Anyone doubting the calibre of Alastair Clarkson’s coaching genius need only review the two victories this season against the Sydney Swans.
The stand out of Clarko’s coaching last night was his re-invention of tactics and personnel from the clash three months prior. Clarkson masterminded a lack of predictable structure for his team last night which skewed the Swans’ senses and composure. The chaos this incited, together with the rabid nature of those who hit the Swans’ bodies hard created a sense of unsettled confusion.
Only Kaiden Brand anchoring as the key back was a mainstay position throughout the match, with the rest rolling through defence, midfield and attack. The trio of James Sicily, Jack Gunston and Luke Hodge alternating as the loose players in defence were pivotal in slapping down the Swans’ forward entries, then quarter-backing the Hawks rebound into attack.
Sicily was superb, particularly in the later parts of the match. He helped halt the Swans’ charge with his stifling acts and then kick-started attacks with his delightful step in traffic and scything foot skills.
Early on the forward line resembled a famed Peter Hudson leading bluff, starting a dummy lead to misdirect defenders up and out then diverting back and through on goal. A four man attacking set up emulated Huddo’s famed ruse where the Swans defence was led up high when the Hawks were in possession, allowing goals out the back through Hawks players flowing through. When the Swans’ defence held deep it stifled the Hawks’ early scoring ascendency. In response, Hawks players rotated through the attack in a merry-go-round like manner with Shaun Burgoyne pivotal when moved forward.
Throughout the match, the second chances created by the Hawks’ horde of ravenous defensive forwards incited a siege mentality with the Swans constantly trapped in the Hawks’ forward 50. Will Langford is not only a bull but a charging one that creates carnage for opposition defences and fresh chances for his team. When the Swans did manage to get the ball out of their defence, they were only afforded exit points out wide. This led to laboured and skewed forward 50 entries, characterised by constant bombs into their forward line that were expertly picked off by Sicily & Co.
The Hawks’ midfield was superb, once more highlighting their recent ascendency in contested football. The midfield battle consisted of head to head duals that never stayed consistent. The lack of predictable player match ups threw the Swans’ pre-game planning out the window. Everyone expected Clarko to keep Daniel Howe in the tagging role he has starred in recently, but instead he freed Howe which deprived Sydney of the ‘target’ they so covet going into games. Howe, picked off one late by landing a ribbing tickling tackle on Buddy that was sadistic delight. Liam Shiels and Isaac Smith started predominantly on the back of the square which further confused the Swans’ midfield match ups, with both players being pivotal in the stirring win.
Lording over the midfield in a dominant display was Ben McEvoy, who destroyed the Swans’ rucks by blowing them up with his tank around the ground and burying them with his contested marking. Tom Mitchell will win the Peter Crimmins Medal by a mile this year, but the big hearted ruckman has been immense for most of this season with his efforts and underrated leadership of a young group in transition.
Should I mention finals?
Finals are unlikely, but the possibility is still there. The MCG is certain to be bursting at the seams next week when the Hawks take on the Tigers in what will be a huge clash.