There is little debate over Alastair Clarkson’s standing in the game as a vindicated genius. He is almost universally viewed as one of the best coaches in the game’s history. There are many aspects which set him apart from other coaches. One of his strongest talents is his ability to identify certain attributes of opposition players, target them with a role in mind and turn them into stars.
This was exemplified by his recruitment of Brent Guerra, who had been a frustrating player at two different clubs prior to joining Hawthorn where he excelled in a key role as a defensive rebounder off half back. Likewise, the transformation of Josh Gibson after his recruitment from North Melbourne was immense. The big-hearted, undersized back man became a key component in the Hawks’ juggernaut. He was named All Australian and won two Peter Crimmins medals in premiership years after being cast in the zone off role, free in defence. Another player Clarkson recruited from North Melbourne was David Hale. He became another important player in Alastair Clarkson’s game plan as a very clever 2nd ruck and resting forward and despite being relatively underwhelming at the Kangaroos, he became well regarded for having a huge impact in big games during his career at Hawthorn.
If the following quotes are anything to go on, it seems Clarkson has similar intentions for Jarman Impey, who the Hawks recently acquired in a trade from Port Adelaide.
“We recognise he’s got some significant strength around his speed and raw power and we want to see that in the forward line, midfield and when we need it, in the back end.’
“If he gets that exposure, confidence in himself, belief and impact in the manner we’d like, then he can become an A-grade player for us.”
The latter part of the first quote hints at a reluctance towards using Impey in the back half and instead indicates Clarkson’s intention to fully utilise him in the crucial middle part of the ground. His jet heels could be potentially devastating, in bursts, as an attacking force, in breaking the lines through the forward presses from oppositions, to aid in transition into attack. This would be similar to the role played by Cyril Rioli throughout his glittering career, as a burst presence in the midfield to complement his forward role. Rioli would then use his precocious ‘x-factor’ to help facilitate the rebound from defence into attack (see attached video below) and it is hoped that Impey would follow suit. It was no coincidence that the absence of Rioli for large parts of 2017, not just as a forward, but in this crucial midfield role, was key in the demise of Hawthorn’s once vaunted forward line. This deprived the team of this ‘x-factor’ element and the corresponding unpredictability of its forward half entries. It was little wonder the Hawks recruited Impey. I am sure, also, that he would be able to offer support to Rioli after his recent injury concerns and his father’s ill health.
As with all preconceived roles, they are only made valid when others facilitate them by performing their own duties. Conor Glass could fill one such role if he could seal a position off half back where the temptation would be to use Impey due to his pace and line breaking ability. With the inclusion of Blake Hardwick as a small defender and James Sicily in the same zone off role that garnered universal acclaim for Josh Gibson, the team’s defensive rebound would be reinforced, after being a notable weakness early in the 2017 season. These players should aid Conor Glass in succeeding in the half back role. Hardwick is a skilled rebounder with long decisive kicking and whilst Sicily is a more cavalier defender, he has the elite foot skills and associated daring to nail many scything kicks that remind me of Matthew Suckling. Glass, with the blitzing pace he offers and courage to take on the game, would be the final puzzle piece needed to make the defensive rebound lethal due to its eclectic nature.
If the club implemented the above plan, this would allow Impey to be used in a more offensive manner. This could then give Impey the chance to rise to A-grade status, as boldly predicted by Alastair Clarkson.