When I think of Will Langford, the analogy of a shooting star comes to mind. From out of virtually nowhere he appeared, burning brightly and bedazzling us all throughout the 2014 finals series, only for his glow to fade and burn out just as quickly.
The last three years have been a frustrating period for Langford, marred by his flawed decision making and poor foot skills. He possesses many qualities that the Hawks hoped would address key issues in their midfield, however these weaknesses have scuppered his potential benefit. A valid comparison from the past would be Tim Clarke, a player lauded for his running ability and once touted for big things, but his skill issues laid all this potential to waste. Likewise for Langford, his recurring skill errors have seen him go from being viewed as the bedrock for the Hawks to build their present and future midfield around to being jettisoned from the midfield altogether.
In an era where causing and punishing opposition turnovers is a key statistic, he became a risk that the club was no longer willing to take. He was dropped to Box Hill and on returning, was cast in a new role as a defensive forward which was better suited to his relentless playing style. Playing in a more neutral part of the ground, where his disposal gaffs were not so readily exploited, seemed to conceal his obvious weaknesses. Langford’s relentless pressure and harrying of opponents in this new role saw him achieve success in creating 2nd chance goals. He lassoed the opposition’s main rebounders with his suffocating assaults and skewed their rebounding efforts, which in turn ignited his teams’ forward press.
After being cast in this role, a new hope was envisioned, with him being key in the turnaround of the team’s fortunes. But, unfortunately, it is proving more and more to be another false dawn. Despite being adept at getting into goal scoring positions, he rarely punishes on the scoreboard. This season thus far he has returned an unacceptable 6.13 and kicked 5 out of bounds on the full, the worst record in the AFL. From set shots, he has kicked 1.10.
It leaves Langford’s career at Hawthorn in jeopardy. With him contracted through 2019, the desired course of action would be to trade him to another club. But, his much publicised skill issues, particularly in relation to turnovers, mean he will attract little attention from rival clubs. If any do show an interest, the return for his services will be scant.
The reality is he will most likely stay at Hawthorn and an emphasis will be put on finding a way to address his kicking malaise and bring his many attractive qualities to fruition. Langford’s problems are not only that of a technical nature, but also a mental one. You can see the stress written all over his face every time he lines up for goal. Although a complex issue, hopefully a summer full of practice and a supportive and encouraging environment can reap rewards for Will Langford in season 2018 and beyond.