If any one current player could define the almost mythical ‘Hawthorn-Way’ it would be Ben McEvoy. Strong and self-effacing, he seems content to continue to fly under the radar despite never playing a bad game. Even with several career defining games under his belt he has seemed to go relatively unnoticed. He is a player who has welcomed challenges with a self-assured pragmatism which has enabled him to consistently evolve and improve.
McEvoy recently played his 100th game for Hawthorn after being traded from St. Kilda at the end of 2013. With this milestone has come some belated positive attention from the so called ‘experts’, compelled to retrospectively dissect his playing career and as a result, be awoken to just how good the big ruckman has been. He has had a stellar start to the season and some are even touting him as the likely All Australian ruckman if his form holds and the injury gods are kind. It is no surprise that the club has granted him a one year extension. The extension will bring McEvoy closer to 150 games and life membership for the club. At 29 years young, and displaying the best form of his career, comparisons to the ageless Shaun Burgoyne are very apt. Like the old adage of a fine wine improving with age, both players have improved since being traded to the Hawks.
McEvoy’s quiet and modest demeanour belies how talented he is. 12 years into his career and he’s playing some of his best footy. It compels one to turn an eye to the club’s 100th year anniversary in the VFL/AFL in 2025 when the club’s greatest ever team will be revisited.
In the early 00’s the club announced its Team of the Century and a key stand out of that team was the selection of Paul Salmon as the second ruck. Salmon’s selection was justified on the back of his performances, during a period of immense struggle for the club, which culminated in back to back Peter Crimmins medals in 96/7 along with All Australian selection in 1997. It also raised a few eye brows due to Salmon playing most of his career at hated rivals Essendon, including finishing his career with them.
Most thought the position should have gone to John Kennedy Snr. The big hearted man who passionately delivered his iconic “do something” speech as coach during the 1975 grand final won four best and fairest awards during his time as a ruckman and captain of the club in the 1950’s. His being overlooked in the Team of the 20th Century was most likely a case of his iconic humbleness coming to the fore. Kennedy’s always been a bastion of prioritising the club’s needs ahead of his own accolades. He probably was put forward for inclusion but likely opted for others to be named instead, in lieu of him being chosen as the team’s coach.
When the team is revisited in 2025, it poses the question, can Ben McEvoy challenge and usurp Paul Salmon as the second ruck in the team?
As things stand right now, I believe the answer to this is no, he can’t. Salmon is far superior to McEvoy. As one of the most feared full forwards the game has seen and a duly lauded ruckman, he is the recipient of a host of individual awards, including a place in the AFL Hall of Fame. When choosing between the two, personalities become irrelevant with the deciding factor being their performances for the club. Salmon has it over McEvoy in terms of the awards he won during his time at Hawthorn, these earned during a period of struggle for the club where he was a standout player with few players vying for the club’s key award. Only Shane Crawford was a genuine star during Salmon’s time at the club. It has been somewhat harder for McEvoy with him coming to the club during a period of greater success and playing alongside various club icons including Tom Mitchell, Luke Hodge, Cyril Rioli, Josh Gibson, Sam Mitchell and others of that ilk. One could point to McEvoy’s contribution to two premierships for the club in 2014/15 but this would not be fair to Salmon as winning flags is dependent on the entirety of the team, largely attributed to an individual being in the right place at the right time.
A look at statistics shows how close the two players are:
Disposals per game (average):
Hit Outs per game (average):
Marks per game (average):
Goals per game (average):
Salmon: 0.41 which is a surprise considering his past accolades in this area
Tackles per game (average):
1%’s per game (average);
The stats show a clear pattern in the strengths of each player, but also how the ruck role has evolved over time. Salmon played a traditional role, contesting the taps and then sitting behind the ball at centre half back, whereas McEvoy is expected to be a more decisive factor at the bounces and throw ins by doing more to facilitate clearances. He also is expected to have a level of fitness and stamina necessary for running to position and presenting an option in the crucial transition from defence to attack
Lastly, he is expected to be a viable option in attack, both as a resting forward and by drifting into the forward 50 when on the ball in order to anchor the forward press. This is a huge factor in second chance goals with McEvoy sitting behind the press and not allowing easy escape or decisive rebound.
McEvoy’s flexibility in an era of reinvention for rucks can’t be underplayed when comparing the two. The other factor is how many games are still left in his tank. If the footy gods are kind, McEvoy could end his career with well over 200 games for the Hawks, which could result in a similar number of individual accolades as Salmon. If this happened, it would give rise to calls for him being included in Hawthorn’s greatest team of all time when the club’s 100th anniversary is celebrated in 2025.
Either way, we are spoiled for choice in our happy team at Hawthorn.