Hawthorn v West Coast- What Happened?
There’s something alluring about the traditional Saturday afternoon time slot. Much has been made of the potential shift of the Grand Final to a later time, but the MCG bathed in sunshine is truly a glorious sight. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that on a typically damp day in Melbourne, after a week of previously delightful weather. Still, the idea of wet weather footy between these two sides meant this game was one worth watching, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it was West Coast’s second game at the Grand Final venue since last September. Their premiership defence hasn’t necessarily fired on all cylinders, and yet the Eagles sat fourth on the ladder heading into this game. Secondly, it was the return of Nic Naitanui from a second ACL injury at the same site he tore it last year. Thirdly, for a proud club like Hawthorn, it has become time to hit back after a month of footy that has all but killed off their hopes of a return to September.
Today showed that footy doesn’t need to be high scoring to be exciting. This was a clash of wills, between two teams who so obviously, so desperately wanted a win. All that’s left to say is, how good wet weather footy is. In one of 2019’s best games, here’s what happened:
The Wet Coast Eagles
There’s no doubt that the reigning premiers have struggled in poor weather thus far this year. Most notably, on Good Friday against Port Adelaide, the Eagles simply couldn’t get their game going, and were outplayed by a team who simply wanted it more. It was important, then, for Adam Simpson’s side to shed any demons they may have had, and though they were a bit scrappy early on, and after half time, they ultimately got it done.
The game started in perfect fashion, however, with Jack Darling kicking a nice easy goal from the goal square to put his side on the board. Darling was a huge factor today and could easily have kicked five goals in the first, but he had to settle for three for the quarter and five important goals for the day, in conditions not especially conducive to key forwards. Though at times he faded in and out of the game, it was he and Cripps who won their side the game, kicking eight goals out of their side’s 11.
It was truly fascinating that Mark Hutchings was deployed on Jarman Impey this afternoon, especially given Jaeger O’Meara’s presence in the middle of the ground, and the success opposition sides have had in tagging the former Sun out of the game. Nevertheless, the Eagles tagger was deployed on the former Power runner, and had fair success, restricting him to eight touches in the first half while having seven of his own, including three score involvements. However, Hutchings went off after half time with a hamstring injury, and Impey broke the shackles a little, finishing the afternoon with 21 touches, a massive 16 intercepts, seven score involvements, and 415 metres gained.
Though this highlights how damaging Impey can be with ball in hand, the fact that Hutchings went to Saad last week as well suggests that deploying him as a defensive forward may well be a September ploy for Adam Simpson. If the Eagles come up against the Cats, it seems likely at this stage that Hutchings would go to Tom Stewart, who has shown his importance again and again this year, while if they were to go up against the Pies it’s possible he would go to Jack Crisp to keep him quiet. It seemed as though him going off with injury would hurt his side, especially with the returning Naitanui on restricted minutes, but in the end the four points managed to paper over any cracks.
After a fairly scrappy start to the game, the Eagles righted their ship in the second quarter, and their small forwards played a huge role in that as their side kicked 3.3 to 0.3. Instead of always looking for Kennedy or Darling to take the pack mark, the ability of the talls to bring the ball to ground brought Jamie Cripps, Liam Ryan and Willie Rioli into the game with great effect. Ryan was tremendously influential in the second quarter, setting up both of Cripps’ goals before nailing a beauty himself from the pocket to open up a 20 point half time lead. Even Rioli had an impact forward of centre, with both of his first half touches resulting in scores for his side.
After a quiet third term, it was the smalls who again got involved in the last to get the Eagles over the line. It was Rioli’s run down tackle in the opening minute that set up Liam Ryan’s goal, while Jamie Cripps nailed a nice snap to win the game for his side. It’s a nicely balanced forward line for the Eagles, with the three smalls having 15 score involvements, including five goals, between them from just 33 touches. All in all, it was the efforts of the smalls, in tandem with Darling, that won the game for the reigning premiers.
There are two more Eagles who deserve a little credit for their role in the win. The first, a player who probably doesn’t receive the plaudits he has earned from the wider media, though a player we adore here at the Mongrel, is Brad Sheppard. The Eagles’ backline was missing their dual All Australian in Jeremy McGovern, but it really mattered little, with Sheppard rolling onto Gunston in a lockdown role he played with aplomb. The three time Premiership Hawk managed just one goal for the outing, from 12 touches, while the Eagles’ leading Mongrel vote winner won 15 touches of his own, rebounded the ball from defence nine times, and had seven one percenters, including a couple of perfect spoils on Gunston when the Hawks truly began to surge in the second half.
The other Eagle I want to point out is one who is generally a lot more highly regarded, and in fact won the Norm Smith Medal last year, highlighting his talent. Luke Shuey’s first half was fairly quiet by his lofty standards, having just 12 touches as his side had the ascendancy. The test of a true champion, though, is how they respond to adversity, and when the Hawks managed to get themselves into the game, the 2016 John Worsfold Medalist stood up, playing close to a lone hand in the middle. 27 of his 39 touches came after half time, kicking his side’s only goal of the third quarter, with mammoth numbers in clearances (11), contested possessions (20), tackles (9), inside 50’s (11), and metres gained (758).
Not Haw-ful, but not good enough either
(With apologies for one of the worst subheadings I’ve ever written)
It’s been a bad month for Hawthorn. After their impressive win over Port Adelaide in Launceston, losses to Brisbane, Essendon and Sydney had seen them fall from 5-5 to 5-8, and a win today was vital to restart their sputtering season and revive any hopes of September action. Unfortunately for Alastair Clarkson’s men, all they won on this damp squib of a Melbourne afternoon was more admirers, taking it right up to the reigning premiers but stumbling when the game was there to be won.
The game started well enough for Hawthorn. Three goals in the first 15 minutes or so of the first quarter was a statement of intent, as they managed to keep the ball perpetually in motion when moving it forward. A surge from half back was perfectly executed to set up Conor Nash and exploit a McGovern-less defence, while looking to spot up short targets inside 50 rather than bombing long to a contest took away the Eagles’ one wood, being intercept marking. However, after Gunston kicked his side’s third, they reverted to bombing the ball long, playing into Shannon Hurn’s hands.
Another issue for the Hawks was a failure to capitalise on their periods of dominance all through the afternoon. Jaeger O’Meara and Jon Ceglar were the two biggest culprits, kicking 0.5 between them, with all five misses coming from fairly gettable opportunities. After kicking 3.3 in the first quarter, they managed just 6.14 for the rest of the match, including a woeful 4.7 in the third quarter when they could have put a mountain of distance between them and their opposition. Too often, they would dominate field position and possession, then turn the ball over and watch the Eagles kick a goal out the back. Whether that was a case of their defenders playing too high isn’t for me to say but it was clear that the Hawks’ opposition were not going to be as wasteful as they were.
O’Meara’s game was hard to get a read on. By a number of metrics he was one of the most influential players on the ground, with his 37 touches including 25 contested, six score involvements, 12 clearances, 10 tackles including five inside forward 50 and six rebounds. However, most damningly, he went at just 32% disposal efficiency, with his three behinds indicative of an afternoon of almosts.
Daniel Howe, interestingly, went to Elliot Yeo as a negating midfielder. If there were to be an Eagle to be tagged, I would have thought Shuey would have been the prime option, but Clarkson’s choice paid off in a sense, with Howe wearing the two time Worsfold Medalist like a glove for a long portion of the afternoon. Yeo’s best asset this season has been his tackling, and while he had another 11 today, he had just 16 touches, with a number of those coming when Howe was off the ground in the last courtesy of the blood rule. The Hawk’s afternoon was a good one though, and his goal in the fourth quarter put some ultimately futile breathing room between the two sides.
What a luxury it is to have Shaun Burgoyne in this relatively inexperienced Hawthorn side. On commentary the Fox crew were rightly singing the praises of Eddie Betts as one of the most universally admired players in the competition after he joined the afternoon’s coverage, but I reckon Burgoyne would have to go close. Nary a thuggish act to be seen, but always so classy with ball in hand. Unfortunately, it was his kick up the middle of the ground that led to Cripps’ goal, but that play was also really the only time in the last quarter where Hawthorn looked to take the game on to try and score.
Finally, it was a little silly and a little unlucky by Isaac Smith to give away 50 and gift Luke Shuey a goal, after his side had worked so hard to get in front. Good to see him take responsibility though and kick the goal to get his side back in front. He probably lifted after that point, setting up Henderson’s goal in the last to almost get Hawthorn over the line.
Nic Nat had a crack, but couldn’t give Ben Mac a whack
(These subheadings are getting worse)
It was always going to be a big talking point. Naitanui is one of those players who you have to watch, no matter who and where he’s playing, and though he didn’t set the world alight in his return, there was enough evidence to suggest he’ll have an impact over the coming months. It was a bright start though, with the 2008 Pick 2 having two touches and a score involvement in the opening minutes.
Hawthorn led the clearances though, 11-10, at quarter time, as McEvoy and Ceglar won the ascendancy in the early stages. That count finished 63-41 in the Eagles’ favour, which is an absolute belting by any metric, and was a huge factor in the reigning premiers’ win. Naitanui had 41 hitouts, the most of any ruckman, though he only had six touches at 33%.
Of all the ruckmen on the ground, Jon Ceglar was probably the best of the bunch, with 13 touches and six marks playing predominantly as a forward. In fact, he and McEvoy really should have kicked three goals between them, which would have in large part offset the clearance deficiency. However, they managed just 0.2 between them, a big factor in their loss. In what was not a day for the big men at all, the points probably go to Nic Nat and Tom Hickey, though it was not necessarily decisive.
These Birds have Wings
In a match up that probably flew under the radar a little, All Australian hopefuls Ricky Henderson and Andrew Gaff went head to head at the opening bounce in a truly intriguing matchup. They didn’t really end up opposed to one another for significant periods of the game, but it was still fascinating to see their output and how it impacted the contest.
First, to the Eagle. Gaff continues to rack up outside ball this year, as he has done so often and so proficiently. However, in the first quarter, of his seven touches, only one was deemed effective. He certainly worked his way into the game in the second, with nine of his ten touches seen as effective, and he finished the afternoon with 34 touches, including 612 metres gained, but he went at just 55%, demonstrating that he probably doesn’t damage quite enough with the amount of ball he racks up. Nonetheless, it was a decent outing for the wingman, who has built a decent body of work over this season.
On a side note, I might have imagined it but I swear I heard a few boos for Gaff in the second quarter. It’s possible it didn’t happen, but that would certainly be out of character for Hawthorn supporters, who would never boo a player for no reason, would they?
On the other hand, it shaped to be one of those days for Henderson. He nailed a lovely stab pass to set up Luke Breust for Hawthorn’s opening goal, but had just two touches in the first quarter. He finished the day with 15 touches, including a goal for which he ran hard to get on the end of a nice chain of footy by the Hawks, while he could easily have had a second if he didn’t cop an awful bounce running into an open goal in the third. For the former Crow, just as it was for O’Meara, it was a day of almosts, although he did work much harder in the second half as Hawthorn got on top of the contest.
I thoroughly enjoyed this game. On form it looked like one the Eagles would have romped home in, and at half time that looked like being the case, after the reigning premiers kicked three goals to none in the second quarter. Hawthorn battled hard in the second half though, and could easily have won. Ultimately, it came down to which side wanted to win more, and though that sounds like a cliche, you only need to watch the last five minutes or so of the last quarter to understand. For significant patches Hawthorn controlled the ball inside their forward 50 but never looked to try and score, instead trying to lock the ball in. The Eagles win the ball, take it up the other end and score twice in the last two minutes to get themselves over the line.
Next week shapes as critical for both sides. Hawthorn host the Magpies at the MCG on Friday night, and without persistent Collingwood worrier Tom Mitchell in the side, will need big performances from their other midfielders to pull off the upset. Meanwhile, the Eagles take on Fremantle in the second derby of the season, in a game in which you’d expect West Coast to start favourites. You never know with these intrastate rivalries, though, and Freo are certainly playing much better footy than they were in Round 4 when the two sides last met.
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