The Hawks: My predictions for the 2019 season

The end of January is the perfect time to dust off the crystal ball and make a few predictions for Hawthorn in 2019.

Here goes:

1) Chad Wingard will win a place in the All Australian team as a midfielder

The recruitment of Wingard from Port Adelaide was viewed by many as a means to improve the forward line. I take a different view. The ability of Wingard is widely touted but his untapped potential as a damaging midfielder is rarely touched on. His skill and burst speed away from pack situations along with goal kicking potential is just what the team needs.  Kicking 25 in a season as a midfielder would be a definite possibility.

If not for the unfortunate season-ending broken leg for midfield king pin Tom Mitchell, the combination of Wingard and Jaeger O’Meara would have potentially been the most damaging midfield duo in the game. Both share similar qualities and are deadly dangerous as resting forwards.

The injury to Mitchell leaves a gulf the size of the Grand Canyon and I fully expect Wingard to play a leading role in trying to fill this void.

This will culminate in a place in the All Australian team as a midfielder.

2) James Worpel will struggle in 2019

The loss of Tom Mitchell to a season-ending broken leg was always going to have a profound effect on the team’s prospects. The biggest problem will be the impact this has on others. Mitchell takes a lot of pressure off other midfielders due to the attention he demands. His absence will no doubt mean more attention is paid to others. The youngsters in the midfield are likely to wear the brunt of this and I expect James Worpel to struggle the most.

3) James Sicily will kick 40 goals as a forward

If not for injury in 2018, James Sicily would have been part of the All Australian team as an attack-minded defender. Since being moved to the zone-off role in the second half of 2017, Sicily has excelled in this area. His intercept marking rivals the best in the AFL and he is equally adept at setting up play on the rebound out of defence. The damaging nature of his daring when taking the game on and impeccable foot skills give oppositions cold sweats.

Sicily’s long term injury during the second half of 2018 saw Ben Stratton inserted in this zone-off role. The ‘mulleted one’ not only filled this position with due aplomb but raised the possibility of him continuing in this capacity in 2019. This would be supported by the return to fitness of Grant Birchall.

It would also allow Sicily to be moved forward where he would be a match up nightmare. Sicily could play the traditional lead/kick role as an old style full forward or kick goals from way out as the final chain in transition as a high half forward.

4) We will hear ‘why not Jack Gunston ‘ throughout 2019

I fully expect Liam Shiels to become Hawthorn’s next captain. He has been primed for the role for a long time. On achieving this honour he will do a more than admirable job. The rub is that Jack Gunston will stand out as the team’s best onfield leader, leading to debate over why he was not given the captaincy.

5) Conor Nash will steal headlines as a ‘revolutionary’ figure

The defensive forward role is highly valued in the modern age. It is usually the domain of small marauding types who never give defenders room to breathe. They create crucial second chance goals through their pressure acts along with stifling the opposition’s rebound out of defence.

Nash is a tantalizing prospect in this position. He has the pace and desperation to rival any other player in this role with his elite tackling. What’s appealing about this is that, at 6’6”, he would also offer a key target when the ball enters the forward 50. His ability to take a mark or crash a pack in contested marking contests, as well as applying pressure to suffocate the ball when it hits the ground, would be invaluable.

6) The ‘master’ will have an ‘apprentice’

The return of Sam Mitchell as an assistant coach is a great coup for the club. The profound role he played in the West Coast Eagles’ flag success was evident in the rise of many of their midfielders to prominence. It seems inevitable he will have a similar effect on many players at Hawthorn in his new position as midfield coach.

James Cousins will stand out.

Cousins is an inside midfielder who is a natural ball winner. He has very good hands in close and is “old school” in his dexterity on either foot. In many respects his qualities remind me of Sam Mitchell.

I can see Cousins being a focus for Sam’s coaching. The injury to Tom Mitchell dictates the need to find an inside midfielder to fill the immense void. The development of Cousins, while not in any way replacing Titch’s effect, will provide the team with a valuable component.

Roll on March 23!!

Shaun Burgoyne: 350 games of Silky Brilliance

When faced with trying to write a fitting tribute for Shaun Burgoyne’s 350th game, where does one begin?

How many times have you seen him play a pivotal role deep in defence and then, in the blink of transition, watched him do something equally as devastating in attack? He is the game changer in the midfield. Deceptively effortless and languid in nature, the cat-like slink of his running makes it appear as though he is floating above the ground. He never looks that quick on his feet, but his burst speed is comparable to any. His ability to cover the ground like this, almost without being noticed, is matched by his expertise at stepping out of traffic. Whilst others suffocate in the helter skelter nature of the game, Burgoyne exudes a timeless nature and is rarely entrapped. He has an outrageous awareness and a pristine elegance which well justifies his moniker, “Silk”.

This nickname is both apt and ironic as many get distracted by the captivating beauty of his playing style yet don’t fully appreciate the substance he provides to the team. Burgoyne is a bastion of skill execution. In an age where kicking skills are somewhat diminished, he is amongst the best. In general play, whether kicking left or right, short or long, none come close to his astuteness. Whilst others get the yips when faced with the big sticks, with Burgoyne you already know without watching what will happen. Bang. Goal!
The bigger the moment in a match, the more his pulse seems to slow. His profound contribution to a team’s success cannot be overstated, with his acts in the biggest games often the difference between success and failure. During Alastair Clarkson’s successful dynasty as Hawthorn’s coach, Shaun Burgoyne stands out.
Image result for shaun burgoyne
They say a picture can speak a thousand words and there is one image of Burgoyne that, for me, perfectly encapsulates his importance to the Hawthorn football club. It was during the dying stages of the epic 2013 preliminary final against Geelong. Burgoyne triumphantly raised up his arms in celebration after kicking the goal that put Hawthorn in front, and, in doing so, caused many to declare the media hyped ‘Kennett Curse’ dead. Geelong’s 11 game winning streak over the Hawks came to an end that day and, alongside it, some profound demons were buried. Hawthorn had come up short at the crunch time of some of the biggest games in the recent past, including their 2011 preliminary final loss to Collingwood and their loss to Sydney in the 2012 grand final. These losses highlighted their failure to execute in the key moments. The lack of the group’s mental fibre when it mattered most was a justifiable criticism. During the Geelong game, however, Burgoyne’s calmness in the cauldron sealed the result. He carried the group on his back and, in doing so, guaranteed the club’s success that followed. Any lingering doubts which may have existed within the group were quashed and replaced with belief.

Prior to his career at Hawthorn, Burgoyne was similarly pivotal at his previous club, Port Adelaide. When you consider his profound impact at both of these powerhouses, it makes you wonder where he should rate in the game. Despite being a part of so much team success, having only been selected once as an All Australian (in 2006) it seems that perhaps he will have to wait until his retirement from the game to gain the full respect and recognition that he deserves as an individual.

If he retired today, Burgoyne would have a very good chance of being inducted into the Hall of Fame for the AFL, Port Adelaide or Hawthorn. In fact, I’d be surprised if he wasn’t chosen for all three. He would surely be included in the list of Port Adelaide’s greatest 22 players of all time and in 2025 when Hawthorn commemorates one century in the VFL/AFL and announces its best team of that period, I am sure that Burgoyne’s name will be up there amongst the likes of Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell. Yes, even before such players as Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin, Josh Gibson, Grant Birchall, Cyril Rioli and other star players from the Clarkson era of the club.

Amongst his indigenous peers, Stephen Michael, Graham Farmer, Barry Cable and Andrew McLeod are universally considered the best. Burgoyne would be in the reckoning to join this list as one of the top 5 indigenous players we’ve ever seen. This is a very bold claim when you consider others in the mix, including Lance Franklin, Peter Matera, Adam Goodes, Maurice Rioli, Gavin Wanganeen, Michael Long, Cyril Rioli, The Krakouer brothers and many other brilliant players.

The exclamation mark to Burgoyne’s career would be his rating in the AFL era, a period of revolution where traditional positions and structures have been forgone in favour of versatility. The catch-cry dominating this phase in the game is ‘swingman’. It has seen the likes of Chris Grant, Matthew Pavlich, Glenn Jakovich, Paul Roos, Alastair Lynch and the like garner acclaim. This again highlights the irony of the lack of respect paid to Burgoyne. A more evolved swingman, highly capable on any line in both defensive and attacking roles, his definitive nature in this context should see him rated amongst the top 20 players of the AFL era.

If you want the final bow to tie around the delightful Burgoyne package, think of his self effacing charm off the ground. In an age so desperate for positive role models he is the absolute epitome. From every fan of the game we say thank you to Shaun Burgoyne for his 350 games of pure silk.

Season 2018: Hawthorn’s MidYear Review

Before the 2018 season began my prediction for the club was that it would finish in 11th position. As I write this mid-year review, the team currently occupies 10th place on the ladder with a 6 win, 5 loss ledger which sits them a game and percentage outside of the top 8.

The main reason for this outcome is the lack of quality within the best 22 and the absence of depth outside of it. The team’s lack of strong leadership has also been a big concern following the loss of past captain Luke Hodge at the end of 2017. The new leadership group, consisting of Jarryd Roughead as captain and Liam Shiels and Isaac Smith as deputies, came into effect at the start of the 2017 season and for the most part has been underwhelming. The flogging by a winless Lions outfit was damning. It was bad to lose, but to get beaten by nearly 10 goals pointed to a lack of leadership. To put this in context, arguably the standout leader for the club throughout 2018 so far has been a second year player, Blake Hardwick.

All these factors have stood out during the first half of the season. The team had a stellar start to the year with a 5/2 start but struggled up until the bye with a 1/3 return. The fork in the road was the round 8 loss against Sydney. Hawthorn’s main strengths, which had propelled its fine start to the season, were limited in this match and exposed the team’s lack of a valid supporting cast, especially in the team’s engine room, its midfield, which resembled ‘Tom Mitchell and the Maybes.’ This had an impact on the outside with an over reliance on Isaac Smith for crucial line breaking run. Up until this game, Smith had been in All-Australian form with the key to his blitzing display being the support offered to him by Ricky Henderson. Once Henderson’s form dipped, it allowed teams to sit on Smith with the team suffering as a result. This absence of run through the lines was not lost in the coaches box with Daniel Howe being sacrificed, despite being in decent form. His dropping, whilst harsh, saw Jarman Impey assume more of a midfield role in the hope of inserting some burst presence from contested situations, added threat on the outside and spread in transition.

The spluttering nature of the midfield was profound in the attack going from averaging 97.85 points per game in the lead up to the Swans game to only 67 points during and after. The forward 50 entries remained similar but the quality and quickness into the forward 50 was sadly lacking with constant bombing taking place. The decision making and skill execution when entering the forward half was average to dismal. This allowed teams to flood back into defence making it very hard to score and leaving us very vulnerable on the counter.

The other bookmark for the season so far has centred on James Sicily. He has been arguably the team’s greatest weapon throughout the latter parts of 2017 and the start of 2018 in the zone off role, free in defence. This is the same role which saw Josh Gibson garner universal acclaim during the team’s three-peat success. The closing stages of the game against the Swans brought into focus the dual nature of this position, between defence and attack. Sicily excelled in the attacking aspect, where his step to get free in traffic and kicking skills are amongst the most devastating in the AFL. His defensive skills, however, were lacking, highlighting an imbalance in the defence, with the accent more on zoning and guarding space to facilitate the rebound as opposed to old style defending. This saw Jack Gunston return as the 8th defender for the Port game. Reverting to playing two loose players in defence was necessary, but a step back for the club in a transitioning stage as it weakened our forward structure. Moving Gunston, however, reinforced the back line and freed up Sicily to play a more attacking style of defence. Sicily was superb in this game due to the support Gunston offered.

The Remainder of the 2018 Season:

Alastair Clarkson is a vindicated genius and, like last year, the expectation is that the team will be better after the bye. This will be helped by long term stars Grant Birchall and Cyril Rioli returning from injury layoffs. If both of these players can display any of their past glories it will give the team a good chance for a run at the 8 with the draw on paper being relatively kind. Of the remaining 11 games only 3 are against teams currently in the 8.

The concern is the ‘supporting cast’ of players, even if the team’s best 22 take the field. To be a valid finals threat a few need to stand up to be factors, notably in the midfield with the likes of Jaeger O’Meara who has shown glimpses of his calibre. Also, Liam Shiels needs to lift. He is one of the best defensive midfielders in the league but if he can add a more attacking aspect to his game it would be of real meaning to the team’s prospects. The acid is also on Ricky Henderson to run shot gun for Isaac Smith as he did early on. If his form is still lacking the club needs to invest more trust in Harry Morrison by placing him more permanently in the outside role as opposed to the utility entity position he has assumed all season.

The second half would be a perfect opportunity to play Jarryd Roughead more in the midfield. He is very capable in this role and it would add real support to Tom Mitchell in the clinches due to his bulk and dexterity in clearances as well as providing the perfect opportunity for Roughead to lead from the front.

Most of Hawthorn’s fan’s concerns are centred around the team’s attack. On face value this is warranted with their struggle in hitting the scoreboard. I see this more as a by-product of the midfield. If the midfield can get decisive first use followed by quick and precise entry, the attack will awake from its slumber. Players such as Luke Breust, Jack Gunston, Paul Puopolo and Jarryd Roughead are proven attacking commodities who have been stifled due to the absence of quality supply.

In my mind, the top 22 players list is 2-3 quality players short from making a return to the 8 and about 5-6 players shy from once more being a valid premiership threat.

Ones to look for:

Of the players on the outskirts, I view Ollie Hanrahan as the best prospect to be a factor. He has pace, cleverness and knows where to go to win the ball. If not for injury he would have already played at AFL level.

Another potential choice is Conor Nash. He is very raw, but is big, quick and loves to smash a pack.

Prediction/Grading:

I stand firm with my preseason view of the team failing to make the 8.  A 10-12 finish is likely, due to the aforementioned concerns raised.

The context of this is that the loss of legends and the absence of high draft picks has taken a toll.

Taking into account all of the above, I give the team a B grading for its first half.

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’.

Hawks Conquer Their Demons

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.

Player Ratings:

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.

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.

 

 

View From the Outer – Round 3: Richmond versus Hawthorn

Hawthorn suffered its first defeat for the 2018 season at the hands of reigning premiers and likely flag threats, Richmond. The main difference between the two teams was the effectiveness of their respective structures, commanded by their loose men in defence. The game was won and lost between the 50 metre arcs, with the potency of the defensive rebound, decision making and skill execution into each team’s attacking zones key to the outcome.

The Hawks failed to look up and continually bombed the ball into their forward 50, missing their forward line and, in turn, facilitating Richmond’s rebound. In contrast, the Tigers were astute when transitioning into attack with both their decision making and skill execution. The Hawks’ players’ poor decision to keep bombing the ball in highlighted the lack of depth of quality in their midfield. This was not helped by their attacking players, who lacked the necessary work rate to offer options to the players further afield who were in possession. This then carried over to contested duels in attack with the Hawks lacking a marking option. It was far too easy for Richmond’s big defenders to dominate in the air and set up their often lethal defensive rebound.

Lastly, missed tackles killed the Hawks throughout.

The poor performance can partially be attributed to the selection process, with the list of 22 containing too many defensive talls against a Richmond forward line known for its largely small demeanour. Add to this the inevitable decision to send Jack Gunston back to replace the zone off effect of the missing James Sicily in defence. The impact of this restructuring was most felt forward with the absence of Shaun Burgoyne. It deprived the team of the quarterback influence of Gunston and Burgoyne, who, with their footy smarts, were prominent in Hawthorn’s successful attack during the first two weeks. The use of ‘dumb footy’ by the Hawks rendered their forward line moot, with their entries playing right into one of Richmond’s main strengths, its defensive rebound.

In defence of the performance, James Sicily and Shaun Burgoyne were key outs for the Hawks and their much shorter break, compared to Richmond’s longer break, was further compounded by the taxing hot weather. The rub in this, from the big picture viewpoint of considering a possible return to the finals, was the team’s depth. There was a consistency of quality throughout Richmond’s 22 players as opposed to 3-6 players in the Hawks’ team who were very exploitable and largely ineffective.

Player Ratings:

Tom Mitchell-8- Prolific as always but not as definitive as the first two games.

Jarryd Roughead-8- Very good with 4 goals.

Ben McEvoy-7.5- A solid performance in the ruck.

Jaeger O’Meara- 7- Won the ball but failed to really impact.

Daniel Howe-7- One of the better performers in the midfield.

Paul Puopolo- 6.5- He was the best of the small forwards.

Ben Stratton- 6- Solid as a defensive marker.

Ricky Henderson- 6- Was OK, but lacked the effectiveness on the outside whilst transitioning into attack that was shown during the first 2 games.

Isaac Smith-6- Sitting deeper on the square to facilitate a rebound and was just OK.

Jack Gunston-6- Took Sicily’s zone off role in defence and was OK but lacked the influence of Richmond’s loose men in defence.

Harry Morrison-6- Neat and tidy and should be persisted with.

Luke Breust-5- He kicked three goals but needed to work harder in providing options for players transitioning from defence to attack.

Liam Shiels-5- Pretty disappointing game.

Blake Hardwick- 4- Neither good nor bad, which resulted in a ‘below pass’ mark for he failed to impact in any way as a rebounding defender.

Ryan Burton- 3- Burton’s disappointing start to 2018 continued. He is a youngster of rare class and his performances can only be attributed to lingering injuries.

Kaiden Brand- 3- This game exposed Brand’s limitations as a defender. He is capable at playing on tall players, but all at sea against any mobile types.

Jarman Impey-3- He was largely average and, like most of the other small forwards, needed to work harder.

Cyril Rioli-2- Started in the guts rotating forward and was very average.

James Frawley-2- Very disappointing with him failing to have an impact in defence. He is capable of playing on all types of forwards due to his pace but his ‘hailing a bus’ antics early in the game, whilst small attackers took uncontested marks defined his performance.

Taylor Duryea-0- The poster child for the club’s lack of depth.

Will Langford-0- He was obviously brought in to limit Richmond’s defensive rebound but was a non contributor.

Tim O’Brien-0- Played forward and was dismal, with the standout his failure to contest.

Interesting Stats:

1. It was Hawthorn’s highest last quarter score (5.3.33) in a losing match since round 20 2002 which was also against Richmond.

2. Tom Mitchell becomes only the second player in history to have 40 or more disposals in three consecutive games, since Gary Ablett did it also in rounds 1,2 and 3 of season 2012 (However Ablett also had 43 disposals in round 24 of 2011, so had 4 consecutive 40 possession games). Mitchell had 44 possessions in the second last round last season, but dropped off the pace with a paltry 32 possessions in round 23 last season. If he gets 40 or more against Melbourne he becomes the first man to achieve this feat in 4 consecutive rounds in the same season.

3. Tom Mitchell has the highest disposal count after three rounds ever. His three-round total disposals of 136 eclipses Gary Ablett analogous total of 127 in 2012.

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