Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hawthorn once again ignores its saviour Don Scott

Whilst Hawthorn’s recent announcement of its elevation of Peter Knights to ‘Legend’ status in its Hall of Fame was fully justified, it highlights the club’s continued reluctance to afford Don Scott similar acclaim.
Peter Knights was a truly compelling figure. He played the game in a captivating way and was one of the best centre-half backs in the game’s history. He was equally capable of playing forward, with his high flying acumen, and is well regarded amongst the most spectacular players the game has ever seen. His unfortunate spate of cruel injuries almost certainly robbed him of Brownlow medal glory along with further premiership acclaim. Knights also had a ‘before his time’ demeanour, and one can’t help but think of how defining he would have been in this age when the game’s focus is on attack as the central theme of defence, along with the current emphasis on the role of swingmen. An upgrade on, for example, Jeremy McGovern, not only taking an intercept mark in defence but sitting on a pack, completing it by landing on his feet like a cat, rebounding swiftly out of defence and kicking a 60-metre goal or hitting a forward on the chest with his sublime foot skills. If the scores were close late in a game he would be thrown into the forward line, where he would be an impossible match up or even in the guts of the action, where his unparalleled athleticism would make him a defining big midfielder, or even second ruck due to his outrageous leap. Back to Don Scott, and with no disrespect to Peter Knights, the main point of contention with the current choice is the current motto of the club, 'Always Hawthorn'. Without Scott being the face of the 'Operation Payback' campaign in 1996 that fought off the attempted takeover of the club by Melbourne there would neither be an 'Always' or a 'Hawthorn'. The club would have become extinct, reborn as the 'Melbourne Hawks.' His interjection was made profound by invoking people power and turning a spotlight on the under table dealings of the club that were unknown to the fans. He invited one and all back into the 'Family Club' by being transparent and in the process compelled the fans to invest financially through memberships, propelling the club to a valid present and vibrant future. Doesn't this alone compel his elevation to ‘Legend’ status? Particularly when you add his actions to a playing career characterised by understated skills coupled with similar defiance and sheer bloody-mindedness. Don Scott is one of the most respected leaders in the history of the game, a demanding figure with engaging plausibility and brutal honesty, making others invest their trust in him and boldly and unquestioningly do anything for him. The clubs’ continued reluctance to elevate him to ‘Legend’ status makes you question why. From the fan’s perspective the perfect opportunity was last year, 20 years on from the Scott led fight against the merger. Scott is very much the self-imposed black sheep, reclusive as a rule away from the club. When pressed on the reasons why, no longer belonging to the Hawthorn of today seems to be a factor. In keeping with this, an honour like this probably wouldn’t sit well with his self-effacing nature. So it’s possible he might have already been approached about legend status but showed an aversion to it. Whatever the real truth is, it robs the fans of paying due homage to a man who cemented the ‘Always’ in Hawthorn for all to enjoy.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

View from the Outer (M7), Round 5, Hawthorn versus West Coast Eagles

Hawthorn’s winless start to the 2017 season and the torrent of critique directed at the team and the individuals within it has awoken the ‘angry ant’ within master coach Alastair Clarkson. His defiant resolve seems to have hardened even further over the past few weeks and he has now revelled in silencing the club’s many vocal detractors.
His show of faith in many struggling incumbents, when there was ample justification for a few notable axings, along with his resounding endorsement of the club’s under-fire youth was compelling. The playing group responded in kind with their renewed efforts, chasing and harrying in a relentless fashion which saw them outnumber their Eagles opponents at every contest. One of the standouts in the game’s statistics was a season high 75 one percenters, as opposed to only 54 in the preceding smashings by Geelong and the Gold Coast Suns. The Hawks’ work rate was underpinned by supporting tactics that rendered the West Coast Eagles team impotent from the first bounce. They dusted off ‘Clarko’s Cluster’ which exposed the absence of the Eagles’ outside run and led to them being stifled and suffocated in the unyielding zone whilst giving rise to structure in the Hawks team which has so far been lacking this season. The fulcrum was the performance of an under fire midfield that has spluttered for most of 2017. Ben McEvoy was herculean in a best on field display, assuming much of the ruck duties while providing a real presence that has so far been absent this year. He dominated with 43 hit-outs and took some telling contested marks around the ground. Others rose in the face of his inspiration, in particular Tom Mitchell, Will Langford and Liam Shiels who each dominated in tight and prevented the opposition from spreading on winning first ball and exploiting Hawthorn on the outside; which has been the main failing of the team in 2017. In fact, the duo of Isaac Smith and Billy Hartung held sway on the outside with these players providing a much needed line-breaking threat. It gave some overdue protection to a defence that has been under siege all season while providing structure to a forward line that has been dysfunctional. The most pleasing aspect of the defence was the performance of a trio of youngsters. Kaiden Brand looked very capable and composed in a key position role by standing firm in the one on one duals against the dangerous Eagles’ talls, with his combination of strength and pace off the mark. On the flanks, Ryan Burton looks a future star and Blake Hardwick is reminiscent of Brent Guerra, oozing the same scything skill by foot, rabid in the contest and tough as old boot leather. Up forward, the structure was renewed by individuals going back to the roles that made the attacking third so feared. The pressure acts of Cyril Rioli and Paul Puopolo were telling with both players igniting the rest of the attacking third with their enforcement of the relentless pressure of 'Clarko’s Cluster'. Cyril, in particular, was stellar. He reverted back to his predatory ways, giving all opposition players cold sweats. It was also a welcome sight to see Poppy shelving his recent obsession for speccys and going back to the blue collar defensive entity that made him such a respected player. Jack Gunston starred when returned to his characteristic roaming position forward, away from the wing. Luke Bruest was similarly effective. Lastly, Tim O'Brien finally repaid some of the belief shown in him when given the 23 guernsey by kicking three goals and taking some brilliant one grab marks. All in all a great day at the MCG capped off by Roughy kicking his 500th goal in the dying stages of the game. Let’s hope it is the fire-starter for better times for Hawthorn in 2017!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hawthorn needed to Revisit the 'Vandenberg Era'

Richie Vandenberg is a figure forgotten by most, or if remembered, viewed as a good to average AFL footballer, or perhaps regarded as a 'plodder'. His 15 minutes of fame came after his display of brute thuggery in the infamous 'line in the sand' game against Essendon in 2004.
As one now dissects the Alastair Clarkson masterminded 4 flag Hawthorn juggernaut and its recent spectacular fall from grace, his name once again comes to mind. In the infancy of the Hawks dynasty Vandenberg cast in the role as an unlikely Captaincy choice played a definitive role as a segue between the leadership of Shane Crawford and the brilliant and defining captaincies that followed. He was the perfect shield for Sam Mitchell and Luke Hodge at a time when the temptation would have been ripe to thrust either of these players into the captain's role before both were properly ready, knowing they both had it in them to be great leaders. Melbourne bore witness to the ill advised nature of doing this with their decision to throw in Jack Grimes/Jack Trengrove as dual Captains soon after in 2007. Hoping both would learn on the job and mature into the great leaders that seemed part of their destiny, only to see both chewed up as a result. Vandenberg spared the aforementioned duo of a similar destiny, particularly in 2005/6 when the team had a 14/30 win loss record and all types of slings and arrows were being directed at the club from fans and the media alike. Vandenberg took it all on his ample chin and in doing so engendered a steely resolve that enabled the wave of youth coming into the team to mature quicker, as he took most of the bullets for the team's struggles. When he departed in 2007 with the team on the rise, he was easily forgotten by most but his legacy cannot be overestimated as he provided the perfect baton change to the next wave of leaders which propelled the team further along the path to unbridled success. 10 years on and the memory of Vandenberg lingers. Hawthorn has recently embarked upon a very public succession strategy which saw the club let go of Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis at the end of 2016 followed by replacing Luke Hodge as captain in the early throws of 2017. The choice of Jarryd Roughead as Hodge's replacement warmed the hearts of all the Hawks' faithful, but the choice had an emotional basis and lacked a rational justification. By appointing Roughy, the club naively assumed that he would seamlessly go back to being the dominant figure he was before a fight with cancer deprived him of playing at all throughout 2016.
His 18 months away has also seen a distinct shift in the game with the possession dominated game plan that underpinned Hawthorn's success being picked apart and countered to such an extent that holes were punched through it. Teams such as the Western Bulldogs, Sydney and GWS checkmated it with game plans centered around similar high grade skill and decision making. Then cut it to ribbons with rabid appetite in contested situations coupled with relentless jet propelled two way running, both from a defensive and attacking viewpoint that the Hawks had no chance of matching.
It has cast Roughead in the unenviable position of trying to re-acclimatize as a player while entrusted with leading a team in a transitioning stage with its game plan verging on being rendered obsolete.
Wouldn't greater sense have been to allow him to just play in 2017 without the extra pressure of the captaincy? This decision seems even more odd when one considers the loss of the support that on-field generals like Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis would have provided. The Club failed to factor in how much effect this would have, not just on the new leader but the team as a whole. The deputies he was provided with (Liam Shiels and Isaac Smith) lack the know-how to fully support Roughead in the infancy of his leadership. With the team struggling mightily in the early stages of the 2017 season, the team's lack of on-field leadership has been noticeable, especially during the game against arch rivals Geelong. During this match, only the previous leader Hodge showed any semblance of leadership which made many question why the club was so eager to take the captaincy off him as it remains apparent that he is still the best choice of leader.
No doubt Hodge still would be the best choice but his abdication was all about the Team embrace of succession. A more proactive decision would be to acknowledge the potential of Roughead as a leader along with the likes of Jaeger O'Meara and revisit the Vandenberg era by inserting a bridge type figure until such players are ready. Grant Birchall or Ben Stratton would have been perfect interim candidates, with these grizzled veterans both respected for their silent leadership style along with being 'as tough as teak'

My Hawthorn Team for the West Coast Eagles Clash

"Too easy....Too easy...." observed Bruce McAvaney, in response to Mitch Duncan's goal during Geelong's last quarter rampage which culminated in an 86-point loss for the Hawks.
The commentators scrutinised the endeavour of the Hawthorn players, in particular their lack of sustained effort over the games' entirety. Not only were the Hawks deficient in their physical efforts, as evidenced by a lack of one percenters, desire and hunger, this game also brought into question the playing group's mental frailty with the team visibly lying down. Similar fade-outs have been a growing trend for the Hawks so far this season as the following figures highlight: Our Second halves this year : Hawthorn 19 28 142 Opponents 52 22 334 Percentage: 42.5% This demands a response from Alastair Clarkson at the selection table leading into Sunday's clash against the West Coast Eagles. This would be my team: B: Shaun Burgoyne, James Frawley, Ben Stratton HB: Ryan Burton, Kaiden Brand, Luke Hodge C: Isaac Smith, Tom Mitchell, Dallas Willsmore HF: Luke Breust, Jack Gunston, Kade Stewart F: James Sicily, Jarryd Roughead, Paul Puopolo R: Ben McEvoy, Jaeger O'Meara, Liam Shiels INT: Ty Vickery, Will Langford, Blake Hardwick, Daniel Howe In: Kade Stewart, Jaeger O'Meara, Ty Vickery, Daniel Howe, Dallas Willsmore Out: Josh Gibson, Billy Hartung, Tim O'Brien, Ricky Henderson, Cyril Rioli ( managed ) Outs: The key omission is Cyril Rioli whom I have listed as 'managed.' It seems very apparent that he is carrying an injury, reducing his defensive abilities with nothing to be gained by playing him. Gone are his predatory and relentless defensive acts, replaced by many phases in games where he chooses to walk, as if disinterested. If there is no injury, he needs to be delivered the biggest rocket and told very clearly that his efforts are in no way acceptable. A similar message needs to be delivered to the likes of Luke Bruest, Jack Gunston, Liam Shiels, Ben Stratton and Isaac Smith Josh Gibson should be dropped as he is a very exploitable liability, but it is highly unlikely that Clarko will make this decision. Of the other three axings, the duo of Tim O'Brien and Billy Hartung go out. After many chances they showed again last week that they are in no way competent at AFL level. Ricky Henderson is omitted because his lack of skills and decision making abilities was exposed last week. Ins: Jaeger O'Meara comes back in to try to revive our shambolic midfield. I would also include Ty Vickery, a move that will outrage most of the Hawks' faithful, who were already booing him on joining the club and he hasn't helped by having such a slow start to his Hawthorn career. I made this move mostly due to his potential to add some structure to the forward line along with adding support in the ruck. The other option I pondered on was including Marc Pittonet instead of Vickery. The young ruckman was very good at Box Hill last week and offered the team a big tap-orientated ruck option that the team had been lacking. It would be a huge risk to include him in the AFL team and allow him to learn on the job, but I have taken the more conservative approach, which is to let him further develop his skills at Box Hill. I took a similar stance in resisting including Jono O'Rourke. As a midfielder that has both inside and outside potential, he could add so much to the team, but after returning from a serious hamstring injury he needs some further conditioning at Box Hill. The rationales for the last three inclusions are as follows: Kade Stewart- he is a tough little bugger with a considerable desire for the contest; Dallas Willsmore- silken left foot skills and good goal sense. Able to play anywhere, including as a rebounding half back, a big wingman, or as a dangerous half forward; Daniel Howe- Class and composure with fine skills, which is so lacking in the current 22. It will be interesting to see which players the Hawks select this week to take on the Eagles, who may include champion of the game and former Hawk Sam Mitchell.