Sunday, April 30, 2017

View from the Outer, Round 6, Hawthorn versus St Kilda

Hawthorn's impressive victory against the Eagles last week has now been exposed as a mirage by the reality of a smashing delivered by a ruthless Saints unit at what has been for so long Hawthorn’s Launceston fortress. Our dismal execution of skills and associated poor decision making empowered the Saints, in a game where they continually picked us off when we were in possession. This inevitably led to turnovers from us, which in turn resulted in the Saints quickly spreading and killing us on the outside. Hawthorn’s defence was constantly under siege. There were an embarrassing number of easy goals out the back when our defenders ran in support, whilst we were in possession, only to see it sail back over our heads as we constantly surrendered it back to the Saints. The defensive malaise wasn't helped by the team paying little respect to the rudimentary principles of marking.

 It was almost surreal to see how diminished our skills by foot have become, highlighted by our inability to make the loose man in defence work in our favour. This tactic used to facilitate our lethal rebound and the dominance of our possession game where oppositions found it impossible to win the ball back off us while being surgically dissected. Teams clamped down on it last year by marking the main facilitator, Josh Gibson, in the loose defensive role he played, thus rendering him obsolete. The Saints applied a pragmatic view taking in the diminished nature of the Hawks and feeling advantaged when we had possession with the game resembling a 'piss take' as it went on.
The sad part is conceding that our midfield is arguably the weakest in the AFL with: An absence of A-grade talent - Tom Mitchell might be a great ball winner but his merely above average foot skills mean he rarely makes a decisive impact; A lack of foot skills and associated poor decision making; Few quality rotations. Most teams have 6 capable mids and the strong teams have up to a dozen, compared to our struggle to find quality outside of our first choice in square mids; Zero outside threat and no associated two way running to position in support of the team’s defence and attack. This is accentuated by the absence of a quick and decisive rebound out of defence;
The midfields’ frailties render the forward line moot with its inability to deliver adequately to the full advantage of the forwards. The first and only thought seems to be to bomb the ball aimlessly into the forward line which easily facilitates the opposition rebounding. On the rare occasions when the midfielders do lift their heads to identify the best option, their lack of skills always betrays them.

The structural issues and lack of class was obvious but the absence of effort was galling. There have been times in the early years of Alastair Clarkson’s 13 year coaching tenure where we have lacked talent on the field but the effort has always been there, until now. Clarkson duly noted this issue after the match, touting a ‘catastrophic change’, but it is hard to take him on his word after the tolerance of similar heartless efforts so far this season. In fact, the only notable example made of a senior player was Luke Hodge, dropped before the first round for what seemed a minor misdemeanour. This is in contrast to the tolerance shown to some of the insipid performances from incumbents on the field. The sad irony of the Hodge example is that it was meant to represent a sign of the new leadership group continuing the strong and decisive tone that has so characterised the club only to see it so lacking on the field throughout 2017.

Many of the Hawks’ faithful are calling for the club to ‘throw in the kids’. Whilst this is a valid viewpoint, it naively misses the fact that the club is already playing kids. These include: Tim O’Brien, who is being preferred in the second ruck/forward position over Ty Vickery; James Sicily who is being positioned on the forward line rather than opting for Ryan Schoenmakers; Blake Hardwick in preference to Taylor Duryea; Daniel Howe and Billy Hartung instead of names like Brendan Whitecross; Kaiden Brand and Ryan Burton in defence rather than the likes of Ricky Henderson; The sad reality is that bar a few who have shown themselves to be comfortable at AFL level, the rest have come up way short whilst others at Box Hill like Kade Stewart and Teia Miles have also been given games and looked a long way off.

 Players such as Dallas Willsmore and Jono O’Rourke deserve a chance on the back of their form in the VFL but if they come in, it should be at the expense of the youth found wanting rather than the struggling incumbents.

 It is easy to mistakenly throw the baby out with the bath water in response to shambolic displays however a certain amount of discretion needs to be maintained to keep the balance within the 22 between experience and youth.





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