Hawthorn’s resurgence throughout the cut and thrust of this AFL season has been nothing short of remarkable.
Injuries to key personnel cruelled their 2017 campaign immediately as the club slumped to the bottom end of the ladder, losing five of their first six encounters.
But the positive has been the development of their younger talent, which has seen Alastair Clarkson’s men even up the ledger since.
This rebuild has resulted in a few fresher faces becoming mainstays of their line-up including Dan Howe — the medium-sized defender who’s ventured into the midfield in a negating role in the last month.
Now in his third year in the system, 2017 has been a breakout season for Howe, playing the last 13 games and cementing a place in the Hawks’ side.
The 21-year-old credits the club’s staff for his improvements and singles out an assistant for the work he’s done this year.
“In terms of key influences, Max Bailey’s come on board and had a positive influence on my life and career,” Howe told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“He’s passionate about development and he has so much care for each player. He notices a lot of little things and always takes the time to follow up and build a relationship with you.
“The care he shows is really evident.”
The club’s Round 12 loss to Gold Coast would become a defining match for Howe and his role in the side has changed considerably since.
He was sent to Rory Sloane the following week at at Adelaide Oval and, given the result was an impressive Hawthorn win, the club persisted with the task.
In the last four games, he has spent his time opposed to Scott Pendlebury, Dylan Shiel, Joel Selwood and Nat Fyfe with varying levels of success.
The game against Pendlebury was one of the better ones of Howe’s career. He kept the Collingwood skipper to 21 touches while registering 26 himself.
His run-with role is helping the side but Howe said it’s equally important to furthering his own game.
“I’m spending time on them to try and curb their influence but also to help me develop,” Howe added.
“I’m learning a great deal from them. Pendlebury is a good stoppage player and is good around the ball, and he’ll also take you to the ball so if you’re lucky enough it will fall into your hands a few times.
“He’s always switched on and is a step ahead of the play. He reads the play so well which allows him to get an extra few metres on his opponent.
“Selwood, on the other hand, has incredible grunt around the ball and his will to compete is as good, if not better, than anyone else in the league.”
On Saturday night, Howe went to Nat Fyfe. The Fremantle skipper collected 23 touches but Howe managed to do some damage himself, kicking two goals in the Hawks’ 52-point win.
His form is a piece of the larger Hawthorn puzzle, with the likes of Ryan Burton, Blake Hardwick and Kaiden Brand prospering through opportunity whereas previously it might’ve been limited.
When identifying reasons for Hawthorn’s revival, Howe, a former Murray Bushranger in the TAC Cup, believes natural progression plays a part.
“When I think about the season so far, there’s not just one key to having a decent year — there are a number of things that come to mind.
“I’m a year older now and have had another pre-season to get stronger and fitter with another year in the Hawthorn system.
“I’ve developed my body a bit more and now weigh a lot more than I did when I arrived and injuries haven’t played a huge part in 2017 for me, which is a positive because I’ve had a few niggles in the first couple of years.
“To get consistent games has been a huge part for me. Hopefully it continues for the rest of the season.”
The Hawks sit two wins out of the top eight and while finals seems unlikely in 2017, Hawthorn fans can see glimpses of what potentially lies ahead for the durable football club.