Best still to come as stars return: Birchall

Grant Birchall believes Hawthorn is gathering momentum going into the sharp end of the season as key Hawks start return to the side.

Hawthorn maintained its challenge for a top-two spot on Saturday with a strong second half, seeing off Collingwood by 29 points. Birchall is confident the Hawks still have plenty of scope for improvement.

''I think we can get better, absolutely,'' he said. ''We're not playing our absolute best footy, but we're finding ways to win, which is the main thing at this time of year.

''I definitely think we can move the ball better. Sides are really pressuring us, so we just have to keep finding a way, which we have been able to through the middle of the season.

''No doubt we'll get a few guys back over the next few weeks and hopefully we can really build some momentum towards the back end of the year.

''It's just so important to bank the four points through this time of the year.''

After successive losses to Sydney and Port Adelaide, the Hawks have now put together a string of four wins that has kept them within striking distance of ladder leaders Port and kept challengers for their second spot, the Swans and Geelong, at bay.

Saturday's match saw the returns of Brian Lake and Jack Gunston from injury, with Sam Mitchell, Ben McEvoy, Ben Stratton and Josh Gibson to filter back into the team in the coming weeks.

''It was good to have Brian back and he'll only get better from here on in,'' Birchall said.

''We were probably a little bit rusty as a defensive unit early, but we got better as the game went on.

''It's been great to have that depth to cover those guys though. Everyone knows what they've got to do when they come into the side and we've been executing really well all year.''

Birchall was influential across half-back and he praised the versatility of Matt Spangher as a key factor as Hawthorn's back six gained the ascendancy in the second half.

''He's been fantastic; he's another one who just comes in and plays his role,'' he said. ''He's a very selfless player and all the boys enjoy playing with him. You always know he's going to help out his teammates.''

The Pies were desperate to shore up their own top-four chances with a win after last week's shock loss to the Western Bulldogs and Birchall was thrilled with the way the Hawks saw off a third-quarter surge.

''We got challenged there and the boys really responded,'' he said.

This story Best still to come as stars return: Birchall first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.