Coming into this game, there was a bit of pressure on the West Coast Eagles.
Yet to win a game on the road in 2021, they needed a performance that restored the faith away from Optus Stadium, and a trip to the MCG to take on the Hawks seemed like just the remedy to what had ailed them in 2021.
However, a word of warning to those who missed the game and are planning on catching a replay – skip straight to the second quarter. The first quarter was one of the poorest terms of football of the season, with both teams unable to hit the scoreboard and both sides seemingly content to play the game between the arcs. More on this later.
The second term saw the game open up, with the Eagles slotting seven goals to swing the momentum heavily in their favour. At that point, the difference between the sides was apparent – West Coast, though undermanned and playing several kids, still possessed enough class and structure to capitalise on its chances. Hawthorn, to put it bluntly, looked poor.
West Coast secured their win with the second quarter blast on the back of Tim Kelly, Dom Sheed and Brandon Ah Chee, and from that point on they never looked back, running out comfortable 38-point winners.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE ENGINE ROOM
The Eagles midfield has been forced to do the hard yards in 2021 thus far. No Elliot Yeo and no Luke Shuey (bar one game) has meant that the diversity of strengths through the middle has been consolidated into the three players operating most in the middle – Dom Sheed, Tim Kelly and Jack Redden.
It’s quite amazing to write those names and think that the West Coast midfield is depleted, given that just about any team in the competition would love to have those three names in their starting centre bounce units – such is the talent of the West Coast midfield group.
Despite the prolific ball-winning ability of Tom Mitchell (I’ll get to that later), these three Eagles spread the load beautifully, with 91 disposals shared amongst them. They also had this big bloke with dreads taping the ball down their throat or taking the footy away himself.
I think everyone respects Ben McEvoy. He has been a warrior for years, and now, as the Hawks captain, he is toiling away in the centre with Jon Ceglar on the sidelines. Against Naitanui, it became quickly apparent that Big Boy could no longer match it against the athleticism of his opponent.
Despite some criticism from Dermott Brereton on commentary (which was on the money, by the way – sorry Eagles fans, but he does not play intelligent footy around the ground), Nic Nat’s ruck work, or direct clearance work, made McEvoy look second rate.
Nic Nat had seven clearances of his own and fed his midfielders, well, leading to a +16 win in overall clearances. Just when it seemed Hawthorn might be ready to throw something at the Eagles, Naitanui would just pluck the footy from the air and drive his team forward, killing whatever momentum the Hawks were attempting to build.
When it comes to centre clearances, Nic Nat is the ultimate downer for other teams. They get back in there after scoring a goal, they’re all pumped up to do it again, and he just brushes aside his opponent, takes the footy and puts them on the back foot. For all his critics, and all those who lament his lack of game time (I am one of them at times – I admit it), it is what he does when he is out there that is important in games like this.
So, I guess the real question is here – is what Naitanui brings to the table more than enough to offset the lack of run and time spent off the field? Rewatching some of those ruck taps… hell yes it is!
Throw in the undersold contribution of Redden (31 touches and seven clearances) and Sheed (35 touches and ten marks) and you have a unit (which is kind of a second unit at the moment) that were impossible for the Hawks to combat.
THE SHEPPARD AND HIS FLOCK
You can see why Eagles fans love Brad Sheppard.
For the second week in a row, he has, in the absence of Hurn, McGovern and Barrass, taken responsibility for the functionality of the West Coast defence and done a wonderful job.
Given the role on the dangerous Luke Breust, Sheppard was attentive to the task whilst still being able to zone off and provide a reliable get out of jail option for his fellow backmen. This was a real “big brother” kind of role by Sheppard, allowing his teammates the scope to defend as they were instructed, only to swoop in and save the day when he felt the need was pressing. He finished with 27 touches as he played the steadying role inside defensive fifty, collecting six intercepts whilst ensuring Breust did no damage inside fifty.
Breust actually only had one touch inside attacking fifty, with Sheppard content to allow him to wander up to the wing if he wished to go – the Eagle knew where Breust was most dangerous, and protected that area well.
He has been the captain of this defence over the last two weeks and should be lauded with how well he has slotted into the role of Defensive General in the absence of the Hurn, Gov and Barrass. Unsung in his role again today, he was a standout in my eyes.
THE RUNNING MAN
I was going to have him in the engine room section, but the work of Gaff deserves a section of its own.
The first two games of the season, you could be forgiven for worrying a little about Andrew Gaff – how often do you see him cut out of the game to the point where he is totalling disposals in the teens? Not often, right?
The heat was on him by the time Round Three rolled around, and the Running Man has responded.
From that game onwards, Gaff has averaged 32.5 disposals as he has put his nose to the grindstone and simply outworked everyone who has opposed him. Today, he had the pleasure of Tom Phillips’ company, along with Liam Shiels.
It didn’t seem to matter.
Gaff turned up the heat and worked over whoever was unlucky enough to stand next to him at centre bounces. The Hawthorn wings paid him scant respect and Gaff hurt them to demonstrate that you do not, under any circumstance, give him the time to run and carry.
Gaff finished with 38 touches, with 27 of them coming uncontested (an indictment on those playing on him!) whilst picking up ten score involvements and eight inside fifty disposals. He was a class above the other runners in this one and would right up to his eyeballs in votes.
He deserved a better return than the two goals to his name, and a bit of that was on him in this one.
Jack Darling is a beast. He plays the game of power forward as well as anyone in the game around 95% of the time (the other five per cent of the time he looks like he should not be on a footy field at all) and loves when a team is silly/undermanned enough to play a lesser opponent on him.
Hawthorn really didn’t have much of a choice in this one. They had Michael Hartley, Kyle Hartigan, or Sam Frost. Heads, you lose… tails, you lose… and if the coin lands on its side… you lose, anyway.
Darling was a cut above these blokes and really could have had five goals in this one. He finished with two direct goal assists to help out his teammates, but it was his four contested marks that were the standout plays.
There’ll be quite a few people talking up the game of Brendon Ah Chee in this one, and rightly so – four goals as the third option is a great return, but so much of that freedom he enjoyed came via the attention that Darling and Kennedy continually draw as the big targets. In this game, not only did Darling draw the heat – he handled it well and played a very solid game.
THE BEST COACHING MOVE OF THE DAY?
Hats off to Adam Simpson here, who made the most intelligent coaching move of the day when he threw Jack Petruccelle onto Changkuoth Jiath.
Whilst Jiath possesses a weapon in his overhead marking, his preferred method of assault is by use of his pace and run from half back. Realising this, and after having a whole-team approach to curtailing the half back runner in the first half, Simpson switched the responsibility to the one Eagle that could match him stride-for-stride in the second half, and the results were brilliant.
Jiath had 17 touches in the first half and looked like the only Hawks capable of breaking the lines at stages, but with Petruccelle deployed as a defensive forward, Jiath was limited to just seven touches in the second half.
Meanwhile, Petruccelle was able to capitalise on Jiath’s lack of accountability to collect eight touches, himself, and slot a couple of goals in the process.
I have had conversations with West Coast fans where we’ve talked about the value of Petruccelle and I have argued that he should be best-22 based on his ability to burst into open space. What I didn’t expect was for him to be used as a defensive weapon as he was in this one. Jiath has the potential to be a very potent weapon when he is afforded space to run, but with Petruccelle taking that option away, he looked… ordinary.
And one more thing on Jiath – as great as it is when he tucks the footy under his arm and takes the game on, his inability to execute the fundamentals at times hurts his team. His missed 20 metre pass in the st quarter under no pressure by a good ten metres and put it out on the full, and completely lost the ball on the run through the middle as he took a bounce. The second error robbed his team of an inside fifty opportunity and gave one to the Eagles on the rebound.
Highlights are great, but when they’re not underpinned by doing the fundamentals properly, you run the risk of being considered all sizzle and no steak.
SIGNS OF LIFE
The return of Jarman Impey to defence has been a real highlight for the Hawks in 2021.
Playing more forward in 2020, following his return from knee surgery, Impey was forced to adapt to a new role, but off half back, he is a weapon that should be a staple in the Hawks’ attack for the next 5-6 seasons.
A beautiful reader of the footy, Impey can play a lockdown role, or drift across to aid a teammate. A bit of an anomaly for a player of his stature, Impey is both good in the air and at ground level, and his ten intercepts were able to stem the forward flow of the Eagles at times.
He finished with a clear career-high 32 touches, running forward to cap off his afternoon with a goal on an advantage call. Great game for Jarman – I love watching him play footy.
Tom Mitchell had 41 disposals in this one and I am preparing for the questions to come… but did he hurt the Eagles?
Did anyone in the Hawthorn midfield hurt the Eagles today? That would be the better question.
Mitchell works his backside off for this club, continually offering a solution to the problems that much less experienced, and less-skilled teammates cause. He acted as the bail out target at times, the in-and-under clearance player, the first-release midfielder, the defensive mid… hell, if he could play out of the goal square and clunk marks, I would be surprised if his team didn’t rely on him to do that as well.
Yet what he cops are questions like – did his possessions hurt the opposition?
It’s cheap journalism, perpetuated by a group of people who simply do not watch games of footy and stare at the stats sheet to form their opinions. The Hawks lost… Mitchell must not have done enough. Mate… he was the only bloke doing anything!
Putting this out there – if the 2020 version of Lachie Neale had the game that Mitchell had in this one, people would be asking how many votes he’d poll in the Brownlow. There is this movement in AFL circles at the moment to discredit the way Mitchell plays – it’s almost become fashionable. It started when he had 50 touches in a win against Collingwood back in 2018 and Nathan Buckley all but dismissed it… even though Mitchell was clearly the best player on the ground. It was apparent this season, when Mitchell had 18 touches in the third quarter of Round One to lead Hawthorn back against the Bombers… yet I was told by several people that others were better on the day.
Maybe it’s cool to knock the bloke who simply goes in there, collects the footy and distributes it to make his teammates better? Maybe there is a feeling that by stating that, without much evidence to back it up, that you come across as a knowledgeable footy fan? I’m not buying it.
Mitchell was huge in this game – combative, elusive, persistent… use whatever you want to describe his game, but please… please don’t come at me with the suggestion that his possessions didn’t hurt. In this current Hawthorn midfield, he is getting bugger all genuine support, week-to-week.
THE ENTIRE FIRST QUARTER
How many of you that watched this game thought about going and making a coffee, getting a beer, taking a toilet break, cutting your pubic hair… anything other than sitting through the remainder of an overly cautious and entirely defensive first quarter.
Some would call it an arm wrestle, whilst others may look at it as though it was a war of attrition. No… what it was, was approximately 30 minutes of the kind of footy the AFL does not want to see, and for very good reason.
Both sides played safe footy, unwilling to take even a slight risk to avoid exposing their defences. I can understand why – it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
For the Hawks, they had Kyle Hartigan and Michael Hartley as the direct match-ups for Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling. No wonder they wanted to play safe, huh?
For the Eagles, they selected a defence that had to borrow from Peter to pay Paul again, slotting Oscar Allen in down back to aid Brad Sheppard as they held together a back six comprising of Josh Rotham, Jackson Nelson, Harry Edwards and Alex Witherden. So you can see why they were so conservative early, as well.
As the siren sounded to end the first stanza, the teams had combined for just eight points in conditions that should have, or could have allowed for five to six goals each.
This may be harsh, but I am laying blame at the feet of Mr Clarkson here. The Hawks simply cannot match it with the Eagles. I know it, you know it, and so does he. There is no way his team was going to win a free-flowing game of footy against the precision of the Eagles, and so a scrap was his best option to keep it close and steal a win. Even though I am a Hawks supporter, I am kind of glad that didn’t work out.
Yes, I have a long relationship with the Hawks and they have brought me much joy, but I love the game. I love good footy. This was not good footy – it was anything but, and I hate to see those types of game plans rewarded. It makes them want to try it again, you see?
So, as much as it pained me to see the Eagles break the game open in the second, part of me was relieved. It was back to being a game of footy again, compared to whatever that was in the first quarter.
AT WHAT POINT DOES OSCAR ALLEN GO FORWARD AGAIN?
As soon as Barrass and McGovern get back, Oscar Allen will go back to doing what he does best.
That said, he has made two smothers in the last two weeks that any defender would have on their highlight reel. What a luxury to have him as a player that can compete at either end.
DO WE GIVE JAMES WORPEL A PASS IN THIS ONE?
It should be a pretty straight-forward yes… but nothing is ever straight forward at The Mongrel.
I reckon James may have padded his stats slightly with the heat off in the last quarter. Picking up eight touches and two goals with the game well and truly over, if he gets a pass on this week’s game, it would be due to his first two quarters – not the last one.
WHAT IS GOING ON WITH LIAM SHIELS?
He has always given so much to the Hawks… has he got much left?
He looked slow at times, turned the ball over like he was given the mandate to do it by Clarkson, and generally looked a cut below his opponents. He has been thrown onto the wing this season in an attempt to… hell, OI don’t know what they’re attempting to do with that role! The way I look at it, the Hawks were getting smashed on the inside, Shiels was being beaten on the outside, or turning it over… throw him into the middle where his combative nature could be used better.
But what do I know…
IS JARROD BRANDER TURNING INTO A LEGIT WINGMAN?
We’re starting to see signs.
He has really started getting how and when to run as a wingman. After being deployed there in 2020, it looked as though he could become a fish out of water, but he is warming into the role on a weekly basis now.
The big advantage he has out there is his height, and once he realises that he has just about every outside runner in the game covered in the air, we could start seeing him putting a couple of teams to the sword.
WHERE’D CHAD WINGARD GO?
What is his role? Didn’t he used to be a match-winner?
At a time when the Hawks are desperate for a winner to work alongside Mitchell, Wingard seems to disappear a little too often.
Talk to any Port supporter and they will tell you that he doesn’t work hard enough, but through 2018, he was a beast through the middle. I see very little of that. Jordan de Goey got a lot of heat for his lack of effort this season – I am not sure that Wingard has been any better. And now de Goey has a six goal game to his name to keep the wolves from the door.
He started the season well after missing the first two games, but since then, has displayed a shadow of the form he is capable of. The Hawks need more from him.
This’ll be popular… I like Eddie McGuire on commentary. I know people hate him for who he is, but he genuinely loves the game and does more than just call players’ names when they get the footy – you get the feeling he actually wants to know why things are happening the way they are and asks questions of the former players in the box. THAT is what the play-by-play man should do.
When do the reinforcements arrive?
McGovern, Barrass and Ryan should all be back on board within the next couple of weeks, but it is Elliot Yeo the Eagles would be sweating on. He adds so much to this group – genuine two-way midfield play. If he gets back and stays fit, this is a top four team.
Hawks really missed Jaeger O’Meara. I don’t know what’s going on here, but by god his team misses him in the middle. The Hawks are so thin in the guts (unlike myself, these days).
And how far are the Hawks away from being… something?
Two years. Will Day is out. Denver the Dinosaur is out… they need games into those kids, add another high draft pick and possibly a decent free agent… the roadmap is there. Now they just need to avoid any unforeseen speed humps along the way.
And there we go. The Hawks get North Melbourne next week… and I am nervous about it. West Coast get a travelling Adelaide Crows and should make short work of them on their home deck. It’ll be interesting, given the level of competition they’ll be facing, whether anyone is rushed back, or if all the defensive stars get an extra week to get cherry ripe for the Giants the following week.