The Hawthorn Chronicles: Rude awakening

Last week, Hawthorn were irresistible in their comeback, and beat Melbourne despite being down by 4 goals at quarter time. On the back of that solid win, they were tipped to be overwhelming favourites against North Melbourne. To me, it was always going to be a danger game. For some reason, we never match up well against the Roos.

North Melbourne did exactly what they set out to do. They won the clearances, took the ball in the most direct way possible into their attack, and kicked it to two strong marking targets in Waite and Brown. When Hawthorn zoned up in defence, North Melbourne were patient and chipped it around, waiting for an opening, or for a Hawthorn error. In the first half, the Hawthorn midfield did not look like they would get anywhere near the ball, and the Roos made the best of their opportunities (even though their kicking in front of goal was poor).

Hawthorn then mounted a comeback in the third quarter, winning clearances and running a lot more freely than they did in the earlier part of the game. This shocked the Roos, who started trying to play a lot more defensively, and ended up conceding 6 goals in the process. With the door ajar, the Hawks went for the kill, but fell short in the end.

Playing catch-up is exhausting, and you might win games doing that, but not flags. There is no doubt that the Hawks have the calibre of players that can get them back into most games, but when you are trying to cover a huge score difference, all it takes is a goal in the opposite direction to deflate your tyres. That is exactly what happened in the fourth quarter, and North Melbourne ran out 28-point victors.

To our credit, we did not roll over and concede a 10-goal win. Much like the Richmond game, we were slow off the blocks, but then played with surprising urgency to close the gap. Despite a disappointing loss, there were some positives that we will get to a bit later. First, let’s see where it went wrong for the Hawks.

Tom Mitchell was tagged out successfully by Ben Jacobs, and Jaeger O’Meara struggled to shoulder the load on his own. Hawthorn players seemed to run into space expecting the ball in the first quarter, rather than attempting to win the ball. I know this might come across as harsh, but they have been used to Mitchell and O’Meara winning clearances in the first 5 rounds, and the absence of that hurt the midfield setup. Jarman Impey was brave in trying to cover for the missing Cyril Rioli and Paul Puopolo, but it is a hard task, especially on your own. With North Melbourne on attack, the defence seemed shaky, and made some basic errors that cost goals. At the other end, the forward line was starved of opportunities, and seemed to miss what little came their way.

On a positive note, Luke Breust proved to us why he is still invaluable in that forward setup, chipping in with 5 goals. Ricky Henderson was relentless in his efforts, trying to set up Hawthorn in attack. Isaac Smith overcame a slow start and showed tremendous commitment and work rate. He was crucial in getting the Hawks back in touch in the third quarter. While Ben McEvoy was beaten in the ruck, he was at it again with his second and third efforts trying to force the issue. Liam Shiels also stood up to counter the midfield deficiencies.

There are a few things that us Hawthorn fans need to consider here. It is easy to get carried away with the talent on our list, but the fact is half the team is made up of kids. When you play kids, you need to expect mistakes, even if that kid is Ryan Burton, Daniel Howe or Harry Morrison. There is no doubt we have done well with what limited draft hands we have had, but the development and consistency will only come through time on the field. Expect mistakes, expect moments that frustrate you, but enjoy the journey and know that these kids will come good soon. If you need a realistic comparison, look at Carlton, Brisbane, Gold Coast or any of the other sides undergoing a full rebuild. Suddenly, ours will look a lot better.

Secondly, we are deficient in the key forward area and will need to address that through trade or draft. We need someone in there who can take consistent marks. Roughead is a good presence, but he has never been a proper marking forward. We have Mitchell Lewis at Box Hill who is a young kid with potential. He will take time to develop and fit in at the AFL level. Ryan Schoenmakers looms as a temporary solution, and I am sure that it is now painfully obvious why he was in the side before his injury. Without a marking forward, bombing the ball in long will only result in intercepts or spilled marks.

Thirdly, speaking of injuries, we are missing some key personnel. Our game plan was built on pressure, and Rioli and Puopolo were brilliant at exerting that as a pair. They are hard players to replace, especially if their replacement is a kid. Likewise, the absence of Shaun Burgoyne robs us of a steadying presence. Grant Birchall hasn’t even played a game, and his effect was visible in the handful of games he played last year. Jon Ceglar’s return will help McEvoy spend more time in the forward line and give us a marking option.

It was a tough loss to digest, and I was guilty of being vocally frustrated at how poor we were in the first half. However, it is good to see that there is fight in the team, and that they are willing to fight it out. Over to Tasmania next week to face the Saints, in what should be an interesting game.

ROUND FIVE

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