Tom Hawkins explains goalkicking slump but is far from deterred

GEELONG -- Through three rounds of the 2020 AFL season, Geelong forward Tom Hawkins finds himself with just four goals to his name.

With the Cats averaging a league leading 13 goals per game, the club's leading goalkicker over the last eight seasons is averaging just a tick over one per outing.

Hawkins' baron run in front of goal has been replicated by key forwards around the league, with Tom Lynch (four goals), Jack Riewoldt (three), and Josh Kennedy (two) among the other notable goal kickers failing to hit the scoreboard.

While there has been a rush to declare the tall forward as a dying breed, Hawkins instead points to the vastly changing role of the position since he made his much-anticipated debut in Round 2, 2007.

"Key forward has probably evolved the most as a position on the ground, but maybe that's just me and the way I'm put together and how I've had to evolve," Hawkins told ESPN. "One of the most dangerous one-on-one isolation players of the last decade, Hawkins identifies to the defensive structures of the game when highlighting how the positional role has diversified.

"The game's completely changed, defenders don't go into the opposition forward line anymore, I'm not accountable for them. Sides played pretty one on one [early in my career] and then the game evolved into more zone defence and now the opposition like to get numbers behind the ball, so it has changed a lot.

"It's very rare that you see a key forward that has a big impact for long periods, if they end up with 15 possessions and kick three goals that's a pretty good game."

If you missed the Cats' 61-point win over Hawthorn in Round 2, the stats sheet would appear to give clear indication of a poor night for Hawkins: six kicks, five handballs, two marks and zero goals.

While not directly impacting the scoreboard off his own boot, Hawkins registered three goal assists on the night, as Gryan Miers (three goals), Tom Atkins (two goals), Gary Ablett (two goals) and Luke Dahlhaus (two goals) ran rampant inside 50.

"Some nights football is played like that where the opportunity doesn't present to lead at the footy and get that many one on ones," Hawkins explains. "The ball was coming in a bit scrappy so for me and Esava [Ratugolea] and other talls we take a lot of confidence out of competing."

Far removed from the days of judging his performance purely on goals kicked, Hawkins is one of the leading goal assist players in the competition, registering 24 in each of the last two seasons to finish in the top four in the league.

"I've never been one to take a mark inside 50 from the boundary and just turn my back on my team and have a shot," Hawkins said. "I'd like to think in a team game, although, you are in the side to kick goals, if there is someone in a better position that's more likely to kick the goal, I always back myself to find that target.

"Sometimes that works against me if I turn the ball over in spots where I could easily have a shot but I think over a longer period of time whenever I've passed the ball off inside scoring range I like to think it's always going to someone in a better position.

"I'll continue to do that for the remainder of my career, I think it helps the team so much, it just makes sense."

Rather than lament the sporadic nature of goal scoring opportunities from days gone by, Hawkins eagerly highlights the continuity among the front six as the key reason for the Cats potency in front of goals.

Joining the attacking brigade has been 36-year-old Ablett, who has long tantalised the Geelong faithful with the prospect of becoming a full time forward.

On the field, the form has been first rate, with the two-time Brownlow medallist averaging 20 disposals and a goal in the season's early going, though, it's his veteran leadership that has perhaps been even more telling within the four walls of the club.

"Players like Gary are once in a generation type player and I think he's really comfortable with where he sits amongst the side. He understands that he can be a really important and dominant player when he plays in the forward line," Hawkins said.

"You can tell around the change rooms he's really comfortable among the group. Those types of players can be a bit intimidating, but he's built great relationships with the young guys, they feel really comfortable going to him and learning off him so it's a real credit to Gary for the impact he's been able to have in helping players develop."

Imparting knowledge and wisdom on and off the field has similarly become a huge part of Hawkins' makeup as he enters the twilight of his career.

"I grew up barracking for Geelong as a kid, obviously I play here and for the remainder of my life I'm going to be a pretty passionate Geelong supporter so selfishly I look at that and want to try and help someone along the way and make a difference I will."

Set to turn 32 next month, Hawkins by his own admission has learned that fluctuation in form and in particular hitting the scoreboard is all part and parcel of being a key position forward.

Those lessons are now being transferred to Hawkins high flying teammate, Ratugolea, who at just 21 years old is leading the next wave of talent in the blue and white hoops.

"He's got so much talent and he's so eager to learn and be a great player. He's young, he started playing footy late, so he's still got a lot to learn but he's a bit impatient sometimes where he just wants to be great.

"There's going to come a time where it all just clicks and works for him and then he's just going to become a really consistent player and perform and be a real handful right across the comp."

Out of contract at the end of the season, Hawkins admits he hopes to play a few more seasons in the AFL, with a third premiership medallion a driving motivator for the veteran core that includes Ablett, Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield, Mitch Duncan and Harry Taylor among others.

You would be a fool to expect Hawkins' dry run in front of goal to continue for long, but regardless of who kicks them, Hawkins won't mind, as long as the Cats are playing winning football.