The Alastair Clarkson era at Hawthorn has stood out for the strength of its structures combined with the rabid nature of its football. These two factors interlinked during the 67 point defeat of a much hyped Melbourne outfit at a rain drenched MCG on Sunday afternoon.
The Hawks structured their defence around a zone off backman in a game plan which was built around transition. As part of this, the gut running of both wingmen, Isaac Smith and Ricky Henderson was crucial. So too was the increased work rate of the forward line which had fallen short the previous week in leading up to provide an option for players in transition. The defensive aspect of their roles was also crucial in Sunday’s victory, not only when in attack but when assisting in defence and in transition.
After a slow start where the Demons slipped out to a 27-6 lead, the Hawks’ composure was never dented. Instead, their response was both calm and clinical. Hawthorn’s surgical dissection of Melbourne after quarter time, piling on an impressive 15 goals, was power footy, reminiscent of their glory years.
It was interesting to observe how Melbourne chose to handle the ‘if, but and maybe’ surrounding Tom Mitchell. The first three weeks saw the midfield dynamo rack up 40+ possessions when sides allowed him to run free. Yesterday saw Melbourne send Nathan Jones to tag him which limited his direct effect from a possession standpoint. The irony of this, however, was that this tactic benefitted the Hawks by allowing a virtual extra in the midfield due to Melbourne sacrificing one of their players to try to control Mitchell’s direct influence.
The only downside to the victory was the injuries sustained by key players Cyril Rioli and Paul Puopolo, with both players likely to be out for extended periods.
Ben Stratton-9.5- Luke Hodge – Who?
The evergreen back man was outstanding in assuming the role of ‘general’ in defence.
Liam Shiels-9.5- Wet weather and Shiels go hand in hand and he was truly immense.
Luke Breust- 9- Arguably the small forward’s best game in a good long while. It was not just his instinctive goal kicking but his work rate which was such a stand out during his rise in the game. This is something that has been somewhat lacking recently.
Jack Gunston-9- He was back to playing forward and was pivotal with his elite football IQ. He actually reminds me a lot of James Hird in terms of his football IQ.
Jaeger O’Meara-9- Easily O’Meara’s best game for the club. The stand out was the return of his pace and burst speed from clearances along with his ability to get free in transition through sprints.
Isaac Smith –8.5- He was a huge key in the victory with his gut running to assist deep in defence, aiding around the ground in transition and offering scoring options when drifting forward. It stood out in attack how often both Henderson and Smith drifted in unchecked.
Ricky Henderson- 8- Refer to Smith.
Daniel Howe- 8-Obviously has tapped into the Shiels gene pool.
Jarman Impey- 7-Very good desperation in rotating forward and in bursts in the midfield.
James Sicily-7- It was interesting seeing Clarko cast him more in a marking role with Stratton predominantly assuming the zone off role. One can cite this as part of his schooling by trying to marry a more disciplined aspect to bring to full fruition his lethal nature as a rare natural footballer. One particular example of his calibre was when he grabbed the ball deep in defence and unfurled a torpedo over Melbourne’s defensive press which saw O’Meara run into an open goal.
Paul Puopolo-7- The small forward was very good up until pinging a hamstring.
Jarryd Roughead-7- After a quiet start to the season, Roughead’s turnaround in the last couple of weeks has been very good.
Ben McEvoy-7- The defensive role he played in the ruck in limiting Max Gawn’s influence cant be understated.
David Mirra-7- After starting nervously he had a strong finish by limiting Hogan’s influence after Frawley went off.
Conor Glass-6- He was decent off half back, keeping his direct opponent quiet and providing dash in transition with his pace.
Blake Hardwick-6- The conditions suited his style. He seemed to love getting down and dirty in the muck and stood out for his hungry nature.
Taylor Duryea-6- A turnaround performance after struggling in recent times. He was assigned the role of limiting Garlett and did it with due aplomb.
Tim O’Brien-6- A better display after being very disappointing so far this season. He was cast in the more familiar forward and second ruck roles which led to his rise last year and looked good, finishing with three goals.
Tom Mitchell-6- He was tagged by Jones and while not as prolific as recent weeks, was still highly influential with Melbourne essentially being one player down in the midfield.
Harry Morrison-5- The youngster showed enough glimpses to warrant the club persisting with playing him in a utility role.
Cyril Rioli-4- Did a few nice things in bursts but was not involved enough. Sadly he hurt his knee late in the game, which makes one worry about his future from a durability stand point.
James Frawley- 2- It is hard to adequately grade Frawley due to him being affected by a migraine. This aside, the last 18 months has put a real question mark next to his durability.