So, there were ominous signs early in the game that the Hawks were on, and the Eagles were a little bit off.
A five minute blast by the Eagles to end the first quarter seemed to have re-established the status quo as the premiers looked a cut above, but the Hawks refused to throw the towel in and their pressure, structure, and ability to shut down the West Coast attack was actually quite startling to see.
The Hawks got some huge contributions from blokes you wouldn’t normally expect to shine. Jonathon Ceglar was fantastic in the ruck, Tim O’Brien clunked marks and kicked goals, and Chad Wingard continued to establish himself as the player Hawthorn were expecting him to be when they traded for him this past off-season.
Full disclosure, readers… I am a Hawthorn supporter, and I sat here in shock waiting for the Eagles to get a run on. I honestly thought it was inevitable. It took until there was about six minutes left until I realised it wasn't going to happen.
This game could make things difficult for the Eagles, and gives the Hawks every chance to play finals. It makes tomorrow incredibly important. Hawks fans will be barracking for Adelaide to finally do something and beat the Dogs… but not by too much. The Eagles will be riding every Brisbane shot at goal home, hoping they can drop the Tigers by enough to allow them back into the top four.
What a final day of the season coming up.
This game was a weird one. The Eagles could not get going and the Hawks played like a team-possessed. It was sides of these two clubs I had not really seen until tonight. Here’s the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly of this one.
Coming into this game, if you’d told me one ruckman was going to have a significant impact on the game in the middle, I would not have chosen Ceglar as that ruck. Truthfully, I would’ve picked McEvoy first, then Hickey, then Ceglar.
Shows how much I know, huh?
Ceglar was one of the most influential players on the ground, as he dropped into the spot about a kick behind the play and made a complete nuisance of himself every time the Eagles wanted to go long. He worked right back to full back and was a big physical presence in some standout clashes with Tom Hickey.
Not to denigrate Hickey, but he definitely had his colours lowered tonight. Significantly so.
At one stage, Ceglar dropped Hickey at a centre clearance and won the tap for his team and the Hawks went forward as the West Coast ruckman lay prone in the middle of Optus Stadium. Ceglar finished with 39 hitouts, six intercepts, and 11 contested touches as he made contest after contest in one of his most impressive outings.
Hickey was far from disgraced, but with McEvoy playing in defence for large parts of the game, Hickey had a golden opportunity to take control of this game. He didn’t count on the presence of Ceglar, or the work ethic of the man, either.
Ceglar is out of contract after this season, and those teams looking for a second ruck could do a lot worse than to make some enquiries about his availability for 2020. He can clunk a mark, has improved his running capacity and has started making wiser decisions with the ball in hand. The Hawks would be wise to open negotiations soon. Actually, they would’ve been wise to open them a while back because I reckon his price may have risen just a little tonight.
When you can afford to play McEvoy as a defender, you know you’re onto something good. Tonight, Ceglar was definitely something good.
BIG BOY DEFENDER
This was a bit out of left field. In the preview, I mentioned that McEvoy would have to drift back and help the Hawk defenders out when they were contending with Darling, Kennedy and Oscar Allen. I did not expect Alastair Clarkson to station McEvoy there, having him match up against Jack Darling.
Yet that’s what we got, and it was quite interesting to see Darling contend with a bloke who can not only match him for strength, but also arguably for marking ability. The Big Boy had just six disposals for the game, but his presence felt huge at times in defence.
It was as though the curators of Optus Stadium approved Clarkson’s plans of putting a telephone pole about 15 metres out from the opposition goals. I doubt you’ll see McEvoy’s name in many “best” lists emanating from this game – this sort of defensive role is rarely mentioned, but make no mistake – his presence down there allowed Frawley and Stratton to go about their work on the big two Eagles relatively unimpeded.
Whether or not the Hawks sneak into the eight, Clarkson is uncovering some real gold with this line up. McEvoy in defence is another string to his bow, as we’re all already aware of the damage he can do if given licence to play forward. Now, with Ceglar in great form, McEvoy is trying his hand in defence.
Strange days indeed.
So, how many of us had given up on O’Brien at some point in the last two seasons?
I don’t mind being wrong about someone, and as the season has continued, Clarkson has shown complete faith in O’Brien to anchor the Hawthorn forward line in the absence of other marking targets. Roughead chimed in with a bag last week, Mitch Lewis has been more than serviceable, but O’Brien has been the constant, and I am sure I am was not the only one thinking… why?
Well, he’s shown me why. He’s shown you why, and if Hawthorn are to make the finals, he has demonstrated just how damaging he can be if allowed to have a clean run at the footy.
Earlier this season, I commented that no one almost takes as many marks as O’Brien. He was infuriating – consistently getting two hands to the footy and losing it on the way down. It was like he had Vaseline all over his hands like my mate Joe Ganino whenever he’s home alone… I can’t work out why Joe always has Vaseli….ohhhhhh, now I know…
He has cracked skin on his hands.
But back to O’Brien. He has justified the Clarkson faith and proven a lot of doubters wrong. Four goals against a quality opponent… sorry I doubted you, Tim – you were a match winner this evening.
So, he had a lowlight in the last quarter, when Jack Petruccelle snuck off the bench and intercepted a short pass he’d made on the wing, but Wingard was not about to allow the Eagles’ speedster to get away that easily.
He took off after Petruccelle and dragged him down in a ripping tackle. It spoke volumes about two things – Wingard’s pride, and his willingness to work hard. Petruccelle is a road runner. He has blinding speed, but Wingard on a mission is just as quick, and though there was plenty to enjoy for Hawthorn supporters in this one, that tackle and subsequent free kick for Wingard would have to be one of the genuine highlights of the game.
I thought Chad was best on the park tonight. His work in the first quarter was top notch, and that one centre break where he got the tap directly down his throat at top speed was absolute clearance perfection.
In his post-game interview, Wingard mentioned playing less game time. I looked it up… he played 69% of the game. Less than three quarters, yet his 28 touches, eight score involvements, seven clearances and ten inside 50s are the kind of numbers that most players would be pleased with in 100% of game time.
Wingard has learnt the Hawthorn style, and will continue to pick up more and more. He is starting to play like the gun Hawthorn envisioned him as when they gave up Ryan Burton to acquire him. Injuries may have slowed him early this season, but if the Hawks can sneak into the eight, Wingard could be the kind of player that could aid them in causing a big upset in week one of the finals. From there on… who knows?
Maybe he’ll get some more game time and really tear a game to shreds?
BREUST AND GUNSTON
In the preview of this game I wrote for Patrons, I waffled on a bit about the importance of this tandem and how, when measured against their 2018 All-Australian output, they’d fallen away significantly this season.
Well, they both stood up in this one, with Breust doing his best eel impersonation, as tackles just seemed to slip off him continuously. He is a slippery little fella in the most complimentary way you can call someone slippery.
Gunston had Brad Sheppard for company, which usually spells trouble for forwards, but his work rate and willingness to drop into defence as the Eagles started to press in the last quarter was reminiscent of his style in 2018. He is Clarkson’s Mr Fix-It.
As small/medium forwards, these two combined for 35 disposals and five goals, with Breust back to his hassling best with five tackles to his name as well. Breust had 99 tackles last season, missing out on becoming the only player in history to notch 50 goals and 100 tackles in a season – check it out… it’s never been done. He’s been nowhere near either total this year, but tonight’s form is probably close to where he needs to be to achieve that mark going forward.
DETHRONING THE DEFENSIVE KING
I just want to point out the well-executed all-team approach to nullify the influence of Jeremy McGovern. It was an absolute joy to watch the Hawk forwards sacrifice their own games in order to cancel out the aerial prowess of the best intercept player in the game.
Conor Nash was one early who refused to allow Gov to muscle his way into contests and kill them. Later in the game you had Puopolo using his body to impede the ability of Gov to attack the contest. I’ve watched teams attempt to disrupt him all season, but on this occasion it is the first time I have seen the load shared across the entire forward six and any midfielders that happened to wander into the forward line.
With Gov out of the action, the heat was turned up on Tom Barrass, and for the second week running, a crucial error opened the door for the opposition. Barrass’ dropped mark saw Luke Breust swoop in like a thief in the night, gather cleanly and slot a goal from 45 out. It was the sort of goal that breaks your heart as a defender, but the Hawks roved the contests well all game, as though they expected the West Coast defenders not to take any intercept marks at all. Whilst they still took plenty, the Eagles were-16 compared to the Hawks’ intercepts.
There’ll be a little bit more about Gaff below as I wasn't happy with his reluctance to take the game on, but in terms of running power and the ability to make contest after contest, there are few better than Gaff.
He led all players with 37 disposals as he worked all over the ground, continually making position for his teammates to have an option. He had just four turnovers for the game, and from 37 touches, that is an impressive number. Cheap shot alert – it’s pretty easy not to turn it over when you refuse to take a chance on your kicking skills.
Gaff is receiving nowhere near as much credit for his efforts this year as he did in 2018. He was riding high last season, but after completing his suspension this season, took a while to work into the role he played so well and ended up being rushed with the ball a little more than I liked.
He is currently travelling at a career-high 31.9 disposals per game and had really started to use his foot skills to carve teams up since about the half-way point of the year. I’m not sure what happened tonight, but he went into his shell a little and opted for the safe option too often.
Still, as many of the Eagles’ mids were down, Gaff continued to toil away, and was one of the Eagles’ best for the night.
We had both Darling and Kennedy seemingly up and about early in the piece, but with just 15 touches between them, they were pretty handily curtailed by James Frawley, Ben Stratton and, believe it or not, Ben McEvoy.
Kennedy in particular has looked a bit out of sorts for a while. He snagged seven against the Kangaroos in Round 19, but success either side of that has been few and far between. He has kicked one or less goals in five of the last eight games he’s played, and the Eagles are going to need more from him come September.
Usually when Kennedy is down, Darling fires, but he struggled to contend with the bigger McEvoy dropping into the hole and clogging up that space. Add to their dirty day a virtually unsighted Jamie Cripps and a very quiet Jack Petruccelle, and you’re more or less reliant on the wizardry of Willie Rioli and Liam Ryan to drag you over the line, and simply put, they go missing for long stretches of time.
I don’t think this is some crisis at all for the Eagles, but the way the Hawks were able to lock down on them should provide a blueprint for other teams to follow.
Adam Simpson will now be making plans as to what to do if a ruckman starts to play as a key defender in the coming weeks. It worked once… he cannot allow it to work again. The Eagles’ September hopes may be riding on it.
WEST COAST RAMIFICATIONS
I’m a bit of a believer in the West Coast Eagles, and there are two teams I have faith in to play good enough footy for a month to win the premiership from outside the top four. The Eagles are one of them.
If you’re reading this looking for a reason as to why the Eagles fell in a hole tonight… sorry, the only thing I can tell you is that they were completely outplayed. There wasn't one player who stood out as head and shoulders above everyone else on the park – this was a systematic loss. Unfortunately, it means that in the final eight system, it places the Eagles in a shitload of jeopardy if the Tigers get up tomorrow. They’ll get a home final, which is great, but it’ll be against either the Hawks or Dogs… or Crows if they have a massive win (unlikely).
It means that just one slip up and they’re gone, and I can’t believe I am saying this right now, as ten minutes into the game last week against Richmond, West Coast looked like the team to beat for the flag.
They still may be, but they have placed themselves in a situation where you can picture supporters looking back and pointing to this game, and the magnitude of this loss that cost them when all is said and done.
I mentioned the Hawthorn zone/web/structure or whatever you want to call it. I was quite surprised at the Eagles’ inability to penetrate it with any purpose or urgency. They dicked around with the ball across half back, but no one sans Lewis Jetta appeared willing to take the game on with his kicking skills. They went down the line, slowly and predictably, and that plays right into Clarkson’s hands.
Really, Adam Simpson should have known better. I gave Andrew Gaff a bit of a wrap above, but he is one they need more from. He refused to take a risky kick in the last quarter when the Eagles needed a spark, but if he is unwilling, why would anyone else put their head on the chopping block and go inboard? He is one of the best kicks in the game, and if he isn’t having a crack, you expect Duggan or Barrass to try to hit someone in the guts?
The Eagles became paralysed by fear in this game, and it cost them dearly.
They now wait to see what their fate will be. If they end up in the top four, it is more on the basis of luck this time around. Their fate was in their own hands this week, however, there’s an old saying and it rings true in this regard – sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Jack Scrimshaw’s late game intercept mark with Flyin’ Liam Ryan lurking dangerously… that was class. He put himself in harm’s way and reaped the rewards for his courage on that play.
How about that lovely bump from Willie Rioli on Ricky Henderson? Fantastic stuff, and an aspect of the game that still has a genuine place in it. There are not many players left who can drop a shoulder into someone legally and not even give away a free kick. Rioli is one of them – I loved it.
Speaking of Rioli, he had a couple of real Rioli moments in this game. That tap backwards through his legs… freakish stuff. He looks like he has the game by the scruff of the neck at times. Then he just lets it go…
I was really interested as to how Jaeger O’Meara would go against the Eagles’ mids, and after a very slow start (five touches in the first and only one effective), he was able to work his way into the game nicely. I’ve been a bit worried about O’Meara’s penchant for throwing the ball on his boot too quickly at times. It seems he either does that or tries to fend off, but tonight he rebounded from an iffy start to the game to finish with 27 touches, and was able to get to the outside a fair bit.
How great was the call with about five minutes to go in the first that the Hawks could hold the Eagles goalless? Five minutes later, the Eagles have kicked four, and but for a Kennedy miss, could’ve had five. Nice call from that commentator.
James Worpel had 20 touches in this one, but once again he was huge around stoppages, racking up eight clearances for the game.
You know you have high expectations of a player when he has 26 touches, eight clearances and lays five tackles, but I thought this was the first time in a little while that Elliot Yeo was maybe a step off the pace. He looked pretty agitated, and his jostling with players at centre stoppages made me wonder whether he was a little preoccupied with a lippy opponent?
Relatively quiet day for James Sicily, but how cool, calm and collected was he after taking the intercept mark on the 50 metre line in the third quarter? Immediately, he pointed to the goals, went back, laid back on the kick and slotted it. It was a brilliant goal, and you could tell that broke a couple of the West Coast hearts as that kick sailed through.
It was the game of a cagey veteran from Shaun Burgoyne in this one. Body work, little shoves and nudges… they all rolled into the sort of game that is perfect for him at this stage of his career. How he got so far out in the open to start the third quarter was astonishing, and there will be someone with his head bowed in shame at the Eagles review if this contest. Three goals is a brilliant return for Silk.
Do West Coast rush Nic Naitanui back if there is a chance he can play week one of the finals? If Brisbane knocks over Richmond, I don’t think so, but if they find themselves in an Elimination Final, the temptation would have to be there. These are the defending premiers – you don’t go out in one-and-done fashion.
So, I wouldn’t have picked West Coast to lose the last two games of the season. Nor would I have picked the Hawks to win their last three and make a run at finals, but I guess that is indicative of either a) how shit I am at picking thins, or b) the crazy nature of this AFL season.
We’ve seen some silly rule interpretations, some horrible games, some dumb changes on the fly, an some blow outs, but this season has been as unpredictable as I can remember one being. I’m in my 40s and the way sides can get up and knock a top side over 9unless you’re Melbourne or Gold Coast) has been incredible. This is the sort of competition I want…
… I just wish the quality of footy was better at times.
So, onto finals…
IF… and it’s a big IF…. If the Hawks manage to sneak into the eight, guess where they play in the first week of the finals. Same Bat-time… same Bat-channel. Will we get Eagles v Hawks Round Two? And if we do, can the Eagles land a few blows of their own outside a quick flurry in the first quarter?
Or have the Hawks thrown all their cards on the table to stay in contention?
I’ll be touching base with you all Sunday night to try to make sense of the upcoming finals series.
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