that we've got a number of guys around my age group who are great leaders and who have been in the system for six or seven years now,” Shiels told Fox Footy.

"We've lost two quality men and two quality players, so it is a different feeling among the group. But it's also a great opportunity for the young guys to step up and fill that void, both on the field and off it in the leadership department.”

Speaking to Fox Footy in July last year, Hawthorn legend Jason Dunstall tipped Shiels to be the club's next captain - a prediction ironically later echoed by the now departed Lewis.

But for Shiels, who has been compared to another Hawthorn captain in Shane Crawford, talk regarding his future aspirations is purely background noise.

"I haven't really thought too much about it, to be honest - it's Hodgey's and he's a fantastic leader, so he will be the captain until he wants to hand it over,” he said.

Liam Shiels of Hawthorn (right) tries to tackle West Coast's Jamie Cripps.
Liam Shiels of Hawthorn (right) tries to tackle West Coast's Jamie Cripps. TONY MCDONOUGH

"In terms of captaining the club, I haven't thought about it at all really.

"I think I've got a lot to learn, but the good thing about the position I'm in is that I've been able to learn from a few of the best.

"I've touched on how important Mitchell and Lewis were, so I learnt as much off them as possible, but then you've also got (Jarryd) Roughead, Hodgey and (Josh) Gibson.

"I'm just trying to learn as much as I can.”

Shiels himself said he was "as shocked as anyone” by the unexpected departures of Mitchell and Lewis, yet their absence isn't the only significant difference at Hawthorn this pre-season.

For the first time since 2012, the Hawks begin their summer preparations without a premiership to their name. They are the hunters again, rather than the hunted.

For much of the playing group, it has added a new sense of motivation.

"The fact we're not the best any more - the Dogs are the team to chase now - has added some motivation,” Shiels said.

"All of the boys individually had a pretty good off-season, trained pretty hard and have come back motivated. Obviously there is a difference after not winning it.

"But, in saying that, there are a number of guys on our list who haven't tasted success. Their motivation is high and the guys who have had success didn't taste it last year.”

However, regardless of what happened in 2016 - both on the field and at the trade table - expectations haven't changed at Hawthorn.

"Absolutely we've still got that belief,” Shiels said.

"But it's still early days and there's still a lot of water to go under the bridge.

"We'll aim to finish top four, as we have over the last five or six years. Heading into the season, that will be our goal and we'll go from there.”

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