Two seasons ago, Hawthorn gambled on two young talents, and it cost them two club legends in the process. Against Collingwood in Round One, we saw why.
While Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis, and their respective achievements should never be downplayed, seeing Jaeger O’Meara and Tom Mitchell in the centre of the ground must warm the hearts of Hawks supporters.
The Magpies flagged some changes coming into 2018. They were throwing Darcy Moore to the backline, Ben Reid forward and putting their faith in Mason Cox as a marking target.
As the siren sounded to end the game, only one team could be pleased with how things turned out.
The Mongrel presents – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Collingwood v Hawthorn in Round One.
1 – Tom Mitchell
Last year, Adam Treloar intimated that he didn’t rate the way Mitchell amassed 50 touches against his club. So this year, Mitchell did it again. Not only did he match last year’s effort – he surpassed it, and surpassed the record number of disposals in a game on the way.
Mitchell was everywhere, and did everything but kick a goal. His presence at stoppages, his quick hands, his relentless running and his vision punctuated a Hawthorn win. His 54 touches eclipsed the previous record of 53 held by both Greg Williams (1989) and Gary Ablett Jr (2012).
2 – Cyril Rioli
I have to admit, I was a little doubtful that Cyril would be right for Round One. With a delayed pre-season due to a family illness, I thought we’d see him in around two weeks’ time. Instead, we got him tonight, and he brought his defensive pressure with him.
It’s not just the pressure he exerts personally; it’s the implied pressure and resultant panic that makes Rioli's presence so vital to the Hawks' success. His run down smother in the first quarter set off a chain reaction. The ball rebounded to Mitchell, who fed Burgoyne. Goal.
Again in the second quarter, his pressure around the goal caused a spillage, allowing Luke Breust to kick one of his four goals. Welcome back Cyril.
3 – Steele Sidebottom
Steele is now the leader at Collingwood, and he leads by the way he plays. Pendlebury may be captain, but I’d follow Sidebottom into battle. His disposals hurt, he sets up teammates, and he finishes in front of goal. We’ll get to Pendles a bit later.
Sidebottom’s spin out of traffic and handball to James Aish for a goal in the third quarter was the kind of play Collingwood needed more of. Sadly, they only have one Steele Sidebottom.
1 - Jeremy Howe
I think Howe had a spectacular season in 2017, but what Collingwood needed tonight wasn’t the spectacular – it was the ordinary done very well. They needed some stability in the backline. It needed Howe to have a good game.
Howe had 11 touches and two marks. Just two. One of the best marks in the game took two grabs in total and was completely ineffective. Matched up for the most part on Jack Gunston and Breust, he was soundly beaten.
2 – Scott Pendlebury
OK, I am ready for some backlash here. Firstly, I am painfully aware that Pendlebury is a Rolls Royce and his record is impeccable. He buys time for himself, always looks balanced and is one of the most dangerous midfielders in the game. He has my utmost respect.
But he was not great tonight.
Yes, Pendles racked up 26 touches, and his 9 tackles led the game, but for the first time in memory, his disposals did not hurt the opposition. A few times, he threw it on the boot in hope. His patented “cock the handball” to buy himself space didn’t get the desired outcome, as the Hawks repeatedly closed in on him. He just seemed rushed and harassed on many occasions.
I have no doubt he will be ‘on’ next week, but for this week, his game is numbers on paper and little influence on the field.
3 – Taylor Duryea
For Hawthorn it was a case of “One of these things is not like the other” tonight. Taylor Duryea is a decent defender, but his delivery out of the back half leaves a lot to be desired and doesn't fit with the precision Hawks. He handed Sidebottom a goal in the second quarter. Well, not handed – more handballed it. Right to him, in fact.
His attempt to kick the ball in the Tom Mitchell vicinity in the last quarter made me feel as though I could’ve done better as it sailed out of bounds and into the crowd. I felt the same after he missed a set shot that would’ve well and truly iced the game a few moments later.
1 – Mason Cox
To put it bluntly, he was horrible. He dropped marks, couldn’t get near it, and capped the night off by collecting Daniel Howe high. He might get a week, and I’m not sure Collingwood fans would even be upset.
If Nathan Buckley is putting his eggs in Mason Cox’s basket for season 2018, it might be time to get himself another basket. Cox looked like someone who’d never played the game tonight. If his performance were a Beatles song, Paul McCartney would sing that Cox’ll get better, John Lennon would chime in with “He can’t get no worse.”
2 – Travis Varcoe
The best thing Varcoe did all night was a hard tackle on O’Meara in the first quarter. Now, the tackle was an absolute beauty – it can’t be denied. It split O’Meara’s eye open, but when that is all you have to hang your hat on at the end of the game, it’s a pretty poor game.
He finished with seven touches. Only Mason Cox had less touches. Hopefully Daniel Wells is back soon and Varcoe can head back into the VFL to cruise through games and not do the hard stuff.
3 – Moore down back. Reid up forward.
I was going to use the first fifteen minutes of the last quarter as ugly for the Hawks, but they do that – they absorb the opposition’s best and then counter, and that's what happened.
Instead, we’ll look at the other part of Buckley’s experiment. Moore started really well down back, clunking a mark in the first minute, and Reid marked and goaled not long after. Like a mad scientist, Buckley should’ve laughed maniacally as the ball sailed through.
“IT’S WORKING… IT’S WORKING!!!”
And then it stopped working. Reid had enormous trouble getting near it. His confidence was so shot by the fourth quarter that he started doing a “Mason Cox” overhead and dropping uncontested marks. Meanwhile, Moore went out of the game, despite making a few nice spoils.
Once Moore was moved forward ten minutes into the last, it clicked for the Pies. He took a pack mark and goaled, and was involved in their next goal as well. It begs the question – why would you move a kid who, at the same stage in his career, has very similar numbers to Joe Daniher, into defence?
Moore will be a forward eventually, but Buckley will continue the experiment until it is painfully obvious. Admitting failure at Collingwood is not an option, as evidenced by Buckley’s recent contract extension. Yep, I went there.
Burgoyne up forward worked well early, but by the second quarter he was also running around deep in the back pocket.
Ben Crocker was the best forward for Collingwood. Think about that for a second. All we’ve heard about is Reid and Cox. They’re really missing Jamie Elliott.
Hawthorn would be thrilled with Jaeger O'Meara getting through the game unscathed. Overshadowed by Mitchell's brilliance, O'Meara showed he has plenty to offer. His first quarter was excellent.
Still not sold on the “below the knees” rule. The ball is the objective, and when you have players diving at the ball, grabbing it, but their body hits someone in the legs who’s second to the contest, something seems wrong.
No team does the little knock on, tap on or toe poke as well as Hawthorn over the last ten years. And yes, that includes the Scarlett-led, toe-poking Cats.
Pies only had three marks inside fifty for the first three quarters. It’s a telling stat.
It was great to see Sam Murray taking on Shaun Burgoyne across the face of goals and winning. It was a gutsy move given the stage of the game and the momentum.
I have no idea how Collingwood didn’t kick a goal when Tom Phillips grabbed the ball on the goal line. Just one of those things, I guess.
Jeff Kennett’s face looks like it’s made of leather these days.