Ben Stratton: The ‘Do or the Doer?

There is a lovely irony to the retro 80’s style mullet hairdo gaining attention for evergreen Hawks defender Ben Stratton. It is probably the most publicity Stratton has received during his glittering career and he seems to have even gained a bit of a cult following.

This following shows the skewed nature of the attention paid to players. Stratton has garnered more attention for showing some flash or an aspect of eccentricity than for what he means to the club and Stratton means a great deal to Hawthorn. He has been a pivotal figure throughout his 150 game career with the Hawks, yet is mostly misunderstood by the ‘experts’ covering the game. Their focus seems to be skewed and driven by tabloid mindsets and unfortunately many fans have a similar lack of clarity.

Despite being a cornerstone of the club during the Alastair Clarkson era, there are few people who already revered Stratton prior to his recent brush with cult status. He has, however, been a brick to build everything upon as well as the mortar in between when needed to bind everything together. Those who already recognised his importance paid homage to his expertise as a multi-faceted back man while adoring him for getting any job done with the minimum of fuss.

Unfortunately he rarely receives due acknowledgement for his expertise as the quintessential lock down defender, one who can blanket any type of forward. If you want to be impressed, just think of Eddie Betts, the poster child of the modern age, who is regarded as one of the best small forwards in the game’s history. Then think of his career association with Stratton. Or think back to Stratton’s blanketing job on Jack Darling, a vastly different type of attacker, in the 2015 Grand Final win against the Eagles.

Stratton is also just as efficient as the modern hybrid version of a defender. He reads the play and knows when to run to position to get free to facilitate a rebounding chain. His new hairdo is a stark contradiction to his neat and tidy skills on the field. His sacrificial acts or pivotal one percenters exude a sheer bloody-mindedness to do everything possible to benefit the team.

When crunch time arrives, Stratton is always a beacon. Just think back to the dying stages of the 2012 preliminary final against Adelaide when the game was on a knife’s edge. A rampaging Patrick Dangerfield got the ball and turned towards goal. All the hearts of the Hawk faithful sank as they were certain he would drive a nail into the coffin, reminiscent of the similar heartbreak felt after the 2011 preliminary final. Stratton then arose from a virtual grave to grasp onto Dangerfield, drag him down and seal the victory for the Hawks. It was one of the best tackles in the game’s history although it rarely, if ever, gets aired as an example of how it’s done. The same night, a year later, he took two brave marks going back in traffic to help beat Geelong and in doing so, end the Kennett curse.

There is also great presence and leadership inherent in his style. This is most keenly felt when Stratton is missing from the team through the breakdown of structures and associated game plans. This was never more evident than during the struggles of the team during 2017 when Stratton was missing for large chunks of the season due to a knee injury.

The renaissance of the team in 2018 has been largely driven by his underrated completeness coming to the fore. Any lingering doubts over the team missing the leadership and profound presence of the ‘General’, Luke Hodge have been put to rest. Stratton has stepped up to pick up the slack in marshalling a predominantly inexperienced defence. The Demons game spoke volumes. He was pivotal in keeping the composure of all the defenders around him after Melbourne got off to a fast start. A point made more meritorious with the loss of one of the team’s few experienced backs, James Frawley before quarter time. After Frawley’s withdrawal from the game, Stratton operated more in a zone off role which saw the strangulation of Melbourne’s scoring thereafter. He also facilitated probably the best transition from defence and rebound the team has seen in a good long while.

When considered together, all of these acts are far more deserving of ‘cult status’ than any Chapel Street retro ‘do’.

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Ben McEvoy: Getting It Done The Hawthorn Way

“The Hawthorn Way” is a catchcry bandied around by many but understood by very few.

When considering which iconic figures from the past might embody the definition of “The Hawthorn Way”, names such as Dr. Sandy Ferguson, John Kennedy Snr, Ron Cook and Don Scott come to mind. A more recent inclusion to this list of Hawthorn icons is Alastair Clarkson, based on how he facilitated the Hawks’ renaissance after joining the club in 2005. The genius coach has expertly married the past, present and future in an evolving incarnation of this catchphrase. He successfully linked the “one for all and all for one” theme from our song to the modern day marketing slogan of “Always Hawthorn”. The sum of all the parts at the football club and the contributions of all concerned represented a mosaic for all to pay homage to and great success followed.

Clarkson’s speeches about Hawthorn’s success remind us of the often unnoticed work that goes on behind the scenes, away from the spotlight. The example of the worker who likes to go unnoticed instantly comes to mind, one who routinely clocks on early and stays back late and though always being consistently excellent never seeks any thanks or acclaim. When considering the on-field talent, these are the types of players who strive to exceed their role, rather than merely satisfy it. They are prepared to sacrifice themselves to benefit others and solidify the strength of the group. Although their passion for success may burn inside them with a rabid zealotry, they carry themselves with a minimum of fuss, with a silently assured nature which invites a lack of attention and perhaps even the odd debate over whether they are underrated, a question which would be accepted as a moral victory. Hawthorn’s team has included several players of this ilk in recent times and many from its recent dynasty were overlooked for selection in the All Australian team.

Ben McEvoy is one such player who embodies “The Hawthorn Way”, a consummate performer who exudes a self effacing demeanour both on and off the field. His devotion to the cause stood out after contemplating retirement due to back issues after the 2016 season. Despite his personal discomfort, the best interests of the club were paramount and he elected to continue, playing in all 22 games in 2017. The stand out was the rise of his natural leadership skills, which few had previously paid due respect to, particularly in the first half of 2017 where leadership at the club was lacking.

His on-field presence was profound and was the fulcrum of the team’s turnaround during the second half of last season. One can’t overlook how vast his improvement has been since 2017. Last season saw him eclipse his previous hit out average for a season by seven taps, with an average of 25.4 hit outs per game. By improving on his weaker skill sets to fully complement his strongest suits, this took him to an elite standing as a ruckman. He followed a traditional ruck rover career path to fill the team ruck position. He excels in playing an important linking role. This role is highly valued in the modern age of the AFL where traditional midfield roles are lumped under the generic umbrella term of ‘onballers’.

In looking at the second half of 2017, McEvoy operated as the quintessential tall presence in both defence and attack. The game plan shifted after the bye to an 8/4 balance between defence and attack commanded by two zone off defenders to help facilitate the rebound. The attack had a largely defensive accent, centred on rabid small and midsize attackers. Their role was to create second chance goals when the ball was in the forward 50 while at the same time skewing and limiting the rebound.  The big ruck was a huge key in this transition from defence. McEvoy’s unyielding tank always offered an option with his ability to get free due to his running off the ball to position. Equally as pivotal was his anchoring as the last man in the forward press, operating as a modern take on the ‘kick behind play’. His impressive tally of 14 goals in 2017 was the result of his high football IQ. He knows how to get lost whilst transitioning into attack during general play and how to drift into the forward 50 to offer an option when operating as part of the forward press.

The 2018 season has so far seen many pundits obsessing over the renaissance of the ruck position. Despite this, the silence over McEvoy’s calibre has been deafening. Media attention has focussed on Brodie Grundy due to his hybrid nature, combining both the traditional ruck role of the past with a more modern take, due to the influence of his tap work coupled with his natural ball winning ability. This follows on from similar acclaim heaped on Patrick Ryder and Max Gawn in previous seasons.

A showdown with Gawn looms on Sunday which is likely to loosen lips over how truly underrated McEvoy is. The main focus will be on his ability to match and better Gawn’s coverage of the ground but his effectiveness in the hit outs will be a greater pointer. His defensive acumen and ability to negate the influence of an astute tap ruckman is likely to come to prominence. It is reminiscent of when Fremantle was a major rival and David Hale had a profound effect on limiting Aaron Sandilands. The key was jumping early into Sandilands to skew his timing and hinder his ability to tap.

The ruck showdown looms large in a clash between two teams staking a claim for a place in the 8 at season’s end. Do not be surprised if McEvoy is a key player in a season defining victory for the Hawks.

 

 

Will Clarko stick or switch on Gunston?

 

 

Recently on Footy Classified, Craig Hutchinson posed the question of whether an intercept defender was worth over a million dollars a year, with many teams lining up to recruit Jeremy McGovern as a free agent at season’s end. The response was an overwhelming yes from past player Matthew Lloyd and recent retiree Chris Judd, both emphasising the crucial nature of this type of player.

This endorsement highlights a shift in the modern game’s power base, with defence being the new basis for attack. This was exemplified during Hawthorn’s dynasty of premiership success during 2013-15. All other teams have strived to emulate the pivotal role Josh Gibson played during these years, as an extra defender and zone off man. He was expert at reading the play, usurping attacks through his marking or spoiling and being the team’s crucial first link in the chain, commanding the rebound and transition into attack.

It is crucial to facilitate turnovers in defence in the modern game as well as punish oppositions on the rebound, which is made more important with most teams sitting deep when attacking. These tactics are supported by forward presses which can be ruthlessly effective but are equally exploitable by a quality defensive rebound.

This creates an enthralling conundrum for Hawthorn in their clash against Richmond on Sunday. The Hawks will be without their potentially devastating zone off defender James Sicily, which poses the question: who will assume his pivotal role?

An interesting aspect to this is the success of both Sicily and Jack Gunston as free men in defence during the second half of last year. After genius coach Alastair Clarkson assigned these previous forwards roles as the 7th and 8th men in defence, they were free to try to emulate the success Josh Gibson had in the zone off role. The impact of the duo was immediate and immense.

In 2017, Gunston had 74 intercept possessions at an average of 3.36 per game. Sicily had 90 intercept possessions at an average of 4.74 per game. Over the season their graphs look like this:
There is clearly a massive increase in both players’ performances after the bye (from round 14 onwards). During this time, Gunston had 50 intercept possessions at an average of 5 per game and Sicily had 79, at an average of 7.9 per game.

Alex Rance is the number 1 ranked player in the league for intercept possessions. During 2017, he had 206 intercept possessions and an average of 9.36 per game.

Including Alex Rance in the graph, the entire season looks like this:
However if you only look at the season from round 14 onwards, you get this graph:
In the second half of the season, both players (especially Sicily) held their own against the best in the competition.

This dynamic duo was separated in the early throes of 2018 with Gunston restored to the forward line and Sicily entrusted as the sole zone off defender. In Sicily’s absence, the logical move would be to redeploy Gunston in this pivotal role. The rub is Gunston’s importance to the forward line in the absence of Shaun Burgoyne from the team’s re-jigged attack.

Throughout 2017, Gunston had 110 score involvements, an average of 5 per game. Burgoyne had 134 score involvements at an average of 6.09 per game. Head to head, Gunston and Burgoyne had a similar first half of the season, however the evergreen Burgoyne pulled away in the second half. This coincided with Gunston receiving greater numbers of intercept possessions, indicating spending more time in the back half, where score involvements, although possible, are more difficult.

Hawthorn’s number 1 ranked player for score involvements was Tom Mitchell, whose sheer weight of disposal numbers would mean that many of our scores would have had a Tom Mitchell hand (or foot) in them somewhere. While Gunston averaged 5 score involvements per game and Burgoyne averaged 6.09, Mitchell’s average for his 152 score involvements was 6.9 per game. Incidentally, Jarryd Roughead, through his long stints in the forward line was second, 1 behind Mitchell with 151 Score involvements at 6.86 per game.

Comparing the 2017 seasons of Gunston, Burgoyne, Mitchell and the competition’s number 1 ranked player for the league last year in terms of score involvements, yields the following graph:

While having stars like Martin, who stand out from the pack in terms of stats, Hawthorn may well be content in having several players contributing evenly across the board in this particular facet of the game.

The conundrum of whether to play Gunston as the loose man, commanding the transition from defence or as the quarterback in attack is key for the Hawks.  For me, the choice of playing him in attack wins out, as there is no replacement for what he does, which is made more pertinent given Burgoyne’s absence from the forward line.

There are two likely options for the defence; Ryan Burton or David Mirra. Burton would operate in a silken manner, facilitated by his good reading of the play, stepping in traffic and clever use of the ball. Mirra, however, would be the braver option and was employed in this role in a recent practice match for Box Hill on St Patricks Day. He undertook this role in a similar manner to Josh Gibson, brave and very effective in his intercept marking and spoiling whilst tidy when in possession when aiding in the defensive rebound. Ben Stratton could be another option but he will likely be assigned to mark Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin when they rest forward.

Regardless of which option the coaching staff chooses, success against the Tigers will rely on Gunston being maintained in attack.

View from the Outer, Round 2, Geelong versus Hawthorn

Hawthorn celebrated a morale-boosting victory over their nemesis of recent years, Geelong today in a one point nail biter at the MCG. The Hawks won despite some shambolic umpiring, highlighted by some dreadful decisions and non decisions which favoured Geelong. I am not one who normally bemoans umpires but it was if these twits had posters of Darren Goldspink on their lockers, such was their bias against the Hawks.

Hawthorn overcame this bias, along with the bitter blow of losing Shaun Burgoyne to a hamstring injury at quarter time. The coaching genius of Alastair Clarkson was on display, with his spot on tactics successful at negating Geelong’s revered strengths and exploiting their notable weaknesses.

Much of the media hype leading into this clash revolved around Geelong’s star midfield trio of Gary Ablett Jnr, Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood. Clarkson controlled the trio for most of the game and they only rose to be a factor in the last quarter. Whilst he allowed these players to have uncontested disposals in neutral areas of the ground, he limited them in more attacking areas. The main factor in the victory was the Hawks duo of Tom Mitchell and Ben McEvoy. Both players were decisive four quarter performers, with Mitchell again racking up the stats and McEvoy dominating in the ruck.

Hawthorn’s attack was brutal with its small forwards taking advantage of the inexperienced Geelong defenders. The Hawks’ transition into attack was highlighted by the gut running of Isaac Smith and Ricky Henderson. Geelong’s backmen were pushed wide and continuously stifled by Hawthorn’s ruthless forward press which limited the Cats’ rebound and transition into attack. Showing promise for the rest of the season, Jarryd Roughead was pivotal in the victory after a slow start last week, scoring two key last quarter goals and the match winning point.

Player Ratings:

Tom Mitchell-9.5– The ball magnet had everyone leaving the ground questioning who Ablett Jnr, Dangerfield and Selwood are, with him being the most destructive midfielder on the ground. He must be an early favourite for the Brownlow.

Ben McEvoy-9– Dominated in the ruck and challenged Mitchell for best on ground honours.

Jarman Impey- 8.5– He showed aspects of two of the best and most lauded small forwards in recent times: Chad Wingard (from his time at Port Adelaide) and Cyril Rioli (who he now plays alongside at Hawthorn). Impey was elusive and dangerous anytime he was near the ball and very effective when in possession.

Isaac Smith- 8– Was a key figure with the support he provided to the attack. His transitioning was a huge factor and he finished with 2 goals.

Ricky Henderson-8– A like for like game to Isaac Smith’s performance.

Liam Shiels- 7– Kicked a great goal early in the game, but did very little afterwards from an attacking sense. Having said that, he was relentless throughout as a defensive midfielder with his tackling, pressure acts and blocking for team mates at stoppages.

Jarryd Roughead-7– Ineffective early on, but his mark whilst running back was huge from a confidence standpoint and was a big factor in turning around his game. It led to a key turnover and assisted in a goal soon after and a very good last quarter with two key goals.

Ben Stratton – 7– Played on Dangerfield and Ablett Jnr when they were forward and was typically dynamic as a marker. He was also effective in assuming the Luke Hodge role of marshalling the defence.

Cyril Rioli- 7– His typical pressure acts and cleverness affected the Geelong defenders, limiting their decision making and skill execution.

Jack Gunston-7- Always effective with his cleverness forward.

Paul Puopolo- 6– Played his role as a very effective defensive forward.

Blake Hardwick- 6– He adequately played his role as a small defender.

Jaeger O’Meara – 6– Was only OK in the midfield and failed to be a factor late when the game was under threat.

Daniel Howe- 6– Very like Shiels’ game as a very effective defensive midfielder but his skill execution let him down. He kicked a key goal late in the game.

Taylor Duryea- 5.5– He played as a rebounding backman and improved on last week. He was prominent on the rebound and transitioning into attack in the third quarter.

Ryan Burton-5– Played as a backman and was rather disappointing, considering many thought he would rise to stardom in 2018 and beyond after being robbed of the Norwich Rising Star award last year.

Kaiden Brand –5– Played well on Hawkins and held him, supported by the players up the field limiting the big Cats players’ opportunities.

Tim O’Brien- 4– Played on Menzel in defence and was ok but got shifted to attack late when Menzel started to become a factor.

Luke Breust- 4– Needed to do more than he did.

James Sicily-3– Undisciplined play early on, with a key 50 metre penalty paid against him and a few key errors throughout. The young starlet will dust himself off and rise to prominence again

Ryan Shoenmakers –2– Did he play? There was a possible sighting of him during the third quarter when his hesitation cost the Hawks a goal when he should have gone straight away.

Shaun Burgoyne –(no rating due to injury)- Played as a deep forward early on but did his hammy before quarter time.

Today was a good confidence booster for the young Hawks team heading into next week’s game against the reigning premiers. Let’s hope Shaun Burgoyne’s hamstring injury isn’t too serious.

View from the Outer, Round 1, Hawthorn versus Collingwood

“Efficient” is the perfect word to describe Hawthorn’s disposal of a rather dismal Collingwood outfit. The Hawks played disciplined football with the strength of their structures and their rabid pressure the highlights of the 34 point win.

The Hawks’ defence was solidified by returning incumbents James Frawley and Ben Stratton, who were the fulcrums for everything. At times the Pies found it impossible to break through and score. The Hawks were then brilliant in transition. Frawley was impassable at full back, locking down on the Pies’ big forwards and Stratton was very capable at filling the Luke Hodge role in defence as a marshal. He organised the defensive aspect while facilitating the rebound with his adept positioning of the individual defenders. James Sicily was once more very impressive in the zone off role as the free man in defence, where his reading of play and intercept marking was a standout.

It made the transition so effective, allowing the forward line to be very impressive. The re-jigged forward line was built around the footy smarts of Shaun Burgoyne and Jack Gunston. Both were pivotal in cleverly setting everything up and were well supported by all the other forwards playing their roles. It was pleasing to see Paul Puopolo go back to his hunger for the crucial one percenters as opposed to his dabbling with the sexiness of flying for speccies.

The only concern regarding the forward line was the absence of a contested marking option but it rarely became a factor with how the attack was structured and the reliance on the transitional nature of scoring.

In the midfield, the Hawks’ faithful got their first glimpse of the dynamic duo of Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara. Mitchell ran around free, racking up an astounding 54 disposals, breaking the VFL/AFL record. Mitchell carried many other players on his back by involving them in the play and O’Meara dazzled early with his ball winning and provided several glimpses of his genius from the past.

Player Ratings

Best on Ground: Tom Mitchell-9.94 (Bradmanesque) – The worst case of leather poisoning in the game’s history with an outrageous 54 disposals, which is an AFL/VFL record.

2nd best, Shaun Burgoyne-9– He was instrumental early on with his goals and all round footy smarts and was a fire starter all match in the forward half.

3rd best, Ben Stratton-8.5– Was excellent. He anchored deep and was back to his reliable self as one of the game’s best defenders. He also organised the defensive structures as a defacto general.

Jack Gunston-8- So clever forward with everything he did being so decisive.

Jaeger O’Meara-7.5-Very good early with his ball winning, burst speed and spread, but faded late.

James Sicily-7.5- Really effective once more in the zone off role as the free man in defence with his reading of play and intercept marking a stand out.

Luke Breust-7.5- Always dangerous due to his high IQ as an instinctive small forward and ended up with 4 goals.

Paul Puopolo-7.5- Not as flashy as in the recent past, but back to playing in a style that is reminiscent of his best, when he was one of the top defensive forwards in the game.

James Frawley-7- The old style key backman was typically efficient. The only downside of his game was his kicking, the ball often being slow to get to team mates. It was accurate but not piercing, allowing possible turnovers.

Ben McEvoy-7- Big hearted as always in the ruck.

Isaac Smith-7- Typical display with his relentless running and drifting in transition to be dangerous forward.

Tim O’Brien-6- Played as a key defender on Reid and started slowly but got better as the game went on. From a structural sense this allowed Ryan Burton to be played more off the flank in a rebounding role.

Blake Hardwick-6- Competently played his role in defence.

Ryan Burton-6- Played more as a rebounding flanker with O’Brien taking his key back role from last year. Sadly injured in 2nd quarter.

Ricky Henderson-6- Played outside and was great drifting forward in transition where he kicked two goals.

Cyril Rioli-5- Looked under done, but his presence always created panic.

Jarryd Roughead-4- Played a fairly average game but failed to grab the marking opportunities he had playing forward.

Jarman Impey-4-He seemed nervous in his first game but got better after half time.

Liam Shiels-4- Largely quiet in his customary role as a defensive midfielder.

Daniel Howe-4-His kicking was pretty average in his role in the midfield.

Taylor Duryea-2- Played as a utility/defence and was largely ineffective. Duryea seems to lack the spatial awareness of what is directly around him which leads to errors.

Ryan Schoenmakers-2- Played largely forward and despite kicking one goal, was ineffective.

There’s a lot to like about this new look Hawthorn team. Bring on the Cats on Easter Monday!

Memo to Clarko: Roll out the ‘Paddock’ for the Pies

Throughout Alastair Clarkson’s tenure as Hawthorn coach he has embraced the ‘Pagan’s Paddock’ tactic in various stages and in various forms. This came to fame during Wayne Carey’s era at North Melbourne in the late 1990’s where the coach of the time, Denis Pagan would clear out the attacking forward 50 to give the man known as ‘The King’ sole ownership to wreak havoc.

The season opener for the Hawks against Collingwood next Saturday night is the perfect opportunity for Clarkson to revisit this. Although the Pies often win plenty of possessions, they rarely use them to advantage and worse, they frequently butcher them. This gives rise to a new sentiment, that sometimes having the opposition in possession can actually be an advantage, due to the likelihood of them turning it over and getting killed on the rebound. The Hawks can exploit Collingwood’s weakness in this regard, by structuring to apply pressure on the Pies’ forward line when their midfielders win possession.

I would choose the following 22 players and structure:

B: James Frawley, Ben Stratton

Free: James Sicily

HB: Ryan Burton, Conor Glass, Blake Hardwick, Shaun Burgoyne,

W: Isaac Smith, Tom Mitchell, Liam Shiels

HF: Jarman Impey, Jack Gunston, Luke Breust, Paul Puopolo

FF: Cyril Rioli

R: Ben McEvoy, Jarryd Roughead, Jaeger O’Meara

Int: Daniel Howe, James Cousins, Kieran Lovell, Tim O’Brien.

The Defence

This is 7 players strong, highlighted by a free man and anchored by two markers in lock down roles; James Frawley on the tallest forward and Ben Stratton matched up on the most dangerous small or midsized attacker. James Sicily should float in the crucial zone off role to support the two lock down defenders with spoiling and intercept marking as well as commanding the rebound, acting as the first link in the chain. The other 4 defenders should sit high in defence between the 50 arc and centre square, responsible for their direct forward but getting on their bikes when the team is in possession, to set the rebound alight and to punish the Pies in transition.

I was torn over whether to play Burgoyne in attack, where he was very impressive against the Blues in the last JLT game. The other standout from that game was that the predominantly young defence lacked marshalling from a wise head, which makes me think it is wiser to use Burgoyne in this role at half back.

The Midfield

Playing Jarryd Roughead in the ruck rover position will no doubt raise some eyebrows. My reasoning behind this choice is to capitalise on his size to help facilitate clearances for his smaller team mates as well as utilise his own dexterity in winning the ball in the clinches. He can also be rotated in the midfield and float high in attack.

The temptation is to assign a defensive role to Howe in the midfield. In most games against Collingwood, Clarkson sits someone on Steele Sidebottom, but I would be more inclined to mark Scott Pendlebury, who is the most dangerous entity in the Pies’ engine room. I would resist this and instead go head to head in the midfield by backing the likes of Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara to hold sway whilst using Howe as part of the rotations off the bench. The naming of young midfielders James Cousins and Kieran Lovell, who was prolific in Box Hill’s practice match at Casey Fields against the Casey Demons on Saturday, pays respect to the Pies’ noted midfield strength by reinforcing the rotations.

The Forward Line

The 5 man forward setup is inextricably linked with the defence due to the half forward line operating in high roles to flood into defence when the opposition is attacking and then aid in transition. Jack Gunston is highly capable in a roaming role into defence and at linking in transition, where he gets lost floating into attack. Impey is a blitzing presence that can break through the likely defensive press with his pace. Both Puopolo and Breust are clever at getting out the back and in close to goal in the ‘Paddock’ structure.

I would sit Rioli deep in the ‘Paddock’.

The forward attacking setup is predominantly small to negate the Pies’ strength in the key defensive posts, such as Collingwood’s Jeremy Howe, who is a strong player, noted for his skill at intercept marking and limiting of opposition attacks. If the Hawks play to the tactics inherent in this structure, it negates the effect of defenders such as Howe, for they have no matchups as well as being stifled by the ensuing chaos.

Lastly, I would select Tim O’Brien in the 22 as the second ruck and as a contested marking threat when forward.

Jarman Impey: Can he rise to A-grade status?

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.