Jack Ginnivan offers hope for Hawthorn after gutsy display amid Sam Mitchell dramas

The Hawks won plenty of AFL admirers with their performance against Essendon.

Hawthorn might not have beaten Essendon in the first game of the new AFL season, but the performances of Jack Ginnivan and Nick Watson have given fans a glimmer of hope. After a tumultuous off-season in which coach Sam Mitchell was hospitalised in New York, the Hawks went down by 24 points on Saturday but showed plenty of positive signs.

It wasn't until the final quarter - where Essendon kicked five goals to two - that the Bombers put the game out of reach. Mitchell said he was 'proud' of the work ethic his players displayed and singled out young guns Ginnivan and Watson for praise.

Sam Mitchell and Jack Ginnivan during Hawthorn's clash with Essendon.
Sam Mitchell (R) was impressed by Hawthorn youngsters Jack Ginnivan (L) and Nick Watson. Image: Getty

Ginnivan kicked two goals in the first half in his debut for Hawthorn after moving over from Collingwood in the off-season. Watson didn't manage a goal, but was busy and had three behinds.

The Hawks recruited Ginnivan after he played in Collingwood's premiership triumph over the Lions, and brought in Watson through the November draft with the No.5 pick. The small forwards are central to the Hawks' rebuild after finishing 13th and 16th in Mitchell's first two seasons in charge.

Sam Mitchell full of praise for Jack Ginnivan and Nick Watson

Ginnivan's fellow small forward Bobby Hill won the Norm Smith Medal as best on ground in the grand final for Collingwood, kicking four goals. And Mitchell said that's the blueprint for Ginnivan and Watson at Hawthorn.

"Everyone could see the plan. Everyone could see what we're trying to build," Mitchell said of Ginnivan and 'Wizard' Watson after Saturday's game. "It's been a couple of years that we've been trying to build this foundation that will springboard us into September action.

"You watch the finals campaign of last year and the small forwards were the difference in a lot of games - that's going to be us and they're going to be the guys who are going to take us there. Certainly 'Ginni' is going to bring a level of excitement ... and 'The Wiz' is not going to be far behind him."

Nick Watson, pictured here during Hawthorn's clash with Essendon.
Nick Watson tackles Andrew McGrath during Hawthorn's clash with Essendon. (AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The rebuilding Hawks won plenty of admirers, pushing Essendon amid eight lead changes until the Bombers kicked clear in the last quarter. Their inaccuracy in front of goal was the difference, but Mitchell doesn't see that as a major issue.

"If I had the pre-season again, I wouldn't change how much goalkicking we've done ... a huge amount," he said. "Maybe I'm tempting fate, but I don't think that's going to be a pattern."

Sam Mitchell with his family.
Sam Mitchell was hospitalised over the off-season while on holidays with his family. (Getty Images)

Hawthorn's gutsy display after dramas around Sam Mitchell

Essendon coach Brad Scott also made mention of Hawthorn's level, saying: "We'd like to do better - Hawthorn really challenged us on transition. We had some system breakdown in the first half ... we improved in the second half. We'd certainly like to defend better than we did today."

The Hawks' display on Saturday was also rather remarkable given their interrupted pre-season. Mitchell had to be 'transitioned' back into training after the Christmas break after being hospitalised with pneumonia while on holidays in America with his family.

He spent Christmas Day in hospital after collapsing at the hotel where he was staying, but has since made a full recovery. When he returned to Australia he wasn't able to attend as many training sessions as he would have normally, and had to get regular rest under the orders of doctors.

Mitchell's absence from pre-season sessions would have had a destabilising effect on the rebuilding club. But Saturday's performance showed they're well and truly over that, and fans were left with plenty of hope for the season ahead.

with AAP