I didn’t see this coming, but perhaps I should have. Perhaps we all should have.
The Tigers were unconvincing last week. They were whacked in the first quarter against the Magpies, but managed to claw their way back. it was an admirable performance, and one we’ve come to expect from this group, but the signs were worrying.
In terms of Hawthorn, their fade out was almost as concerning. They hung with the Cats until half time and were then blown away in a way contenders rarely are.
This week was always going to be a large test for Hawthorn, and their eyes must have lit up when Dustin Martin was ruled out.
The Hawks hit the Tigers with haymakers in the first quarter, and despite commentators talking about inaccurate kicking at goal in the last quarter, the game was well and truly over by three quarter time.
Rejoice Hawks fans – this was a fantastic win over a team that is now starting to be questioned…
… just as they were last year, if I remember correctly.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
TOO OLD? TOO SLOW? TOO BLOODY GOOD!
I’m old enough to remember when this saying applied to a Hawthorn team that went on to win a flag.
The year was 1991and the veritable Dad’s Army of Hawks had been dealt a terrible blow the year before. Banished from the finals in the first week of September 1990, there was much talk about the end of the Hawthorn dynasty and how a team from the west was going to sweep all before them en route to the flag.
But West Coast would have to wait 12 months for their inaugural premiership. The Hawks had one more in them.
And so we read the newspapers this morning (well, we did if someone left one on the desk at work) and saw the graphics on social media – the oldest collective 22 players in history. Well, a late change may have ruined that narrative, but it no doubt sting the Hawks, almost as much as their insipid second half last week did.
They came out of the gate breathing fire. They gang tackled, took on the famous Tiger pressure by handballing forward and calling Richmond’s bluff. They backed their skills, backed their decision making, and backed their system to stand up.
Not only did it stand up, it flattened the Tigers in the process.
The brilliant run of Isaac Smith and the unrewarded run of Tom Scully in the first quarter set the tone, and the team followed them.
Too old? Maybe not THE oldest, but yes still old.
Too slow? Not when they can make their opponents look glued to the deck.
Too good? On this occasion, yes. Far too good.
WALKING THE WALK
I waver on Isaac Smith. His career has been littered with just as many moments where he has failed to deliver on the big stage as times where he has, and in recent seasons, his inability to finish games off has left a sour taste in my mouth.
But in this game he left no doubt as to the impact he can have on a game of footy.
Tucking the ball under his arm and taking off, Smith powered the Hawk machine through the middle and with the returning Jaeger O’Meara doing the tough stuff in close, Smith was able to get out wide and do what he does best.
Even when Smith made an error in this one, and he was far from perfect, his efforts to make amends were brilliant. It was his overrunning of the ball in the early stages of the second quarter that led to a Shai Bolton goal.
A lesser player would have dropped his head.
However, within thirty seconds, it was Smith running onto his left foot and slamming home the answering goal at the other end. He made the mistake, and he rectified it. This is the Isaac Smith I like watching; the man who looks like he absolutely gives a shit, and wants to lead this football club.
Remember the period after Luke Hodge “retired”? Smith’s name was floated as a potential captain. Had he come out and played like this week-in and week-out, there would be zero arguments from me as to whether he was capable of leading this team.
Now, we just need to see it more often.
THAT MAGNIFICENT LOOKING BASTARD
I loved the game of Jaeger O’Meara in this one. His crisp, one-grab of the footy at ground level, his willingness to throw himself into harm’s way, and his continued ability to hit targets under pressure made a huge difference to the Hawthorn midfield.
There are few like O’Meara, who has the power to fight through tackles, yet the finesse to get the ball in open space and deliver it with precision.
Last season much was asked of him in the absence of Tom Mitchell. O’Meara became the everything-man for the Hawks, but carrying an entire midfield was beyond him. He is, however, the perfect number two midfielder and back-up to the grunt work of Mitchell, and to a lesser extent, Worpel.
At half time of this game, the Hawks had plenty of winners, and we’ll go through more than a few, but none were as decisive as O’Meara. He had 16 touches til half time and ran at 100% efficiency. Whilst others double-dragged, or missed targets, O’Meara was a beast, setting the Hawks up for the win with an impressive first half.
He finished the game with 23 touches at 91%, but when the going was tough in the first half of the contest, it was O’Meara putting his head over the footy and winning it.
Last week was not a great one for Jonathon Ceglar. Despite having a few moments where he was able to get the upper hand, he was comprehensively beaten by Rhys Stanley for the majority of the contest.
With Ben McEvoy propped up in defence, several Hawk fans were calling for the Big Boy to move back into the ruck to relieve Ceglar of his duties.
They may have changed their tune after this encounter.
Ceglar owned Ivan Soldo, whose main contribution to this contest seemed to be bowling over teammates as they attempted to mark the footy, or trying to bring back the lego-man hairstyle. Ceglar led the game in clearances with seven, had 15 touches and 20 hit outs as his work at ground level became a thorn in the side of the Tigers.
The big man’s second efforts were a real highlight as he exposed the lack of versatility of Soldo, and whilst a victory such as this against a player perhaps not held in as high regard as other Grundy, Gawn or Goldstein, the fact Ceglar was able to turn around and bounce back from a beating speaks to his character.
Oh geez, I feel like I am cursing Hawthorn as I write this…
If it all falls apart next week, I’ll cop the blame, but James Sicily was tremendous in this game and for the first time in quite a while I noticed that was absolutely no hesitation from him when it came time to put his body on the line either in the air, or on the deck.
Maybe the stories about him emerging as a leader over the off-season weren’t just the same old rhetoric most clubs spew out about their problem children?
Roaming across half back, Sicily collected 23 touches and a mammoth 651 metres gained for the Hawks. Though he tended to hack the ball out of defence a little late in the game, Sicily’s presence in some vital aerial contests gave Ben McEvoy the licence to be a strong intercept marking presence inside defensive 50.
Again, if you’re looking at stats alone, don’t be fooled by Sicily being down in intercept marks, himself. This is a sacrifice he has made to accommodate the presence of McEvoy in that back six. The Hawks are huge back there, with Big Boy adding to Frawley and Frost as key position players, and this means that Sic is forced into a different role.
It was very interesting to hear Cameron Ling talking about how you could hear Sicily controlling the entire defensive set-up of the Hawks as they strangled the life out of the Tigers. No antics, no remonstrating, no skylarking… but plenty of leadership.
It’s been a little while, but maybe the Hawks now have a general in the backline again… and one that won’t just charge headlong into battle without thinking. If that is the case and Sicily has finally matured, an All-Australian berth is a fitting reward.
It feels strange to level praise on Tom Mitchell in this game when his performance was very Un-Mitchell-Like. I say that because winning the contested footy and extracting the pill are usually the basis from which Tom Mitchell builds his game.
Yet here we are today with Mitchell recording ZERO clearances and just six contested touches, yet I cannot help but smile knowing that the Hawks were able to overpower Richmond in the middle without the Brownlow Medallist having to do something extraordinary to ensure his team won possession.
In that sense, it was a strange game, wasn’t it? The top contested disposal men on the ground were Trent Cotchin and Dion Prestia, with just ten each. The top Hawk was Jonathon Ceglar, with just eight.
Mitchell really didn’t have to dig deep and throw himself under the packs in this game. in a sense, the Tigers gave him a free ride, and if it gives him another week to recover even more from that horrific injury, how well is this midfield unit going to function if Mitchell starts compiling big numbers again?
HAS HE NOW ARRIVED?
Some may argue that Chad Wingard arrived at Hawthorn in the back half of 2019, but with his start to the 2020 season, he has either turned back the clock a little, or he was at Waverly in body alone in 2019, and has now well and truly showed up.
He is looking dangerous, both with and without the footy, getting to good spots and making teams pay.
Another three goal bag indicates that he is hungry again, and looks to be enjoying his footy. The Hawks have plenty of X-Factor up forward with Breust, Gunston and Puopolo when he plays. If you throw in a motivated Wingard, this team starts looking very, very dangerous.
IS THE HONEYMOON OVER?
Where are we sitting on Marlion Pickett right now?
The Grand Final fairy tale of 2019 has taken a bit of a turn toward one of the Grimm brothers’ line of tales in the last couple of weeks.
Yes, he was a great news story last season but he had the benefit of slotting into a devastatingly good Richmond side that was arguably at the top of its game. they’re nowhere near the top of their game right now and he is being exposed as a result.
His three games this season have seen him average just 10.3 touches. Lining up on the wing and drifting to both forward and back flanks, this is nowhere near an acceptable output from him, and the way the Tigers are playing at the moment, they cannot afford to be carrying people.
Richmond had quite a few passengers on the night – Soldo was destroyed by McEvoy, Jack Graham was allergic to tackling, and Kane Lambert looked like he was a step slow way too often. But it is the contrast between Pickett in the 2019 Grand Final to the version we’re seeing right now that is startling.
He looked like many thought he may look on debut last season. Tonight, he looked lost.
Does Tim O’Brien have a nickname? I reckon I have one for him.
I watched a Mel Gibson-directed movie a while back named Apocalypto. It was about a Mayan tribesman trying to get back to his family. Not a word is spoken in English, but me, being the cultured man that I am, still enjoyed it because it is a bloody good movie.
Anyway, at one point the guy trying to get back to his family tries to kill the leader of the band of dudes (historically correct term) that captured him. He fails, but far out he gets close. He is then nicknamed “Almost” by his captor.
And it is here that the similarities to Tim O’Brien begin.
I have tried not to hate on O’Brien. I have tried to give him chances. But if there is one bloke in the league that continually gets both hands to the footy and still manages to drop marks, it’s him/. He almost takes good marks every week. He almost pulls in some rippers.
And tonight, he almost recorded one mark to his name.
But he didn’t!
His role is that of a marking forward. He has a great leap at the footy, yet still manages to run under it, close his eyes and completely misjudge the ball in flight. He did that several times tonight and is so spooked by what’s coming that he has started dropping uncontested overhead marks as well. Teammates are doing the right thing and protecting him, and he’s letting them down.
There was one Hawthorn player on the field tonight who did not register one mark for the game, even though that is the prime requisite of his job in the team.
Have a guess who it was…
Time to bring Mitch Lewis in.
HEADS TO RIOLI?
Is there a more disappointing player in the league, given his talent, than Daniel Rioli? I’d struggle to find one.
Bearing one of the most famous names in the game, Rioli has sleepwalked his way through the start of the 2020 season as though he could not give a rat’s ass about it.
He is averaging eight disposals per game, has laid eight tackles and kicked three goals. Tonight, he was virtually unsighted in the first half as the Tigers looked for something to spark them.
That’s his role – to do the little things that set the Tigers alight. Or it would be if he was capable, and after three games in the seniors this year, some time in scratch matches might do him good.
Richmond could have used a lift in the first half. They were being beaten to the footy, they were being hunted, and they were being outplayed. It was the sort of game that required someone to lay a chase down tackle, or some hard run to create for a teammate. Do… something!
But effort would be required for that, and the way he looks at the moment, effort simply is not Rioli’s thing at all. At half time he had the embarrassing stat-line of one disposal and one tackle.
For someone of his talent, that is almost criminal!
But wait, he really picked it up in the third quarter, doubling his disposal total to two possessions for the game, meaning two third of his paltry return came in what was ostensibly junk time, and one of them was from a downfield free kick!
I could also point to the futility of Jason Castagna in the first half as well, but whilst he really struggled, I reckon he possesses half the talent Rioli does. Castagna looks like he’s trying. Rioli cannot even seem to summon up the effort to look like he cares.
Rioli was dropped during his 2019 campaign. He was poor at points in quite a few games last year, but his last two games this season are two of the absolute worst I have seen him produce.
Six touches from a man capable of so much more… if there is one player that should hang his head in shame tonight, it is Daniel Rioli.
WHERE IS JACK RIEWOLDT AT?
I know he is a favourite son of the Tiger faithful, but right, there has to be some serious questions asked around Riewoldt’s role. Lynch is the power man, and will remain as such for a while. Where does Jack fit in?
He had a bit of a picnic in the Grand Final and that is probably recent enough that it is not time to panic, but five of his 11 touches in this one came after three quarter time, and with just three effective disposals for the game, he wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire.
WAS THE SCRIMSHAW FOR PUOPOLO MOVE A GOOD ONE?
Well, even if it wasn’t great, it still allowed the hawks to go into the game as NOT the oldest team ever assembled.
It turns out it was a good move and Scrimshaw looked right at home on the half back flank. I can see him being a 200 game player back there – a bit of Grant Birchall about him.
WAS THE LAST QUARTER A CONCERN FOR THE HAWKS, OR JUNK TIME?
My Tiger mate tells me that it meant a lot, but there was a definite change in game plan from Hawthorn in the last twenty minutes. There was no desperation, no pushing hard from stoppages – they were playing out time, and as much as those misses might have made you feel as though Richmond were in it if they kicked straight, they weren’t.
This game was over at three quarter time, and anything any player picked up following that should be stricken from their totals.
And that’d leave Jason Castagna’s night looking pretty shitty
NO DUSTY, NO TIGERS?
Well, they appeared to lack a fair bit of Mongrel without him, didn’t they?
Look, I don’t subscribe to this theory – I think there is a lot of quality in this team. Dusty is the obvious diamond amongst them, but there is still plenty to like about the Tigers even without him. This was just a bad night exacerbated by Martin’s absence.
WHAT IS THE CEILING FOR HAWTHORN?
Realistically, I’d say it is one finals win. I’d love to say more, and anything can happen in Septem…errrr, October, but I just cannot see this version of Hawthorn going any further than one win at the pointy end of the season.
I’d love to be wrong, however.
SO, MCEVOY IN DEFENCE IS OKAY NOW, IS IT?
I never said it wasn’t. He was certainly allowed to play the game he wanted back there in this one. Plenty of marking contests from directionless long deliveries inside 50 from the Tigers played right into his hands.
Let’s see a few weeks of this before we jump up and down. Last week, every time the ball hit the deck, he looked like a rather lethargic sloth.
GOALLESS QUARTERS… HOW MUCH OF A WORRY?
This is usually the kind of thing I hate to see from my team. The Tigers have now had three goalless terms in the last two weeks. With a total of ten goals in two games, this is a huge worry.
I’m a big believer that it is not just about the guys out there, but how the rest of the club perceives the team. Players waiting in the wings… they see the team being belted, and unable to put score on the board – that becomes their perception of their team… “oh, we’re struggling.”
If people within the club are thinking that, prospective opponents would be starting to eye off an opportunity against the team they would have been dreading having to face.
There was a time Richmond wasn’t struggling. It was from the period after the bye last year all the way up til they won the flag. They need to arrest this before perception becomes reality.
In the opening, I touched on some unrewarded run of Tom Scully. He finished the game with 12 touches and if you’re allowing stats to be your guide, you may be disappointed with his output. But when you watch him work through the midfield, you cannot help but be impressed with how damn hard he works to make sure the Tiger defenders and midfielders have to cover him.
On every single play, Scully was motoring along, compelling someone from Richmond to cover him. And when they do, the game opens up for others.
You may be one to look at the stats of Scully and skim over them, but that will not, and in this case does not do his efforts justice.
At half time, the top four stat-leaders for the Tigers were all defenders. Houli, Grimes, Vlastuin and Short were their top disposal getters. What does that say for their midfielders?
If anyone has any idea as to when Shaun Burgoyne will slow down, can you please let me know? That one-on-two win at half back in the third quarter was absolutely brilliant, and it set the Hawks off on the path to another goal. I love seeing a bloke take on the game because he knows he’s capable.
Jonathon Patton looks like he’s on rails. The big fella cannot turn, but you know what? Let some idiot stand on the tracks and when they do, watch him run over them. Good to see him throw a bit of weight around.
I’m giving votes on this game, so bugger it – I already know them.
5 – J O’Meara
4 – I Smith
3 – C Wingard
2 – J Ceglar
1 – J Sicily
And that will well and truly do me. I am surprised, and pleasantly so by the way the Hawks performed. The Tigers have had their number over the last few years, so to respond from a disappointing trip to Geelong with a win over a genuine contender renews a bit of faith.
For the Tigers, there is a bit of work to do, but I seem to remember a certain premiership team not having the most amazing start to the year in 2019, either. Richmond will be fine, and we will look back on these hiccups in about four months’ time, and wish this version of the Tigers was still around.