Sunday, May 14, 2017

View from the Outer, Round 8, Hawthorn versus Brisbane Lions

While it was pleasing to witness Hawthorn's 38 point victory over the Brisbane Lions, the performance showcased a 12th to 14th place team prevailing over a team likely to finish last. The deciding factor was that it was a match of men playing against boys.
Alastair Clarkson's 'Pagan's Paddock' structure sealed the victory but was also frustratingly self defeating. The Lions' lack of maturity as individuals and cohesion as a unit meant that they failed to find a way through the unyielding zone but Hawthorn were stifled in their own web by a lack of decision making and flawed execution. The Hawks proved themselves capable of punishing the opposition when the Lions gifted them direct turnovers exiting their defence, but the Hawks themselves were also found wanting when in possession. The Hawks' slow and labored ball movement rendered the effective functioning of the forward line nigh on impossible. Only a 6 goal burst in the last quarter when the young Lions became visibly tired allowed some window dressing. The inclusion of Jack Fitzpatrick was merited after some fine performances in the VFL but his selection was ultimately proven to be a mistake. The selectors ignored what has been working so well recently, namely the double team of Ben McEvoy and Tim O'Brien in the ruck and forward. This decision limited the danger of McEvoy when floating forward from the ruck. It also messed with the confidence O’Brien has recently enjoyed by depriving him of his roaming CHF role and brief bursts in the ruck that he has excelled in. Fitzpatrick being played predominantly forward as the last man in the zone was also too easy for the Lions to defend against. His cumbersome nature limited his ability to get to some contests, so he was unable to create the easy goals in transition and out the back that the setup was designed for. The structure and personnel of the Hawks' team on the weekend would have seen them ruthlessly exposed on the spread with quick and precise rebound by most other teams in the AFL. It was difficult to find many highlights in this turgid affair but Tom Mitchell was exceptional. He once more dominated the midfield as he has for much of the season whilst showing a greater desire to take the game on. Ryan Burton was superb in defence. Since assuming the 2nd key back role he has stood out for his surety in one on one battles and has oozed class as a cultured force on the rebound. He adds much to a team that has been lacking defensive rebound early in the season, together with the equally impressive Blake Hardwick who has also excelled in this regard. When Grant Birchall returns from injury the defence will be looking in very good shape. Ricky Henderson had a good game with three goals and youngsters Billy Hartung and Daniel Howe also put in more consistent displays. The other side of the coin is Josh Gibson, a player who used to be able to create time and space but whose main issue now is that he still believes he can. Alastair Clarkson grimly sticking by Gibson has no logic with the veteran being vastly diminished and too easy to exploit. I would be very curious to know why this game was not used to rest Gibson and include either Harry Morrison, Kaiden Brand or Kurt Heatherley in defence. The stubbornness of the master coach over Gibson's place in the team and his reluctance to fully usher in a new age seems to indicate a belief that the team can still make a run for the 8 which seems fanciful on a number of levels. This game might have resulted in an easy victory for the Hawks but it mostly showcased how dreadful the Lions are rather than inspiring any hopes of a Hawthorn renaissance and subsequent surge for the finals.

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