Holt’s Heroes – The top 22 players I’ve witnessed playing for Hawthorn

Hot weather always skews one’s senses. Hence, given Melbourne’s recent high temperatures, I thought I would list my choice of the best ever 22 players for Hawthorn based on my 46 years of watching the club.

During this period, Hawthorn has won 12 premierships with many great players. This, in a sense, makes this a futile exercise, that will more likely be remarked upon more for who I leave out, rather than whom I include.

My chosen team is:

B: Burgoyne, Moore, Ayres

HB: Hodge (c), Langford, Knights

W: Geoff Ablett, Sam Mitchell, Dipper

HF: Buddy, Brereton, Buckenara

F: Dunstall, Hudson, Crimmins

R: Scott, Tuck, Matthews

Int: Platten, Rowlings, Crawford, Mew

BACK LINE

The choice of Shaun Burgoyne might surprise. In my mind he is one of the most complete players I have seen at the club. In the era in which he has played, swingmen have been all the rage and he is amongst the very best. Burgoyne doesn’t play in the typical key positions of both back and forward, but, rather, he can play on any line in both attacking and defensive roles.

The preference of Chris Langford over Chris Mew (once nicknamed “BP – the quiet achiever”) at CHB will most likely raise some eyebrows. Mew is in the Hawks team of the century at CHB and Langford’s reputation at full back was gained only after being shifted there in 1986. I selected Langford in the role due to his iconic duels from that era. The standout was against Carlton’s Stephen Kernahan who had touched up Mew in the 86 second semi only to have the tables turned when Langford was shifted from his customary FB position to CHB for the Grand Final. This game was the first of many epic tussles against Kernahan. My bias for Langford also stems from an incident during the ‘merger match’ against Melbourne in 1996. It was a pivotal time for Hawthorn as the club was being faced with extinction. By selecting Langford for my top 22, I wanted to pay homage to that memorable moment when he raised a Hawthorn jumper up to the crowd after this match. It was an iconic moment in our club’s history.

The rest of my choices are without question:

Kelvin Moore – he was one of the best full backs the game has ever seen. He was elite in his reading of the play and brilliant in the customary one on one duels from that era. He was a great spoiler and was equally adept at out-marking his direct opponent.

Gary Ayres – (aka ‘Conan’) was as tough as teak and huge as an on-field leader. Like Moore, he was a brilliant reader of the play. He was as slow as a wet week but still negated the many small forwards from the era. In a sense, they thought they were the fox, but Ayres was always the foxes tail. He was very capable in the midfield as his dominant display on the wing in the 1986 grand final showed. He won the Norm Smith Medal for his brilliant play on the wing, controlling David Rhys Jones’ influence as well as having a huge impact on the game. Ayres is one of the best big game performers I’ve seen play for the club.

Luke Hodge – Do I have to say anything?

Peter Knights – one of the most talented players I have seen. He was a star during his era at the club and I think if he was playing today he would have been an even bigger star. Knights had such athleticism he could have been cast as a big mid. As a half back he would have redefined the terms ‘intercept marking’ or ‘rebounding from defence’. Let’s all close our eyes and picture the amazing Peter Knights – jumping on a pack to mark, landing like a cat on his feet, then going on a blitzing run which culminates in him booming a goal. Ahhhh the memories.

I considered including many others, such as the aforementioned Chris Mew as well as David Parkin, David ‘Rubber’ O’Halloran (RIP), Josh Gibson, Grant Birchall and even Brent Guerra.

CENTRE LINE

The standout choice here is Geoff Ablett on the wing. During the period I have followed the Hawks, I view him as being hugely underrated. In the 70’s there were many great ‘wingers’. Ablett was the equal of any. His speed was what most focussed on but his skills were much more. He had a booming kick of real accuracy that was decisive in us winning two flags. I loved the ‘Racehorse’, and still have fond memories of his display during our tight loss in the 1974 preliminary final to ‘Norf’. That was one of the best individual finals performances I have seen for Hawthorn and I have seen a truckload.

Both Sam Mitchell and Robert Dipierdomenico require no explanation.

Of the players I left out, in truth, none really challenged. I considered playing Shane Crawford off the wing in place of Ablett but I couldn’t leave out Ablett. Three of those I omitted deserve a mention. The first is Darrin Pritchard who was a brilliant player off the wing in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The second is Colin Robertson who was hugely underrated in the early 1980’s and lastly, Ben Allan, who I thought was elite. ‘Rocket’ Eade was also a brilliant wingman for the club.

FORWARD LINE

Most would deem picking a forward line for Hawthorn from players from the last 46 years as “mission impossible”.

In my mind this task is not all that difficult, with 5 certainties. The only selection that might raise eyebrows is selecting Peter Crimmins for the pocket. In my opinion, Crimmins’ tragic passing to cancer steals the focus from just how great he was as a player. He was brilliant as a rover and deadly dangerous when being rested in the forward line.

Of the rest: Peter Hudson and Jason Dunstall require no explanation for they are amongst the great full forwards the game has seen. I have no doubt Hudson would have kicked 200 in a season and 2,500 throughout his career if his knee hadn’t crumbled in the round 2 game against Melbourne in 1972.

The half forward line of Buddy Franklin, Dermott Brereton and Gary Buckenara would be arguably the best of all time. The only change I might have made would be to include Gary Ablett Senior in place of Buddy, due to the 6 games he played for the club in 1982.

There were no other players I gave serious consideration to for the forward line. A few deserve mention, such as Michael ‘Gladys’ Moncrieff, ‘Big Al’ Martello, ‘Bomber’ Hendrie, Bob Keddie, Cyril Rioli, and Darren Jarman. One name I would like to highlight is Mark Williams. I thought he was elite in a struggling team for most of his career. If he played more in the Hawk glory years he would have been lauded universally. His issues with knees also stifled his abilities. If not for this, he would have been a very fine outside midfield player with real pace and skill by foot, similar to Michael Long.

Of the recent bunch, I think Jack Gunston is the pick. He is truly an elite player with a style similar to James Hird. He could end his career and be as lauded for his on-field deeds.

RUCKS

Scott, Tuck, Matthews – One of the finest following divisions in the games’ history.

If I was to pick another ruckman, Greg Dear would be my choice. I thought he was a better player than he was ever given credit for.

Paul Salmon got in the Hawthorn team of the century but his past ties with Essendon eliminated him from consideration

INTERCHANGE

This was the toughest selection of all.

I had to choose Shane Crawford and John Platten. Many will ‘arc up’ about Platts not being selected in the 22. Whilst he is a truly great player, he wouldn’t get into my top 22 ahead of Lethal or Crimmo. Barry Rowlings’ selection will shock many. In fact many of the new breed of Hawk fans wouldn’t even know of his name. I rate him that highly that I even considered him before Sam Mitchell in the guts. As a midfielder he was before his time. He had great foot and hand skills and with a real tank who could run all day. His toughness was underrated. When his knee crumbled in 1978 and the Hawks thought he was cooked, allowing him to leave to Richmond, I seriously cried. He went on to be the Tigers’ captain and a member of their Hall of Fame.

With one last spot remaining on the pine, there were about 20 names racing through my head. I thought of Russell Greene, Cyril Rioli, Darren Jarman, Grant Birchall, Bob Keddie, Colin Robertson, Terry Wallace, Jordon Lewis, Jarryd Roughead and many more.

Though I left him out of the backline, it was a case of asking “which of your kids do you love the most?”, hence, Chris Mew is my last choice for the final 22.

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Cyril Rioli – is he the most important player for Hawthorn in 2018?

The epic Hollywood classic “Jaws” comes to my mind when I think of Hawks star Cyril Rioli.

On the field his instinctual predatory nature has his potential prey feeling like they are on tenterhooks. He doesn’t need to be close by for his opponents to feel sweat on their brows as he circles and threatens to strike from anywhere, more often than not leaving them in his wake. He doesn’t have to be directly involved to be ‘involved’. His free spirited nature provides that certain x-factor that is rare in our game. When he is in possession, his exploits often leave us wide eyed and aghast in awe.

Cyril Rioli has been a stand-out amongst the great Hawthorn players of the last decade. His watershed moment came during the 2008 Grand Final where, as an 18 year old youth, he showed off his freakish abilities. During a pivotal stage of the match he found himself on the wing, up against three much bigger opposition players and through sheer desperation he outplayed all three opponents, rendering them ineffective. His second efforts that day provided goosebumps to all who bore witness. His team mates rose in the face of his inspirational performance. To rub salt into the wounds of his fallen prey, a free kick to Rioli ensued. This passage of play was, for many, the tipping point when they switched from thinking the seemingly invincible Geelong juggernaut would win, to believing the Hawks were about to pull off a miraculous upset, to rival any from Grand finals past.

In the aftermath, Rioli’s reputation was sealed as a truly unique player who can, in a moment of sublime magic, flip any contest on its ear. He is the quintessential freak who can see events unfold way ahead of all others with his reading of the play. His ability is akin to a snooker player who can see 6 or 7 shots ahead to facilitate a dazzling clearance.

His career has often attracted criticism for being ‘flashy’; for being the figurative cream when many dictate that he should be the cake. On face value this criticism has merit, however this shows little respect to the effect he has when not in direct play. The aforementioned reference to ‘Jaws’ is revisited here when you consider the deferred pressure he imposes on opposition players and how he completely muddles their senses and associated decision making. The ‘flashy’ jibe is fully negated by the fact that in just a few moments of magic, Rioli can make all the difference.

The effect of this on his team mates is profound. It is no coincidence that the team’s fall from grace throughout 2017, which culminated in them missing out on playing finals, was a season which saw Rioli play only 7 games. He was severely limited in those 7 games after enduring a knock to his knee during the round one match against Essendon. This unfortunately deprived him of his game changing pace and associated elusiveness. Hawthorn’s much vaunted forward line felt the brunt of his absence. The front half that had struck fear into opposition think tanks during its glory years became largely dysfunctional. Highlighting the depth of its struggles, the team averaged only 84.72 points per game in 2017, a stark contrast to the 114.68 points per game it averaged during its halcyon days of 2013.

Whilst many of Hawthorn’s list enjoyed star billing during their flag winning days, last season highlighted their shortcomings, with many of these players found wanting. The absence of Rioli and the pressure he takes off them was key. Rioli’s pure genius offers perfect shielding to the less skilled forwards due to opposition defenders gravitating to him. This not only applies to his direct marker, but other defenders zoning off in support, which in turn allows others to operate with less attention.

As a largely disapointing season drew to a close for Hawthorn, Rioli, already on the shelf due to his on-field injury, was impacted by adversity off the field. His father suffered issues with his heart which resulted in the club granting the star compassionate leave. His absence from the club has been lengthy, stretching into the New Year and much of early pre-season training. This has sent Hawks forums into meltdown with fans wondering when he will return, if ever, along with what shape he will be in when he eventually does.

You can understand the hysteria given the importance that Rioli represents to a team in transition. He could be the difference between the club making the 8 or not or, if everything clicks, perhaps even a top 4 contender. The revival of the forward line will largely define the team’s fate. Rioli will be a huge factor in this, whether stationed as a full time forward or during his bursts in the midfield where he can conjure up goal assists from seemingly nothing.

The salvo in the concern over Rioli’s prospects in 2018 is the fact he is the epitome of a natural footballer. He is one of those rare players who could miss a pre-season yet still have the ability to impact. He is a veteran with many preseasons under his belt, meaning he has a strong base of residual fitness to draw from. He is likely to start the season slowly but come home like a freight train. On top of this, the patience shown by the club has a greater meaning. In dealing with this matter they have exuded their motto of being ‘The Family Club’ and this ethos will not be lost on either Rioli or the rest of the group.

The time spent with his father in this time of need will strengthen his resolve and steel his focus. The Rioli family is almost synonymous with football, their proud family heritage linked to the sport for decades through Cyril’s uncle Maurice who dazzled for Richmond in the early 1980’s, Dean, Daniel, Michael Long and other family members. I can imagine Cyril’s father whispering in his ear, urging him to be a definitive factor in the Hawks’ rise up the ladder.

Fear not, fellow Hawk fans, I have no doubt that Rioli’s star will dazzle once more in 2018.

8 predictions for Hawthorn in 2018

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It’s January 4th, I’m bored and hanging out for the football season to start. I thought I would peer into my crystal ball and make a few predictions for Hawthorn in 2018.

1) Conor Glass will be referred to as the next Dane Rampe
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Trends in the game have moved away from traditional forward set ups. Where teams would once play two or sometimes three big forwards, now set ups are based on having one big, mobile forward complemented by defensive-minded smalls with the role of creating second chance goals. These small forwards also apply defensive pressure which stifles the opposition’s ability to rebound. A logical response would be to play someone more mobile in the second key defensive role; a player who shows real pace on the rebound, much in the manner that Sydney has done with Dane Rampe. Glass showed dexterity in contested duels in the match against Carlton late last year when pitted against the much bigger Charlie Curnow. Add this to his jet propelled pace and underrated foot skills and he would be ideal.

2) Leadership will be the difference between playing finals and missing finals
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The last two years have seen major changes at the club, particularly with the loss of on-field leaders. The absence of Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis was a huge factor in 2017. This coincided with a change in captaincy from the ‘General’ Luke Hodge to Jarryd Roughead (who was returning from an 18 month layoff due to a cancer battle) and the appointment of Isaac Smith and Liam Shiels as Vice Captains. The new leadership group was largely uninspiring throughout 2017 and at times was found lacking. It stood out that Hodge was still the prominent leadership figure on the ground. Now that he has left, his absence will now place a huge focus on the nominated leaders at the club as well as the youth who will be exposed to more pressure without Hodge’s shielding and guidance.

3) Grant Birchall will remind us all of his importance
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It is hard not to see a striking resemblance between Grant Birchall and the immortal Michael Tuck. Both are ‘evergreen’ performers who never play a bad game and who have a huge effect on their team mates through the pressure they take off them and their immense leadership qualities. Birchall’s absence for large parts of last year brought back memories of the effect Tuck’s absence had on the ‘85 season where he missed many games due to a detached retina. In fact, the club missed a real opportunity by not appointing Birchall as captain after Hodge relinquished the role. I have no doubt he would have also emulated Tuck in this regard.

4) James Sicily will struggle with the extra attention from oppositions
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Sicily put a real target on his back in 2017. He was a stand out in playing the role of loose man in defence with his high skills in intercept marking, finding space in traffic and kicking. It was no coincidence that the turnaround in the team’s fortunes coincided with him being played in the role that legend Josh Gibson was so prominent in before he was injured. Sicily was aided in this defensive role by Jack Gunston, who rode shot gun as the second loose man in defence. Playing Gunston in defence is unlikely to continue in 2018 due to the effect it had on the team’s fortunes in attack, which will likely bring greater focus on Sicily. The loss of Hodge’s organisational skills and calming influence in defence also looms large, particularly with questions over Sicily’s temperament which was there for all to see when he was marked tight and niggled late in the season against Carlton. These losses will be offset by the return of experienced defenders Grant Birchall, James Frawley and Ben Stratton, returning after missing large chunks of 2017. A huge season lies ahead for the new number 6 for Hawthorn and how he fares will be a large factor in how the team goes.

5) Kieran Lovell will be the club’s rising star in 2018

I love this young midfielder. His recruitment is in keeping with the club’s focus on natural footballers. Lovell just knows where to go to get the footy and is very capable in possession. His ability in tight complements his outside potential due to his pace. He is just what the midfield, that was at times lacking throughout 2017, needs. He can kick a goal as well!

6) Media headlines will focus on Jaeger O’Meara
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If I close my eyes I can picture the press headlines now. The first half of the season will have the press questioning Hawthorn’s wisdom in procuring O’Meara from the Suns in the costly trade deal that saw them offload draft picks to other clubs. Perhaps these news articles will compare O’Meara to players of the past who were heavily recruited at a high cost and struggled to live up to their price tag, such as John Pitura (recruited from South Melbourne to Richmond in 1975). The latter part of season 2018, however should see the headlines sprouting something like, “The second coming of Jaeger O’Meara” as I can see O’Meara starting the season slowly, but finishing it strong. He will no doubt rise to become one of the best in the AFL.

7) Speed will kill
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The club’s lack of speed on the outside was key to its struggles in 2017. The loss of Brad Hill after 2016 was a huge factor in this with the club investing faith in Billy Hartung to pick up the slack. The fact that Hartung is no longer at the club shows how well this went! The recruitment of Jarman Impey from Port Adelaide will help – but is it enough? I would suggest no, and it will be decisive in the club missing the finals once more in 2018.

8) Tom Lynch will announce that he wants to leave the Gold Coast Suns to join Hawthorn
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The rub here is Lynch is a restricted free agent after 2018. This allows the Gold Coast to match any contract offered to him from a rival club and force them into trading for him. You know they will do this for losing him is unfathomable and will be the final nail in the club’s coffin. Also, every club will want Lynch meaning the price tag will be HUGE. He would be the perfect fit for the Hawks but who would the Suns be willing to take in return and just as importantly, who would we be willing to offer?

Is the key to Ashes victory in the selection of the wicket keepers?

Australia’s wicket keeping woes going into the first Ashes test could be summed up by the cliché phrase ‘pick your poison.’

Should there be a show of faith in the underwhelming ability and all round incompetence of incumbent Matthew Wade or should we revert back to the man he replaced, Peter Nevill? Nevill is a player that has the skills with bat and gloves to be a very fine test performer but has been largely frustrating in the 17 games in which he has donned the Baggy Green. A batting average of 22.28 coupled with some foibles behind the stumps defines his performances. Nevill showed this in the first round of the Sheffield Shield. Most saw the Ashes position as his for the taking in the wake of Wade’s profound struggles only for Nevill to once more struggle with bat and stand out for a keeping howler.

Another option is investing in young South Australian Alex Carey who is a throwback to the past with his delightful glove work that is truly elite. Much of the aversion to investing in Carey is concerns over his batting. The potential in his batting is well touted but he is yet to perform to this potential in the Sheffield Shield where he only averages 24.54. This will be an irrelevant point if the selectors stay true to their controversial ‘horses for courses’ selection policy. The dominance of the Australian top five batsmen in home conditions where they all average near or well above 60 negates the reliance on the keeper to be a major factor with the blade. Hilton Cartwright, who is likely to be at 6 in the line up will add to the batting dominance of the team giving further weight to the inclusion of Carey. Cartwright has been dominating with bat at Sheffield Shield level with an average of 50.80. When you couple this with the noted weaknesses in the English batting and with the strength of the Australian bowling line up, the support for an astute gloveman would fit well within a ‘horses for courses’ policy.
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The batting ills of the English team raise an interesting prospect when looking at their keeping position. Jonny Bairstow is the current incumbent and is respected as one of the strongest parts of their line up. Much of the focus is on his batting because it gives such depth and versatility to the line up. The ability of Bairstow to shift through the gears from defensive gritty knocks to attacking counters would make him perfectly suited to be a permanent number 4 in the line up. To make this happen however, would be dependent on Bairstow giving up the gloves. The demands of being a wicketkeeper along with taking on greater responsibility by batting in the top order would be too much. It would also rely on English Captain Joe Root moving back to number three from the number four position he currently occupies. This move however would be seen internally as the ‘tail wagging the dog’ in the current English set up, as shown by Joe Root being averse to batting at three along with Bairstow following suit when it is suggested he give up the gloves.

Keeping things as they are though is not the optimal batting configuration of the team. This configuration is a prospective top 5 for the Ashes of Cook, Stoneham, Root, Bairstow and Stokes and would represent both class and solidity. The presence of Stokes is in question but there is little doubt that the cynics are right and his brush with the law will be made to ‘go away’ by the powers that be, allowing him to be part of England’s Ashes defence. This prospective top 5 would be a better choice than investing in speculative entities like James Vince, Gary Ballance and Dawid Malan. This line up could be further solidified at 6 if either young batting prodigy Dan Lawrence or Liam Livingstone are added to the Ashes squad from the English Lions Team.

The potential effect on the English batting is supported statistically by the recent example of the Sri Lankan great Kumar Sangakkara. He averaged 40.48 with bat as a full time keeper compared to 66.78 as a specialist batsman. Brendan McCullum from New Zealand also showed improved output in his batting going from averaging 34.18 when keeping to 42.94 as a specialist batsman. Both saw a distinct improvement in their batting when freed of the mental and physical demands of keeping.

The presence of Ben Foakes in the squad not only supports the move but begs the question of why it hasn’t been done already. Foakes was recently referred to as the ‘best wicketkeeper in the world’ by English great Alec Stewart. It seems absurd not to fully utilise this. The inclusion of Foakes would provide the same added support to the English bowling attack as has been touched on when touting Alex Carey for a role in the Australian team. Foakes’ glovework would turn half chances into dismissals with his profound skills. His batting is also of a high calibre as shown by his average in English County cricket of 41.84. The move would add further depth to the batting while facilitating Bairstow to be the answer to the batting ills in England’s top 5.
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A simple re-jigging of the English line up could greatly enhance their chances of retaining the cherished urn.

Is Usman Khawaja following in Dean Jones’ footsteps?

Recent conjecture over the makeup of the Australian team for the upcoming Ashes test has centred around who will occupy the problematic sixth and seventh positions. The remaining eleven are seen as certainties in the eyes of most fans and experts.

The top five will comprise Dave Warner, Matt Renshaw, Usman Khawaja, Steven Smith and Peter Handscombe. Each of these players is backed by dominant figures at home where their batting averages all hover near or well above 60. The bowling line up is arguably the best and most diverse in world cricket. The opening pace combination of the left and right arm pairing of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins is a fearsome duo. Josh Hazelwood accentuates their threat with his combination of skill with a ball and the pressure he exerts on batsmen with his relentless lines and lengths. The unit is perfectly rounded out by the off spin of Nathan Lyon who, after his efforts in 2017 where he has taken 46 wickets at an average of 21.95, has entered the discussion as the best spinner in test cricket.

Purely on figures, Usman Khawaja should be one of the first selected. A dominant overall home average of 63.73 has ballooned out to 78.21 since re-inclusion to the team in 2015.

The statement of support in favour of Khawaja taps into another aspect governing selection, one that harkens to the past and Dean Jones’ shock axing from the test team for the start of the 1992/3 home series against the West Indies. Jones was dumped from the team despite having a lead into the series of 433 runs from his previous 4 tests at an average over 70. The unspoken aspect is the behind closed doors dynamic of the Australian set up. Jones was known for ill advised utterances to the press about the decisions and motives of the Australian selection process. This part of Jones’ personality would have irked many and perhaps this led to a target being placed on his head.

It led to vicarious reasoning in the wake of his dumping from selector at the time John Benaud:

*Jones had a very poor record v the West Indies. This poor record was partly obscured by his tendency to make big hundreds in dead test matches at the end of a series. His lone fifty and lone hundred v the West Indies were both dead rubber affairs;

*While he did make runs in Sri Lanka prior to the series, he was dropped quite often and didn’t look that good. His form had been in decline for 2 years and he could easily have been dropped 12 months earlier before making another last test century v India;

*In the lead up to the start of the Australia – West Indies series, Victoria (Jones’ home state) had just 2 shield games so Dean got very little match practice. To make matters worse, he played badly in those games, where the conditions were not great for batting; *Steve and Mark Waugh both made hundreds against the WI that summer, Steve for an Australian XI side and Mark for NSW. Steve made 95 and 100 and Mark 200 not out;

*Damien Martyn had played a few excellent innings at 1st class level that demonstrated his considerable class. He seemed a player of the future and one who might not be intimidated by the West Indies.

This walk down memory lane has relevance to Khawaja, notably in recent times, where it seems a day doesn’t pass without him having a place in the tabloids.

Khawaja stole world headlines by portraying Australian cricket as being ravaged by ethnic bias. The basis of his claims centred on his own hardships in dealing with discrimination as a Pakistani immigrant in both Grade and State cricket. As you dig a bit deeper it paints Khawaja in a very dim light, exposing him as a somewhat erratic entity. The racist drum that he recently chose to beat is in opposition to this previous quote only a few years earlier:

“According to Khawaja, his life in Australia has been untainted by prejudice.”

“Both cricket, especially his State and Test teammates, and the wider society have embraced him and his family.” Said Khawaja:

“I have not had any incidents of racial stuff. Nor has my mum, who wears the hijab.”

This was followed by him taking aim at Australian selectors for their controversial ‘horses for courses’ selection policy, chiefly for being overlooked for the final 11 in any of the tests away to India followed by being dispensed in Bangladesh after just one test despite a dominant performance at home as a lead in to both series. It seems that Khawaja felt that his good showing at home justified a greater showing of faith in his place in the team selected to play on tour.

This selection gripe raised many eyebrows, notably Australian skipper Steven Smith who pointed out what was patently obvious to all bar Khawaja, that he has been stellar at home however has played poorly away. Khawaja’s Asian average of 14.62 after five tests in Asia pulls no punches. The call for a show of faith by Khawaja has merit. Sadly, it is diminished by his inherent denial, as shown by his reaction to his dropping in Sri Lanka in 2016. Rather than accept his failing against spin and the need to work on his game, he claimed both he and Joe Burns were made the ‘scapegoats’ for the team’s dismal tour.

Aside from his denial, what’s rarely touched on is his career long struggles in the field and the fact that he is not in the shape he should be. In Australia this is not such a factor with him predominantly fielding in the slips. It becomes a bigger issue in Asia where he is away from slips, allowing a weak link for opposition batsmen to exploit. This is a key point where the game is so attritional meaning the suffocation of runs and the pressure it exerts is key in gaining ascendency, leading to victory charges. One only has to look at the huge difference Hilton Cartwright made in this respect, in place of Khawaja for the second test in Bangladesh, that Australia won to tie the series.

If the batsmen on the outskirts of the team lit it up in the three Sheffield Shield games leading up to the first Ashes test and Khawaja is less than stellar, a similar shock dumping to Jones’ from 25 years back could ensue. The reasoning behind this decision would be the team’s desire to be a more complete entity – one that can win both home and away. Khawaja’s aforementioned frailties and one dimensional nature could be the reasoning for his demise.

In the lead up to the first Ashes test, Khawaja should stop murmuring to the press and as the age old cricketing saying goes, he should ‘let his bat do the talking’. He has played well in the current Sheffield Shield match, currently sitting on 99 not out at stumps.

Hawthorn Football Club: 30 Memories from the past 30 Years (25-21 edition)

25. The ‘rolling maul’ in the 1988 Grand Final
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Winning the 1988 Grand Final by 96 points against the Melbourne Football Club, Hawthorn coach Alan Joyce described this passage of play with these words,

“I have never seen a more awesome, more inspiring passage of play than the 15-minute mark of the second quarter. I saw about a dozen Hawthorn players in a wave going down the field. It was a human chain, crashing through a desperate opposition and forcing the ball forward”.

The team of that era was filled with a constellation of star players who would often steal the focus, but this victory highlighted an aspect of that great Hawthorn team that would rarely get talked about and that is its heart and the players’ relentless desire and sheer bloody-mindedness to prevail in any circumstance.

The cost never mattered, whether it meant having your head kicked off whilst diving on a ball or your ribs crushed in order to win a contest. The self sacrifices were willing and endless.

This attitude defined the ‘Hawthorn-Way’ as described in our team song:

“Riding the bumps with a grin at Hawthorn
Come what may you’ll find us striving
Team work is the thing that talks
One for all and all for one
Is the way we play at Hawthorn
We are the mighty fighting Hawks”

24. Buddy’s final against the Western Bulldogs in 2008
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In 2007, Buddy left us in wide eyed wonder after his stunning performance in the first elimination final against the Adelaide Crows, when he kicked an impressive 7 goals. However this was merely the entree to an even more amazing display the following year in the second qualifying final between the Hawks and the Western Bulldogs.

The ‘Scrays’ held the early ascendancy, however Buddy stepped in with a brilliant first quarter goal to put a halt to this and then fully flipped the game on its ear with an outrageous display of sheer talent.

His cat-like crumbing of goals demonstrated his genius along with his epic long bombs from way down town. Franklin was never much lauded for his overhead marking, in fact it was seen as a notable weakness in his game. However his strong mark and goal that followed on the lead defined how complete he was in this final.

Kicking an incredible 8 goals, this saw him equal Brereton and Moncrieff’s record for the most goals kicked in a final by a Hawthorn player. To this day, I still view this performance as his best in a Hawks jumper.

23. Last round at Kardinia Park against Geelong in 1987
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It makes me laugh when Hawks fans and the media talk up Hawthorn’s supposed rivalry with Geelong. In my mind, rivalries are created out of heartache, something Geelong has never administered on us. In a sense, the relationship between the two clubs is defined by this saying,

‘You might cut us with a pen knife…but we bludgeon you with an axe…’

This game was delightful. After Stoneham kicked a Geelong goal deep in time on to put the Cats 9 points up, I still to this day remember hearing the exaltation on a nearby radio that ‘Geelong is going to make the ’87 finals…’

This would have put the fear into the rest of the final five teams, for the Cats were an erratic team that year but one that, at their best, put the fear of God into even the best of opposition teams. They could have won the flag from 5th position.

Enter Jason Dunstall. A goal to bring the margin back to 3 points. Then, with the siren imminent, the ball was in the hands of Russell ‘Fly’ Morris. I was behind the goals at the other end of the ground and saw him pump it forward. Rod ‘Snuff’ Lester-Smith had been thrown forward and was in a joust with his Geelong opponent as the ball hovered in the air. It went over flailing fingertips and fell into Dunstall’s lap. He went back with ice in his veins to score a goal, which put us in front and with the sounding of the siren, eliminated Geelong from the finals.

The irony is that after the game was dissected, it actually looked like the ball had gone over the post.

LOL!!!!!!!!

22. Smashing the Pies by 125 points at Victoria Park in 1987
Image result for collingwood fans at  victoria park
This memory is based on a tradition of losing to Collingwood. In fact, after joining the VFL in 1925, our first 48 (out of 50) games against Collingwood were losses, including a record 29 game losing streak.

Victoria Park was a citadel of pain for the Hawks. Our supporters who were brave enough to venture there knew they would be mocked and that we were most likely going to lose. It was not until 1960 that we recorded our first victory at that dung heap, when John ‘Elvis’ Peck kicked a match winning goal after the siren.

The exultation felt in administering Collingwood’s worst ever defeat at Victoria Park would have delighted the many Hawthorn players, fans and coaches who had suffered there for so long in the past.

I remember Brian Taylor throwing a hissy fit in the last quarter, reminiscent of a two year old. He dragged the clipboard out of the hands of a Pies official and then threw it out of the ground. This just added to the sheer joy I felt, which was overwhelming.

Sadly, by that period in the game, the Collingwood fans had long run for the exits. They were like the quintessential rats fleeing the sinking ship, which sadly robbed this Hawks fan of the opportunity to borrow E J Whitten’s iconic catch cry: “STICK IT UP THEM!”

21. Chance Bateman getting life membership at the Club.

I often think to myself, ‘since coming here from Ireland in 1971, whose autobiography, out of all the numerous Hawthorn players I have seen play for the club, would I most enjoy reading?’

Without question, the answer is Chance Bateman.

Bateman was the second indigenous player to play senior football for Hawthorn, after Cyril Collard in the late 1950’s. Only the second Aboriginal player drafted after Willie Rioli in 1990, Bateman was Hawthorn’s first indigenous player to reach 100 and 150 games. He was also the first to receive life membership after 177 games at the club. He was, you could say, the first raindrop that led to the waterfall of many great indigenous players that followed.

Chance Bateman faced tragedy when his 15 year old sister Candace was killed in a train accident in 2001. This was during his early days at Hawthorn and he had to overcome the homesickness of being away from family which would have been compounded by this terrible incident. The club showed its heart by trying to facilitate a trade back to Western Australia in the aftermath of this event, however no interest was shown in Bateman by either of the WA clubs.

Bateman stayed, and the rest is history.

He is supremely underrated as a player and was a highly respected leader during a very fine Hawks era.

Hawthorn Football Club: 30 Memories from the past 30 Years (26-30 edition)

2017 marks thirty years of the Australian Football League (AFL). In honour of this, I thought I would reminisce on the thirty most memorable moments from this era for the Hawthorn Football Club.

These moments were compiled from a survey of over a dozen Hawks fans. The eventual order was judged on by a panel of five.

Moments 30 to 26 are as follows:

30. An immaculate passage of play against Freo in 2014.
Image result for cyril rioli vs fremantle
Hawthorn’s greatness has been defined by big statements in big games throughout the AFL era. This moment was a statement within the statement. The lead up to the 2013 grand final rematch was all about Fremantle and how powerful they had been in the first two games of 2014. Also how they were going to show this power and redress their GF loss while announcing their take over as top dog.

An opening blitz from the Hawks evaporated the fantasy.

There was no let up as the ball went deep in their forward line to the hands of Ryan Crowley, who was free in the pocket. A tinge of disappointment was felt amongst the Hawk throng who were baying for Dockers blood and it was apparent they would score.

30 seconds later exultation replaced impending disappointment. The legacy of what was just witnessed was epitomised in the tension built roar. It became even louder and built to a frenzy when the kick went out to Rioli on the bounce on the wing. Cue the Jaws theme music and watch while the ultimate predator stalks and then strikes. He burned off his Freo opponents and then delivered it on a plate to Luke Bruest.

As Bruest sold some candy to sidestep and put the goal through, you just looked around to witness all the Freo players with their heads slumped in the knowledge that, even in moments where they held a seeming ascendency, they were hopelessly out of their depth.

29. Alastair Clarkson instigating a tribute to Phil Walsh.
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The untimely death of Adelaide Coach Phil Walsh was a tragedy on many levels. His death devastated the football community, as well as the wider community.

I really thought the whole round should have been abandoned as a tribute to him. When it went ahead, I never felt such lack of care for the result of a game. His death took such precedence that it deemed the result as meaningless.

Alastair Clarkson embodied this sentiment in the huddle at the end that perfectly conveyed the collective grief felt by all. It was a perfect sign of respect. This filled me with immense pride to have Clarkson as the figurehead of the Hawthorn Football Club.

28. Max Bailey getting a Premiership medal in 2013 after 3 knee reconstructions.
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After seeing the recent birthday tribute to Max Bailey, I feel a tad guilty for giving this moment such a low rating. The big ruckman was destined to be a very fine player until cruel fate intervened on three separate occasions. I still remember a pre-season game where he rag dolled Ben Rutten in the goal square to mark and kick a goal. It made me think, ‘here is a big defining ruckman that can go forward, pluck a big mark and kick a goal… BINGO!’

Aside from his potential, he had such a natural and endearing nature – one that had star appeal and the words “firm fan favourite” written all over it.

For him to come back to receive that medal was very moving. The medal was given real meaning by the iconic preliminary final against Geelong a week earlier. That was a game he played very well in and Bailey went on to be serviceable in the Grand Final. On receiving his winning medal, the roar from the crowd was fully justified and married with real respect, born out of awe of his never say die attitude and associated persistence. He’d done it, despite many galling moments that would have buried lesser types.

27. Last game at VFL Park.
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There was a part of me that was happy to see the back of VFL Park. It meant no more searching for your car for an eternity after matches, firm in your belief that the mythical ‘car park gnomes’ who somehow moved cars around while you were inside the stadium were, in fact, real.

The ground was a citadel of so many great Hawthorn moments, many which are represented in the upcoming memories of this list.

One that stands out for me from the previous VFL era was the Queens’ Birthday match against Collingwood in 1981. Over 92,000 fans were packed into the ground. The walkways were full of people standing, along with steps being used as impromptu seats. The mosquito fleet of Norm Goss, Lethal and Alan Goad dominated forward, leading to us towelling up the Pies in a romp.

The last game at VFL Park was a smashing of the Swans by 85 points. When the final siren sounded to end this game, it felt like a goodbye to an old friend that I had shared a gamut of emotions with. Upon walking out amongst the 70,000 capacity crowd, the sense of loss was shared by all the Hawks’ faithful

26. Tucky’s 400th game, 1990 versus ‘Norf’.
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Among the Hawthorn faithful, there are few players more loved than Michael Tuck. He was the shy country boy that always avoided the spotlight but away from it was genuinely welcoming to fans.

When the siren sounded on this game, it ended a tight and tense affair that was sealed late by Dermie running into an open goal after roving a crumb off the pack. Afterward, all the focus fell on Tuck for his 400th game. He characteristically and instinctively ran for the race to avoid the attention. Platts and Langers both shielded his escape and insisting on hoisting him onto teammates shoulders and carrying him off.

All stood in tribute to his accomplishment. It seemed very apt that one of the many of those applauding was the opposition coach, Wayne Schimmelbusch. The Kangas’ great was the same age as Tucky. Schimmelbusch was a central figure from the Kangaroos’ teams of the 70’s that were involved in a heated rivalry with the Hawks. This was during the same era that Tuck was lauded as being the finest ruck rover in the game, as part of the iconic Scott, Tuck, Matthews trio.

In a sense, his greatness as a player is underrated. This greatness lay not just in his heady pomp as a dominant onballer, but also in his versatility. This saw him as a very able centre half forward in the early 80’s and also as a very clever rebounding half back and tagger in his later years. What stood out in his career was that he never played a bad game. He made his mark with longevity and good to excellent performances.

My only disappointment from this game was that he did not unfurl one of his trademark torpedos. It would have been so “box office” to see him bang one through from way out as he had often done throughout his career.