Hawthorn’s Round-20 loss to Richmond highlights just how much Luke Hodge will be missed when he retires at the end of the season.
Without the guiding hand of their zen-like ‘General’, the Hawks’ re-jigged 8 man defence, centring around 2 zone off men (which had been the fulcrum of the Hawks’ turnaround in fortunes since the midseason break) resembled headless chooks in the early stages of Sunday’s match. In his absence, they lacked the structure that in recent times has frustrated and suffocated the attack of their opponents.
The Tigers set up a small structure which added to the discord. They had obviously been schooled on how, in Ben Stratton and James Frawley’s absence, the Hawks’ defence had recently struggled against Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield as a result of their lack of accomplished shut down types on small and mid-sized forwards.
The Hawks’ lack of composure in the transition out of defence caused many turnovers which resulted in easy goals. This was then intensified by Richmond’s very dangerous ‘mosquito fleet’ which fully exploited the Hawks’ youthful foibles with its relentless and unyielding defensive forward line pressure.
James Sicily was impressive once more, but the Tigers caged him in neutral zones with most of his possessions sweeping up across the defence rather than penetrating and setting up the transition into attack.
Sicily was the first player felled in a domino-like chain reaction that saw the Hawks revisit their early season on-field woes. The Hawks had similar inside 50 numbers (47/46 in Richmond’s favour) but the haphazard nature of the entries into attack saw the team only score 3 goals before Roughead scored a major approaching the third quarter siren. Hawthorn’s defensive forwards that have been so pivotal in creating scoring chances, through their relentless harrying of opposition key rebounders, were largely ineffectual in limiting their direct targets. This inability limited the skewing of the rebound out of defence meaning the forward press in support of the attack was impossible. Instead, the Tigers made their extra numbers in defence really count by consistently setting up quick and decisive rebounds out of their back line. This killed the Hawks in transition as a result of the Tigers’ blitzing pace on the spread.
Hawthorn waved the white flag of surrender for its 4-man forward line structure half way through the third quarter. They then reverted back to a 6 man structure with Jack Gunston sent forward from his zone-off role in defence. This move was largely inspired by the Hawks looking into their forward 50 and constantly seeing the games’ ultimate road block, Alex Rance. Taylor Duryea had attempted to mark him only to be greeted almost contemptuously with Rance still doing as he pleased.
The change to a more traditional attacking set-up provided more bite with 5 goals coming in the last quarter, but the trade off was the lack of support in defence.
The malaise wasn’t helped by the Tigers assuming control of the midfield. Tom Mitchell was prolific in winning the ball, but lacked his recent cutting edge due to Dion Prestia being a proactive marker on the midfield dynamo. His cause wasn’t helped with the absence of support coming from players such as Ben McEvoy, Shaun Burgoyne and Liam Shiels who all had quiet games. Outside runners Billy Hartung and Ricky Henderson were also ineffective after being in good form with their dash and run in recent games.
From a big picture viewpoint, youngsters Teia Miles and Conor Glass showed real signs of promise. Miles kicked two early goals and then highlighted his versatility by going back. Glass showed dash, skill and desperation, highlighted by his effort in the last quarter to spoil a certain Tigers’ major on the goal line.
This week’s loss was not unexpected as the young Hawks’ team has been up for a while and reality checks are just part and parcel of growing pains.
It was a lovely moment at the games’ conclusion when both teams lined up and cheered Jarryd Roughead as he was chaired off in honour of his 250th game. Huge dues to all the Richmond players and officials for the respect they showed.