This year’s Peter Crimmins Medal event was a showcase of the Hawthorn Football Club’s future.
As expected, Tom Mitchell was the recipient of the main award.
The top 10 vote getters were as follows:
1. Tom Mitchell 192 votes
2. Ben McEvoy 138 votes
3. Luke Hodge 131 votes
4. Ryan Burton 117 votes
5. Isaac Smith 111 votes
6. Jarryd Roughead 107 votes
7. Jack Gunston 104 votes
8. James Sicily 104 votes
9. Shaun Burgoyne 100 votes
10. Liam Shiels 91 votes
Mitchell’s run away win was a just reward for what was a dominant season. The inside midfielder was prolific in his ball winning ability and during rounds 12-17, he especially showed his potential from an attacking viewpoint that the club can hone in the coming seasons. Combining this with his pre-eminence as an inside force makes him one of the most complete midfielders in the game.
Unfortunately, from a team perspective, Hawthorn lacked the necessary outside support this season, which would have allowed the full effect of Mitchell’s ball winning ability to be felt on oppositions. The adding of a few outside threats that Mitchell could transition to would make him even more dynamic.
The choice of Ben McEvoy as runner-up was justified and paid respect to how immense he has been throughout 2017. The highlight this year was his leadership. The natural quality that McEvoy exudes brings back memories for this old scribe of another ruckman from yesteryear – the saviour of the club and premiership captain, Don Scott.
The evolving role of ruckmen in the AFL also brings a focus on players like McEvoy. There is a tendency now for clubs to play only one genuine ruckman supported by undersize types to accentuate their dexterity in clearances. This strategy has placed an emphasis on the around the ground work of the big men. This is something that McEvoy excels at and his expertise in this area should have seen him rewarded with a place in the All Australian team.
The role McEvoy played in the team’s second half turnaround cannot be understated. This was highlighted by the club’s re-invented forward line which was supported by a suffocating forward press. McEvoy anchored this. He brilliantly adapted the traditional ‘kick behind play’ role of the ruckman. Rather than sit in the hole at centre half back, McEvoy operated behind the forward press when the club was in possession in the forward 50. It stifled oppositions’ exit points due to his elite contested marking. He was also effective when he floated into the 50 as a scoring threat. His reading of the play and knowing when to do this was top shelf.
Ryan Burton exuded our future in winning The Most Promising award. Head coach Alastair Clarkson’s skills as an educator were on display with Burton throughout this season. The master coach stationed him as a key defender in a role the young tyro was brilliant in. Burton’s future, however, belongs in the midfield – a destiny that will no doubt one day see him being viewed as a silken version of Nat Fyfe. Burton is a similar big bodied midfielder but possesses better skills than the Dockers’ star.
The young Irishman Conor Glass winning the club’s Best First Year award offers a tantalising prospect going forward. His pace is an obvious answer to the club’s greatest need as a blitzing defensive rebounder, or as a blazing wingman. In the Carlton game he showed another sign of a potential future path, where he was at times matched against the 6’5 Charlie Curnow in one-out duals. He more than matched the young Blues phenom. Based on this evidence, the club could develop him as an undersized 2nd key defender, similar to Dane Rampe at the Swans. The club always plays loose men in zone off roles in defence which would support this idea. In an era where rebound in defence is so sought after, playing Glass in this role would make the Hawks defensive rebound comparable to any in the AFL.