Our second draw of the 2021 season – and guess the sod who put his hand up to do this game mid-week?

Yes for the second time this year, I’m reviewing a draw – perhaps a bit more unexpected than the last one. I mean, Hawthorn were at over nine dollars with the bookies to win this game in the prelude for crying out loud!!

But for Melbourne, this narrative that they somehow can’t beat the bottom sides recently is continuing to gather some steam. Losses to Adelaide, Collingwood and GWS, as well as barely getting past Essendon, questions have been asked about them in the past month and a bit.

But strangely enough, they have put away sides like Brisbane and Port Adelaide as well within that time, which tells me that Melbourne are a legitimate force… when they want to be.

Well, the Dees were on their way to shutting off this narrative, when they led by as much as 27 points in the second term. But Hawthorn then flicked the switch from that moment in, kicking the last three goals of the first half to get to single figures and never went away.

They tackled and harassed and really made it a scrap for the rest of the game and caused several Melbourne players to fumble and cause uncharacteristic errors, and in doing so, reaffirmed this narrative that Melbourne have a somewhat cocky attitude.

Maybe it’s the case, but from my point of view, it just looked like Hawthorn were hungrier for the ball than Melbourne players and a part of me felt as if the Hawks deserved this win. But they could have just as easily lost it through poor skill errors. The Demons had their chances to seal the game late through Kysaiah Pickett and Angus Brayshaw – but both of them put their set shots wide.

But even with the draw, Melbourne have returned to the top of the ladder. A loss would’ve had them below both Geelong and the Western Bulldogs – both of whom have already won their games this weekend.

Let’s have a look at breaking down the game with the autopsy.

 

Tom Mitchell

There is a long list of players who drive me nuts and near the top of the list is Tom Mitchell. Since his Brownlow year, there have been a lot of games where I’ve found myself asking about what he does with his 30+ possessions – I think it might have been the Richmond game earlier this year that he was Hawthorn’s top possession getter, but there wasn’t much else to hang his hat on, a lot of them were nothing touches.

He’s been quite susceptible to having these sorts of games, but this one was not one of them. In fact, I think it was the best game he’s had since the Brownlow. A key factor in his game was his ability to gather contested possessions and against a three-headed midfield dog that is Oliver, Petracca and Jack Viney  – and all three of them had ripping games – Mitchell’s efforts and work-rate were as good as any.

Just to rattle off the stats – 39 disposals, with a nice even spread of 19 contested possessions and 20 uncontested, six clearances, 610 metres gained and 10 intercepts.

Those intercepts remind me of something, allow me to indulge you all with a passage from the last quarter that involved Tom Mitchell.

So in the final minutes, Mitchell was able to get on his bike to take a mark inside 50 deep in the pocket. Yes, it was a horrible attempt at a kick around the body and got a point, but within 90 seconds when the Dees worked the footy back up forward, Mitchell filled in the hole inside their attacking 50 to take the intercept mark.

The Hawks have been pretty dreadful to watch this year and have been subjected to much criticism, but seeing that work rate spoke of a man who could sense that they were a genuine chance to topple a top side.

 

Has Melbourne’s Defence Been Found Out?

I think in past weeks, sides have found a bit of a blueprint to work past Melbourne’s defence.

It is no secret in the AFL that the power of the Demon defence lies with both Steven May and Jake Lever. May is terrific both as a stopper one-on-one and on the intercept. Jake Lever is an incredibly intelligent player – he sort of reminds me as the bloke on the chess table who already knows what move he’s going to make as soon as you move your chess piece.

A lot of Hawthorn’s scores came out of frantic chaos ball – +21 tackles is all you need to know in a game of footy. and especially if the ball is turned over in the middle of the ground, it doesn’t give defenders much of a chance if the ball keeps moving and that’s how Hawthorn were able to garner a lot of their scoring opportunities.

A big part in beating Melbourne is going to have to be to take Lever and May out of the equation and I thought after quarter time especially, Hawthorn worked hard in making sure that they didn’t get any easy looks at cutting off forward 50 entries – credit does go to Jacob Koschitzke and Mitch Lewis, the latter in particular I thought attacked contests as if he was a man playing for his spot.

May was quite down on his form – only the three intercepts for him in this one, but Lever is one of the best readers of the play I’ve seen this year. Some people telegraph the next move, but Lever genuinely reads it from about a minute before it happens, that’s how sure it’s going to happen. He took four intercept marks in this one and had 15 intercept possessions overall to go with 14 one-percenters.

Even the best can get found out on quick movement and in past losses this year, the Demons defence has been caught off position because of fast-paced, frenetic movement – that’s just the nature of the game these days.

 

And What About Hawthorn’s Understrength Defence?

Reading the outs on Thursday night – Changkuoth Jiath, who’s easily been their most improved player this year, out. Jack Scrimshaw, been quite impressed with his use of the ball out of half back, out. Add in as well Will Day, who will be a very nice player in the future and Blake Hardwick, who I think is quite important to the Hawks’ defensive structure, it leaves Hawthorn’s defensive stocks a little light on.

With the exception to Kyle Hartigan, who gave away so many undisciplined free kicks and easily outbodied by his direct opponents – honestly, why is he still here after all this time – and Sam Frost’s last quarter, where everything he touched turned into pure shit, I thought the Hawks’ back six held up okay.

The glaring oversight is that Bayley Fritsch got off the leash and kicked 3.1 and Kysaiah Pickett should’ve joined him with three goals if he hadn’t butchered that last shot on goal. But I think Hawthorn have found two players that I think will be quite critical to their future.

There’s no secret that Denver Grainger-Barras will be a future star of the competition. I just wished we got to see a bit more of him this year. In this one, he looked quite composed in defence, and not afraid to back himself into a contest and to back himself into taking a contested grab. Imagine him in three or four years down the track when he fills up and has more meat on his frame – he’ll be up there for mine as one of the game’s better intercept players – three intercept marks and five intercept possessions all up.

The other is Lachie Bramble – Who? Non-Hawks supporters may ask. But even if you didn’t ask that question, I’m quite delighted to bring him up, because reading his form line the last few weeks have made me quite intrigued to see how he stacks up against a top-four side. And you know what? I really liked his game – A running defender with good speed and a penchant for taking the game on.

For someone who’s a mature-aged recruit to come into the system this year, he doesn’t look out of place for someone in his fifth senior game – 18 touches, five tackles, four rebound 50s and 353 metres gained.

There is plenty to like about Hawthorn post-Clarko and here is just an example of it.

 

Gawn And Reeves In The Ruck

Very interesting to see Max Gawn line up against Ned Reeves for large parts of the game. I think I may have underestimated what Jonathan Ceglar was worth to the team when he played one of the best games of his career against Tom Hickey against Sydney a few weeks ago, but the injury meant that there was a chance for Ned Reeves in game three of his AFL career to come against one of the best rucks in the game today.

You can put Ben McEvoy in as the number one ruck, but it robs him of the chance to be that versatile role that he has been playing across the past few seasons. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that, but I do know that he did come up with a big time goal and provided a solid forward option – solid, but not spectacular. For the record, when McEvoy came into ruck though, he managed 14 hitouts with half of those going to advantage

As for Reeves, I thought the hitout count against Gawn was impressive. Gawn had 28 hitouts, but just 10 went to advantage from 56 contests. Reeves had 51 contests for 19 hitouts and just one to advantage. Gawn’s coverage of the ground and positioning as well also helped him a lot in winning possession – he had 15 disposals, four marks, four tackles and four clearances. Reeves just had the nine.

The points would easily go to Gawn in the ruck duel, but if I was Ned Reeves, I’d be quite encouraged with the effort and you’d be seeing this as a real eye-opener for what you need to do to really establish your place in the side, because McEvoy and Ceglar won’t be hanging around at Hawthorn forever.

 

The Importance Of Jack Viney In The Midfield

Clayton Oliver played a brilliant inside midfielders game – 35 disposals, 16 contested possessions, nine clearances. Christian Petracca had 33 disposals, 23 of them contested, also had nine clearances, six of those from centre bounces and had eight inside 50s – thought he was outstanding again.

But I feel like it must be know that Jack Viney brings a defensive edge to the midfield that… I won’t say the other two lack, but it’s a hell of a lot more noticeable when he brings it to the table.

Viney’s tackle numbers this year, while he hasn’t played a lot of football due to injury, have been quite extraordinary. Last week against Port Adelaide he laid 10 tackles. At the start of the year he had 12 tackles against Geelong when they beat them and everyone was shocked. Well, Viney was at it again in this one, but I thought he was just as proficient at winning it on the inside and working well on the spread.

On top of the 11 tackles he laid, he had 32 disposals, 17 of those contested, as well six clearances to complement the large sum that Oliver and Petracca won in this one. But also had five score involvements and led all Demons for pressure acts with 31 – only Tom Mitchell, Liam Shiels and Jaeger O’Meara recorded more pressure acts.

James Harmes, who has been in some good form up to this point, was an exclusion of this match, but how hard will it be to fit all four of these guys into a midfield set up where all four thrive on the contested ball?

Sure, Petracca can float up forward and bob up for a goal or two, but it feels like his best work is at the coalface, working his tail off to hunt the footy. Viney is a guy that can play the perfect balance of offensive and defensive mid and Oliver is a player that is of very similar style.

To be honest, I’m just glad to see Jack Viney back playing great footy again, he’s a very tough player to match up on around the stoppages and he’ll make you pay if you don’t get rid of it quick enough.

 

Quick Observations

So Conor Nash got forced out of the side because he had to isolate hey? I think I would’ve rather just had his replacement James Cousins – Loved some of his efforts and willingness to pump the ball forward – 20 disposals, five tackles, three clearances, 455 metres gained and seven inside 50s.

Speaking of efforts, I liked Shaun Burgoyne’s tackling pressure – led all Hawks for tackles with nine for the match on top of 13 disposals – he may be 400-plus games old, but the old fella still has the fight.

Thought Harry Petty played a strong hand in defence in this one. Almost looked gone for all money in the second term when he pulled up clutching his hamstring, but he managed to stick it out and take a few big intercept marks in the second half.

How big was Luke Breust in the final minutes? At times this year, his kicking for goal has left me wanting a little, but he has still proven that he can stand up to a big moment and deliver a goal in the last minute – all up, three goals is a solid show considering how quiet he’d been early in the piece.

Every time I see Angus Brayshaw on the wing, I can’t help but feel how wasted he is there, but then you look at his stat line and it says he led all Demons for score involvements with nine and you think to yourself that Brayshaw’s become a very handy role player in this side.

Loved Dylan Moore’s forward pressure. Reminds me of a player with that ‘hungry dog’ mentality – a player who’ll chase and hunt down the opposition and I thought six tackles, three of those inside 50 and 20 pressure acts from someone who is playing predominantly forward.

Christian Salem another really good game from him – 25 disposals, 10 intercept possessions, kicked at just under 70 percent efficiency and over 300 metres gained from him.

A couple of times I found myself completely immersed with Tyler Brockman with his tackling presure. I keep asking myself how he got left out of this side for so long, but then I think I realised once he got his hands on the ball, he needs to make smarter decisions with it.

And just one last thing from me, if anyone reading this is convinced that the draw during a home and away final needs to go, then go take a good hard look at yourselves. We’ve had drawn results for years and the result always leaves you on the edge of your seat. Yeah, there’s no winner – who cares?

The two premiership points could – and have done in the past – decide places in the top eight this year – especially with the race for top spot heating up. If the Bulldogs, Geelong and Brisbane want it? Then they are going to have to keep winning.

And on that note, it’s time to wrap it up.

Who knows where both of these teams will be next weekend, given the current situation both in New South Wales and in Victoria. But we do know that Hawthorn will take on Brisbane next Saturday and the Lions have found themselves in a bit of a lull in recent weeks – can the Hawks take the opportunity? It’s scheduled for the MCG, but that will be highly likely to be moved.

As for Melbourne. We’ll get a very clear understanding about whether this narrative that they take it too easy on lower opposition is true or just plain bollocks – for Melbourne supporters you’d hope it’s latter – as they tackle the Gold Coast Suns in a match originally scheduled for TIO Stadium up in the Northern Territory – it may get moved, it may not.

 

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