In the flurry of moving fixtures and coaching speculation, you could’ve been forgiven for forgetting that Hawthorn and Brisbane actually had one of the most stable fixtures down in Launceston.
Now, between the absolute maelstrom of fixture changes, the Aussie Olympians showering us with gold, and breaking one of my fingers yesterday at local footy, this review may be a bit brief at times.
After successive losses, the Lions partly righted their ship with a comfortable 51 point win over Gold Coast last week. Although, this was off the back of a slow start and the team requiring a serious “bake” from Chris Fagan to remind them what was on the line for them. The win kept their top-four aspirations intact. Sitting just a single win behind Port Adelaide with a slightly better percentage, the Lions need to keep winning to put the pressure on the Power and keep a bit of distance between themselves and the young Swans nipping at their heels.
The Hawks had a bit of a rough week. A loss to fellow bottom-four team Adelaide after showing some improved form brought them back down to reality. Then they had the issues with their coach, Alastair Clarkson during the week. It was confirmed he will not coach the club in 2022, and the Hawks will pay out his contract (very rough… and expensive). Who knows if he even sees out the year? There are now pundits (probably not the most learned or qualified) calling for club president Jeff Kennett to step down, for players to be given amnesty to ask for trades and for the club to commit to incoming coach Sam Mitchell long-term given the situation they have created for him.
All this meant for Brisbane is that it was either going to be the best time to play the Hawks or the absolute worst. Were the players to be a bit drained and depressed from the week’s events or would they be galvanised to let the competition know that they’re stronger and more determined than people give them credit, and they’re ready stick fat with their club.
No one will dispute the Lions are the better side, but in this competition it only takes one team to be slightly off and the other to be completely on, and it can throw some amazing results your way. Couple that with the Hawks remarkable record in Launceston which is akin to the Cats fortress in Geelong, and you never say never.
Well, we got our answer in the first quarter. The Hawks came out breathing fire and hounded the Lions into submission. Meanwhile, the Lions came out to start this game like they thought it was a warm-up match. They had a serious lack of urgency around the ball and the Hawks sensed this early and were definitely on the hunt. When the quarter-time siren sounded the Hawks led the Lions 27-1.
For the second time in as many weeks, Chris Fagan strode onto the turf with his team having started the game poorly, albeit this week was considerably worse. Fagan reached into his arsenal and delivered another stern message to his men. “Don’t %*^£ this up!”.
The Lions came out looking like they’d heard the coach’s message loud and clear. They kicked the first two of the quarter and it seemed the pre-written script for this match might be in play. However, the Hawks were having none of it and responded like a far more mature side than in reality.
Hawthorn clicked into top gear in the third quarter as they sensed their moment and put the hammer down on the Lions, piling on six goals to one, to put the match beyond doubt. The margin at three-quarter time was 53 points. The Lions would need another Miracle on Grass to have even the slightest chance to claw this game back.
Now let’s not get carried away, but the Brisbane Lions actually turned up at three-quarter time in this match. Whether the Hawks thought they had it won and got a bit comfortable or the Lions finally realised they were about to kiss their top-four hopes goodbye, something changed in the dynamics of this match and the Lions finally found their sense of urgency in a sustainable way. Their forwards finally looked dangerous and found the footy. Their captain led the way in terms of work rate as he scurried around the field collecting an absolute mountain of the ball. Brisbane would kick the first six goals of the quarter to start making Hawks fans sweat a little. But the wily veteran in Shaun Burgoyne provided some good pressure on a risky kick into the middle of the defensive 50 and James Worpel capitalised to seal the game. The Lions kicked a couple more goals to save a few percentage points, but the game was over.
Now let’s get into the stuff that mattered.
The Best Stuff
I remember back when O’Meara was described as “going to be the greatest midfielder ever”. Then injuries and the Gold Coast Suns happened. Now comfortably finding his place at the Hawks, his last three weeks have been superb. He again dominated for the majority of this match. He had 30 disposals by three-quarter time, eventually finishing with 35 (14 contested), nine tackles, nine inside 50’s and six clearances. O’Meara was everywhere during the first three quarters. I also want to note the quality of his work in traffic. He is only credited with six clearances and nine tackles, but I thought his impact around the contest was huge and he likely played a hand in a lot more of both of those statistics that went uncredited. ALSO… his fend-off is awesome, so good that he did it twice in one play during the second quarter, and it worked!
Conor “Diesel” Nash
What a breakout game for Conor Nash. He played in the midfield and I don’t watch enough of the Hawks to know a lot about him, but the commentators stressed it was his first real crack in there. Well, the Hawks coaches in the future should absolutely keep throwing him in there with confidence. For a guy playing his 25th game, he hit the ball, and his opponents, like a guy playing his 250th. Seriously, Nash hit the Lions so hard in this contest I was comparing him to Kevin Nash (AKA Diesel) from the WWE (Not Greg Williams for those Carlton fans with itchy fingers!). It got to the point where I thought the Lions should throw Mitch Robinson in the middle to try and even out the level of aggression in there.
Nash would rely on his handball skills and not be a huge kicker of the footy, but I’m not about to hold that against him when he’s had 12 contested possessions, seven clearances and nine tackles. It was great to watch one of the Hawks younger brigade make this step up against one of the better teams in the competition.
The Entire Hawthorn Defence (for three quarters)
Forget the last quarter. It doesn’t matter. For the first three quarters of this game, the Hawks defence completely blanketed some serious forward talent. Joe Daniher, Charlie Cameron and Lincoln McCarthy could barely get a sniff. Only McStay and Lions mids drifting forward looked like serious threats, but we’ll get to them later.
Blake Hardwick, Sam Frost, Kyle Hartigan and Denver Grainger-Barras can take a bow.
Blake Hardwick had the job on one of the most consistently performing small forward in the competition this year. Lincoln McCarthy has been a standout for the Lions and has taken on extra responsibility with the absence of Cam Rayner. Despite his size, McCarthy is a really good mark above his head and is dangerous both in the air and on the ground. Hardwick must’ve done some good research on him because he gave McCarthy no space at all. He had some pretty amazing efforts inside defensive 50 where he would somehow find an extra inch (and sometimes a whole bloody meter) to get a hand in, in the contest and prevent a clean takeaway. McCarthy would finish the game with a somewhat respectable 13 disposals, however, only four of those came inside the forward 50, and more than 50% of them were in the defensive half! He really had to go searching up the ground to get involved in the game. A look back at McCarthy’s games this year shows you that he doesn’t often do that.
Frost and Hartigan did a fantastic job on Joe Daniher and a mix of Fullarton and McInerney. McStay got off the leash a little, but as I said earlier, we’ll get to him. Frost was the main weapon with 10 intercepts and 20 disposals. You take a deep breath when you see him try and hit up a target by foot, but you can’t argue with his intent to try and get the ball going the Hawks way. Just needs to keep improving that area of his game and he has the potential to become an elite key defender.
Grainger-Barras was also very solid in this game. Not huge numbers on the stat sheet, but with six tackles and five one-percenters his defensive efforts were absolutely first class.
Hartigan was probably the lesser light of the four key players in the Hawks defence but he still did his job.
The Chad was Great!
Chad Wingard is one of those players, where, as an opposition supporter, you usually don’t have a lot of time for him. He’s often flashy and his lackadaisical nature can often make it look like he isn’t giving 100% or fully committed to his team’s fortunes.
However, there was no way you could’ve made that assumption in this game. Wingard was relentless. Two goals, two behinds, a goal assist and nine score involvements. Oh yeah, he also had a lazy 32 disposals and seven tackles along with that.
Wingard worked himself into the ground as he helped lift the Hawks to a level I didn’t think they were capable of in 2021. Yes, they matched it with Melbourne, but in this game, they took complete control over a team who rightly consider themselves a top four contender. They didn’t just match the Lions for three quarters, they beat them convincingly, and Wingard formed a key part of that.
Just watch his effort to go back with the flight of the ball early in the first quarter. That ball hung in the air for a long time and Wingard knew contact was coming. It was great courage and poise to take the mark. That’s a player willing to sacrifice for the good of the team.
The Good Stuff
The Four knights in Lion’s armour.
At three-quarter time Brisbane had four players you could say were playing well. Jarryd Lyons, Daniel Rich, Harris Andrews and Daniel McStay. I would not have given a pass mark to any other player.
Those four gave the Lions what little semblance of resistance they had. Zorko gave a brave performance in the last quarter to make it a quintet and McInerney had his periods of dominance when matched up against McEvoy, but he let the youngster in Reeves do too well to be considered a winner. No, it was these chosen few who represented the Lions leadership on the field.
Harris Andrews repeated his performances from earlier in the year where he became a one man wall in the Lions defence. Trying to do everything and be everywhere meant Andrews gave up some marks and goals he probably would have been able to stop if he wasn’t stretching himself so thinly. Andrews would have somewhat rare in term of the competition but somewhat common performance for him, with a defensive double-double (double digit statics in any two of intercept possessions, one percenters, rebound 50’s) with 12 intercept possessions and 16 one percenters. It might not have been big enough, but Andrews built a mighty strong wall in that defence.
Rich was the Lions driving force moving the ball out of defence for the Lions. I would say moving the ball forward, but it didn’t get there much in the first half, particularly. He would finish with 32 disposals and almost 700 meters gained, but the vast majority of them would be confined to well inside the defensive 50, as he acted as the release valve to the dam wall Harris was building down there. Rich would also have ten intercept possessions as he sometimes threw an extra brick Harris’s way.
Lyons played a lone hand in the midfield. With the Hawks midfielders running amok, and Lachie Neale requiring treatment for a cut on his head, Lyons had to do all of the heavy lifting. He stood out lie a sore thumb to me, and even drifted forward to add a goal for good measure and show some of his forwards how it’s done. As mentioned help came late but it was too late. Lyons finished with 38 disposals (19 contested), nine marks, 10 score involvements, nine clearances and over 600 meters gained.
McStay was the other Lion to be playing a lone hand in one area of the field. With all of his fellow forward being completely blanketed, McStay became a beacon of hope for the Lions when kicking long down the line or inside attacking 50. A career high and match high six contested marks and four gaols made him the standout forward in the match. This is partly because Luke Breust went-off injured int the third quarter and couldn’t add to his tally of three.
Phenomenal from Luke Breust. He gave one of the better small defenders in the competition a lesson in second and third effort for nearly three quarters of this match. Brandon Starcevich is often next to Andrews and Rich as one of the Lions’ most reliable defenders, but he was found wanting in this match-up. The ever-reliable Breust used his core strength to unsettle the usually unflappable Starcevich and I thought it really made him double-guess his positioning. Even with this, Starcevich could argue he was still solid in most initial contests with Breust, however, the crafty Hawk’s ability to make himself dangerous through his third and fourth efforts are what gave him a significant advantage in this match up. Breust was able to consistently shake Starcevich after the initial contest and was really the lynchpin of the Hawks forward line for the majority of the first half of this game.
It was a terrible sight to see Breust having to leave the field with a knee injury and be subbed out. It was good to hear the news coming out of the Hawthorn camp was that it might not be bad as initially speculated. Fingers crossed for one of the most consistent performers of the last decade.
The Not So Good Stuff
hThe Lions Forward Line
Carlie Cameron, Joe Daniher and Lincoln McCarthy.
Disgraceful. I can probably forgive McCarthy a fair bit more than the other two as he still worked bloody hard to try and get himself into the game and chased hard. But Cameron and Daniher were horrendous. Completely shut out, but then not being willing to chase or harass? Unforgivable. Lazy. Disrespectful to your teammates giving everything they’ve got. Daniher’s set shots add to this. Despite finishing with an official tally of one goal and one behind, it was worse than that. Upon reflection at the end of the game and reading the final scoreline it could be argued that Daniher and Cameron cost the Lions the game… Harsh. But big-time players who put in sub-par efforts and miss regulation chances are what makes up the difference between the better and lesser sides.
Big Boy McEvoy
I was actually disappointed with Ben McEvoy in this game. Partnered with a young ruck in Reeves, it ended up being McEvoy who was getting pushed around far too easily. He did have some impact on the game though and was a presence in some key marking contests, but I just thought there was a lot more for him to offer.
The Other Stuff
Talk about the almost perfect interchange. Zac Bailey came didn’t even have to take a step onto the actual playing field before the ball came to him and he almost talked the umpire into giving him the mark. Unfortunately for him, he marked the ball outside of the field of play. It was an interesting moment though.
Won’t get the plaudits on the stats sheet or by anyone who didn’t watch the game. But Mitch Lewis was critical for the way the Hawks moved the footy and providing a contest against the likes of Andrews and Payne. Lewis was animalistic with some of his attacks on the contest that allowed the likes of Wingard and Breust to do their best work. Other fans won’t know it, but Hawks fans will.
I believe Reeves shaded the other three ruckman in this match. McInerney had his moments, as stated earlier, but I felt these largely came when McEvoy was in the ruck and Reeves actually had the ascendancy in the contest. Sure, McInerney would have more disposals (11-13) and clearances (3-7), but he would also have significantly more turnovers (2-6). But Reeves would also lay more tackles (7-4). The hit outs were 31-46. Reeves has a bright future if he can continue to show this kind of form early in his career.
What a response. Hawthorn had some serious questions asked of them, as a club, this week, and their playing group answered some of those questions emphatically. It is easy to imagine the storylines if the Hawks had suffered a big loss in this game. The pundits would’ve come out baying for blood as Clarkson would have undoubtedly “Lost the Players” and the Hawks would be “Wasting their time to keep him on for the rest of the season”. I’m still convinced that if the hawks do have a loss next week, someone will still go for one of those calls. And that’s only because if they go for it this week, they should be laughed out of the game. Yep, the Hawks players should have well and truly shut some of the media up for this week, and I for one am going to enjoy the quiet.
I know a couple of you didn’t agree with me last week, but that last round game against the Tigers is looking scintillating Hawks fans, The opportunity is right there to cement their fate as premiers failing to return to the finals the following year… surely a number one pick isn’t as good as that?
One bad loss you can forgive. Two poor losses and it becomes a worry. Maybe something isn’t quite right. Three poor losses and its confirmation that you are in a rut. Even the win against the Suns doesn’t look good on reflection when you consider the Lions were also outplayed for a half in that match. These losses have also come against teams which are all outside of the eight. The Lions have to fix something and quick, if they are going to seriously challenge in this year’s finals series. They can now effectively kiss their top four hopes goodbye and should be realistic and start preparing for a single-opportunity September (I would say a home final but who knows if they’ll even get the chance to host a game in Queensland).