Sometimes in football, you get a game that ends up leaving you with two big stories coming out of it.

For Hawthorn, the story of Alastair Clarkson’s abrupt farewell tour continues to truck along. Since the news of him stepping down as head coach at the end of the season surfaced a few weeks ago, the Hawks have looked more like a side that should be in contention for finals than a side that is sifting down the bottom four of the ladder.

For the Western Bulldogs, this season has by large been one of the best in recent years, and having been dealt with a shock loss to the Bombers last week, this provided a perfect opportunity to bounce back and keep themselves in touch with Geelong and Port Adelaide – both of whom won their games following this clash.

But what we got was more of the same from the Bulldogs: Beaten, bullied around the congestion, barely looked like giving a yelp in 120 minutes worth of football. The last two weeks have been hands down the worst the Bulldogs have looked all year.

I’m not going to get riled up here, but full credit to the Hawks because for as poor as the Dogs were, the Hawks they applied the pressure, adapted to the blustery conditions of Launceston’s York Park much better than the Dogs and made the most of their opportunities to win one last one for Clarko down at the Apple Isle.

There’s a bit of praise and a few Dogs that I’m prepared to whack and I’m also prepared to receive something back with interest, so let’s knuckle down with the Autopsy.

 

The Twin Towers

Let’s start with something good, it’s well-identified that the Bulldogs’ defence isn’t exactly among the tallest in the competition. Alex Keath has just returned from a hamstring injury and Ryan Gardner was unavailable in this one and before that, Josh Schache was doing things before hurting his knee last week.

What makes the performances of Mitch Lewis and Jacob Koschitzke even better was that the conditions in Launceston were never going to be suited for the talls, but the way they were allowed to run and attack the ball in the air was consistent all game, and I’m glad that they were honoured and were able to play such important pieces to this win.

Lewis looked on early, trying to launch himself at the pack and, well, he did a pretty good job splitting packs and letting the ball fall to his teammates if he wasn’t clunking them. At the end of it all, it was Jacob Koschitzke that was dangerous on the lead and was putting the dagger in the heart of the Bulldogs.

What will please Clarko, Sam Mitchell and the Hawthorn faithful is that the two combined for a third of Hawthorn’s goals, all of them coming in the second half. Lewis kicked the goal that gave them back the lead after the Dogs had kicked three in a row to start the third term. Koschitzke kicked a pair at either side of the three-quarter time siren and was just an overall presence in the second half of this game.

Between the pair, they took six contested marks – an even split of three apiece – Lewis himself had the ten marks all up and was able to present himself well to the mids with very little resistance from the Bulldogs defence or those pressuring the ball carriers further afield. He also laid five tackles, with three of them inside 50, which is only a sprinkle of the kind of pressure Hawthorn were able to apply themselves to all game.

 

Howe Does He Do That?

Daniel Howe is a player that I think has got an enormous work rate and a tank to match and is often semi-reliable with his disposal.

However, he just doesn’t seem to be locked into the Hawks’ best 22 for some reason. Since the 2018 year – you know, the one where Hawthorn were knocked out in straight sets? – Howe has battled injury and been in and out of the side. He hasn’t exactly managed to stamp himself as a lock in this Hawthorn team going forward.

My Hawthorn supporting old man has made mention of Howe’s form over the past few weeks and as the game progressed it was quite apparent to see why: He finds himself in space quite a fair bit and he provides himself as a quite the capable link-up man on the wing, but he also managed himself a few contested possessions through stoppages.

His last quarter goal – he was able to get out on the half forward flank, with no Bulldog near him, and speaks of the sort of player he can be: dangerous, and his goal from long range to really make it difficult for the opposition speaks about how he can really step up in this Hawks team going forward. This is particularly so given the absence of the likes of Jaeger O’Meara and James Worpel – both of them named as late omissions for this game.

His 34 disposals and 26 kicks from this game are both career-highs for him in his 86-game career. But he also had 12 contested possessions, nine marks, eight score involvements and 769 metres gained at 65 percent kicking efficiency in what was most comfortably his best game to date.

 

The Pressure

They might have only been +5 in tackles overall, but there was a sense with Hawthorn’s pressure around the ball that had the Dogs worried and unable to play the style of game that they want to play – this only part and parcel as to why the Hawks won this and why the Dogs lost.

I’d like to bring you two examples of pressure acts that led to goals

The first saw Hawthorn kick their first goal. I gave Bailey Smith a lot of praise during the week in my column for his overall application since arriving onto the AFL scene. But in this instance, he had every right to knock it over the goal line to rush it through. However, the pressure applied by Jacob Koschitzke forced him to do too much. He panicked a little and tried to keep the ball alive. However, really it was just a forced error – resulting in a goal to Ben McEvoy.

In the second example, we’ll go to the third quarter. The ball is launched deep inside Hawthorn’s attacking 50. Easton Wood receives the ball basically centimetres from the boundary line. He’s met with a tackle by Tyler Brockman – Wood’s a bit stronger and could’ve easily have taken the contact and go over the boundary line. Instead, he rushes the ball onto his boot, which lands right onto the lap of Tom Mitchell, who eventually kicked the goal.

The thing that solidifies how harder Hawthorn were towards the opposition were their tackles inside 50, which saw the Hawks lay 17 tackles to the Bulldogs’ nine.

Jai Newcombe led all players for tackles, laying 11 for the match. I don’t understand how or why he was kept out of the team for this long given his amazing debut against the Swans a few months ago. He is built like your typical brick shithouse and doesn’t look to take a backwards step in his game – I love the future with him.

Another man that I thought played an underrated game was Harry Morrison. He led all players for tackles inside 50 with four of his five tackles being laid inside the attacking 50. He also had 24 pressure acts – only Newcombe, Tom Mitchell and Liam Shiels all had more.

 

Stuck In The Middle

Finals is right around the corner and there are a couple of glaring issues from the boys from the West that stand out like dog’s bollocks, no pun intended.

We’ll start with our issues in the centre clearances. Last week against Essendon, they were absolutely putrid in not applying body on contact and allowing the Bombers to waltz out of the centre bounce so easily.

Whilst the overall clearance count was basically even, the count from centre bounces read 10-4 in favour of Hawthorn and that was with no O’Meara and Worpel. This should’ve been blood-in-the-water type stuff and the Bulldogs were again asleep at the switch.

Noticeably, there were a couple of times from the centre bounce, the Bulldogs were too ‘ball-conscious’ and were sucked in to try and win it at the source, which allowed a Hawthorn player or two to hang out of the stoppage and wait for it to come to them, and sure enough, that’s what happened: Tom Mitchell was elite with five centre clearances of his own.

Chad Wingard was another guy who I thought ran his own race from time to time. Again, I’d love to point out Bailey Smith’s inept defensive checking in the stoppage in the third quarter which leads to Wingard’s goal: no body pressure, just ran off to try and get on the end of it before the ruck contest was already decided. When off the leash, Wingard is a very dangerous man, he wasn’t All-Australian at one point for no reason.

Jack Macrae and Tom Liberatore are the only midfielders in this one I can soundly say that they can hold their heads high to an extent. They both were working their absolute backsides off all game long: 17 clearances (Libba 11, Macrae 6) and 16 tackles between them.

As for the rest? Marcus Bontempelli, he looked very tentative and slow and got caught out way too often in congestion, Lachie Hunter looked more of a passenger in this one, Bailey Smith – to put it in the words of fellow Mongrel, Brett Hodgson, played like a ‘crème puff’, whilst I still think both Adam Treloar (thought he was in and under a lot in the first half) and Josh Dunkley are far from peak match fitness.

 

No Bruce, Lots Of Worries

It’s more of the elephant in the room this week given the untimely injury to Josh Bruce last week in the dying seconds.

I kept pondering in the morning leading up to this and most of Friday night: How are the Dogs going to combat defences when it’s just Aaron Naughton as the key tall in the forward line? We’ve seen both Naughton and Bruce work very well together this year and form a very formidable pair when working together.

Also as a side note: Jamarra Ugle-Hagan being managed is a strange decision by Bevo, but who am I to judge that one? He probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference if we’re being honest, but fingers crossed he comes back for the Port Adelaide game – he could really stretch Port’s defensive unit, and simply put, the Dogs need someone to draw a little bit of heat inside 50.

Back to Naughton – his game was… alright. That’s pretty “on the fence”, isn’t it? There were quite a few moments where he was able to get a good run and jump at the ball in flight and whether it was Kyle Hartigan or Sam Frost he was matched up on – neither of them could stop him. His kicking still remains a big issue and if nothing is done between now and the Finals, then the Dogs will struggle mightily.

Both Hartigan and Frost worked well in large to put the body on and deny Naughton his run and jump at the footy, which in turn made Tim O’Brien’s job as the intercept marking defender very easy – thought he was very good – 14 intercepts and six intercept marks all up. He was also very good last week against Collingwood in the same role – so maybe something for Sam Mitchell to work with next year?

The only other forward that was looking very likely was Cody Weightman, who could’ve easily have had a bag of goals in this one if his teammates moved the ball through him a little more often and realised what sort of situation was unfolding before them (double and triple-teaming Naughton). Especially in the first half, Weightman was caught open and either the ball was brought in too slow or he was completely burned off – two goals is not just reward for his efforts.

Hannan needs to stay, I know he was pretty ineffective in this one, but he provides a handy target from here to there – it’s just a matter of finding consistency in his game, although I must say that time is running thin with a lot of supporters with the Jason Johannisen as a forward experiment. For my money, you can’t have that sort of speed and missing for so much of the game.

 

What The Ruck, Tim?

Whether it’s Jordon Sweet or Stefan Martin – someone needs to come in next week and give Tim English a real chop out, because watching this is actually doing my head in.

When Martin was playing at the start of the year, it was perfect and exactly what the Dogs needed to allow Tim to play more of a free-roaming style and it worked as another tall option up forward, he was sticking the marks at a career-best rate. With Martin out and Sweet nowhere to be found, he’s being found to do too much.

I feel bad for Lewis Young. Bevo is playing him in all positions, except the one where he’s best suited. When I saw Young warming up with the midfielders in the centre square pre-game I thought immediately that it would not work out. True to form, Jonathan Ceglar and Ben McEvoy treated this as if it was watching adults slap around their kids in a wrestling match, it was bloody embarrassing to watch.

Just to put it in perspective. Ceglar had 34 hitouts, McEvoy was next best with 15. English and Young only combined for 14 hitouts for THE ENTIRE GAME and just to make it that little more insulting, the pair of Hawks had more hitouts to advantage than Tim English had hitouts overall – that’s 12 to 10 for those counting along.

Granted, these were big lumps that have had years of experience in comparison to the likes of English and Young. But English in particular needs to learn to how be more aggressive in ruck contests and learn to get to the bloody front, I can’t stress how much he finds himself trotting behind his counterpart. He reminds me of that bloke in high school that is very timid and spends his time in the library, and then when you annoy him, he gets mad and lightly pushes a chair over… and then apologises.

Show me that you’ve got pair of balls this September, Tim!!!

 

Other Observations

At several stages when the Dogs were behind, I thought Bailey Dale worked very hard to try and make something work with the ball in his hand – perhaps the only runner in the red, white and blue that didn’t look hesitant with the ball in his hands: 31 disposals, 22 kicks at 72 per cent, five rebound 50s, four score involvements and six intercepts.

Quite a few Hawthorn players with high kicking percentages: Blake Hardwick had 20 kicks at 75 per cent, Lachie Bramble 13 kicks at 100 per cent, Shaun Burgoyne 12 kicks at 100 per cent, Jack Scrimshaw 14 kicks at 93 per cent, O’Brien had 15 kicks at 80 per cent and Wingard had 16 kicks at 75 per cent – either they’re very clean with their ball use or they’re playing too loose.

I think people fail to give Blake Hardwick much respect as a small defender, he often finds himself plenty of space to get on the end of kicks and then is often quite reliable in a one-on-one or as a third man when called upon.

What did we make of Caleb Daniel’s game in this one? I personally thought he was lacking his usual impact with the ball in his hands, but he was far from the worst player on the ground. I think his extra-late hit on Mitch Lewis in the third quarter summed up how every Bulldog supporter was feeling – lucky not to have given away 50.

Good to see Connor Downie get a proper run this year after being the medi-sub in his debut game all the way back in round one. He looked quite set to take the game on every time he could get a run on and was perfect with his use of the ball: 12 disposals – six kicks, six handballs – at 100 per cent efficiency.

Bailey Williams led all Bulldogs for intercepts with nine for the match – thought he was another that can hold his head high and could say he tried as hard as he could – plays a very undersized role for a defender – hopefully Ryan Gardner comes back in and hopefully releases him to play a more damaging role.

A very underrated game from Liam Shiels in this one. Was second only to Newcombe at Hawthorn for tackles with seven, but it was the way he applied himself in the tackle – safely and securely pinned the arm and made sure that it was clean tackle and no one was hurt.

And I think that’ll do me, time to pour out a glass of… well something, I don’t care what it is.

Fair play to the Hawks – they brought to the table a very tough game style and the application of their gameplan was top notch, I wish it didn’t take them to the point where they had to basically tell Clarko to pack his bags and piss off for them to actually turn their fortunes around, but, I suppose that’s footy.

They can forget about landing Jason Horne in the Draft (only the best kid in the pool this year). Truthfully, they probably don’t need him if they can sustain this for most of the season next year, but before the Hawks can look fully to 2022, they have the Tigers next week at the MCG in a match that they can definitely win to send the coach out on a high.

As for the Bulldogs, that’s two winnable games bottled and with it goes their chance to finish on top of the ladder. Whether they’re fatigued or they’re just down on their luck, they could be every chance to lose a top four spot if they bring this intensity against Port Adelaide next week.

It’s a big game, and everyone has got to find something if they are to be still considered serious contender, all because the last two weeks have shown that they are anything but. When the heat gets turned on, they seem to fold up quicker than most – is the term ‘Front-runners’ too harsh? Maybe it is, but that is the sort of feeling I’m getting with this team. It needs to change and fast.

 

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