Monday, April 10, 2017

View from the Outer, Round 3, Gold Coast Suns versus Hawthorn

“We're up for the fight”, Hawthorn Coach Alastair Clarkson exalted after witnessing his team’s humiliating 86-point loss to the Gold Coast Suns yesterday. The Hawks are sitting on the bottom of the AFL Ladder for the first time in a decade after their 0/3 start to the 2017 season. Clarkson’s statement smacks of irony and denial. The preceding 120 minutes of football displayed a distinct lack of fight from the Hawks. Both teams were under intense pressure to perform well, given their poor starts to the season. The Suns’ 22 came out full of fire and brimstone to redeem their tattered reputation whereas Hawthorn’s insipid display led to many questioning how such a great team could have fallen so far so quickly. The lack of quality on the field with deficiencies in key areas is obvious but the mindset and associated culture of the group seems to have changed dramatically. It is hard not to revisit the events of the trade period last year where the Hawks’ think-tank tried to stay revolutionary and ahead of the recruiting curve by letting go of icons Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis. All they achieved was robbing the team of strong, quality leaders, who were cornerstones of the Club’s former success and ethos. Both players are held in the highest esteem for their on-field intellect and sheer bloody mindedness. Their replacements haven't got the same footballing constitution. As a result, the group is suffering, with some of the limp efforts in this match being very ‘un-Hawthorn like’. The theme was set in the first three minutes of the game when Gary Ablett Jnr blazed early with 3 possessions and a goal. Clarko relented on a head to head clash with Luke Hodge and sent Will Langford to tag Ablett. This illustrated the extent of our demise, from the heady days where we dictated the terms of the match; instead now we are dictated to by the opposition and have become reactive rather than proactive. The Hawks midfield is showing its lack of depth with the stats showing we got slaughtered in contested footy 180/118 and associated clearances 51/26. A key factor in these lopsided figures is our rucks which were once again destroyed, with Jarrod Witts for the Suns emulating Adelaide Crows’ Sam Jacobs’ best afield efforts from last week. This continual winning of the centre clearances allowed the Suns to get the ball to the outside where they killed us with their pace and spread off the ball. The Suns’ midfield exploited our shambolic defence by setting up their forwards and ran through the lines to kick 10 out of their team’s 21 goals. Whilst the Suns were consistently getting the ball out, the Hawks, in stark contrast were perennially under siege, locked into a defensive mindset. On the rare occasions the Hawks did get in the clear the absence of decision making and associated skills betrayed them once more with them bombing the ball aimlessly into the forward line. This poor ball use and decision making by Hawthorn was reflected in the scoreboard early on, where all six first quarter scoring shots of the Suns were the result of turnovers. It is easy to blame our midfield for the poor performance of our forward line, but the lack of structure in our forward line along with the poor form of its personnel can no longer be ignored. Fans may celebrate when Puopolo, one of our shortest players, flies up to take a ‘specky’, but this highlights how players have strayed away from the roles that once made our forward line so lethal. Why aren’t our tall forwards working harder to get to contests or leading up to allow options? If they did, it would allow players like Puopolo, for example, to revert to being an exceptional forward defensive player, preventing the ball from leaving our forward 50 with ease. This was once seen as one of Hawthorn’s greatest strengths. We used to trap the ball in our offensive 50, thus depriving the opposition of a means of escape and facilitate opportunities to score with the relentless pressure we exerted. As we now look ahead to next week’s Easter Monday clash against Geelong, one could be justified in dropping as many as 12 players from the current line-up. The lack of quality replacements however means we are stuck with many flaws in our personnel. For the last 9 years Hawthorn/Geelong games have been thrillers. Let’s hope that next Monday’s match is no exception and that we can get our first win of 2017 on the board.

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