For years, Launceston was considered a fortress for Hawthorn, and for good reasons. The Hawks hadn’t lost a game in the UTAS stadium between Round 8, 2012 and Round 19, 2016. The Saints ended that streak last year, thumping the Hawks by 75 points. To add injury to insult (pun intended), the Hawks also lost star recruit Jaeger O’Meara to a knee issue, and he did not return until the last couple of rounds in 2017.
Things seem to have changed significantly since then, and the Hawks have managed to find their way back. The Saints on the other hand seem to have gone backwards, much to the surprise of many, myself included. The Hawks went down to the Kangaroos, and the Saints were denied a brave win and drew against the Giants. With both teams looking for a win to set them back on track, the stage was set for a good game. However, what we got instead was a scrappy affair in dewy conditions, with Hawthorn keeping their noses ahead before landing the killer blow in the fourth quarter.
The game started promisingly for the Hawks, who found targets inside their attacking 50 regularly in the first quarter. However, they could not convert this into scoreboard pressure, and kicked 3.7. Not to be outdone, the Saints kicked 7 behinds before registering their first major in the second quarter. The dew settled in, and the game turned into a scrap. The Saints did well in containing Hawthorn’s run and limiting space, and what ensued was an error-riddled hour of football. Neither side was clean with their ball use, and turnovers were a regular feature.
The Hawks hung in and kept the Saints at bay. Then, in the final quarter, they went for the jugular, piling on 6 goals to 1, and marched out 35-point winners, thanks to stellar efforts from some of their bigger names. There were some heartening performances from the Hawks’ young guns too, and it would have pleased Alastair Clarkson that his team hung in and fought rather than give up.
The man instrumental in keeping the Hawks ahead was Isaac Smith. In limited space and heavy traffic, he often seemed to find a way out and hit a target. He also added 4 vital goals to Hawthorn’s scoreboard; priceless in a tight match like this one. After a quiet fortnight, Tom Mitchell was back to his ball-winning best, and helped himself to 45 disposals and 10 clearances. The Saints tagged him for half the game, but the damage was already done and Mitchell just kept finding the pill.
Ben McEvoy was another standout for me. He has evolved into the ruckman that Hawthorn desperately needed. He is strong in the ruck and follows it up with great second and third efforts. He also finds a way to drift forward or into space and take crucial marks. It will be interesting to see how he is used in tandem with Jon Ceglar when he is back from injury. Luke Breust and Jack Gunston chipped in with important goals, although they seemed to have the yips at different stages of the game.
The most heartening part of this win is the obvious development of the younger players at Hawthorn. James Worpel was impressive in his debut and looked to have the poise and courage required at AFL level. Once he gets fitter and stronger, he will slot in nicely into Hawthorn’s midfield. James Cousins is another player who seems to be enjoying his return to senior footy. Perhaps the most impressive of all was Harry Morrison, who had a 25-disposal, 1-goal game and impressed with his run and carry across half back and wing.
I won’t lie. It was an ugly game of football for most part, and a frustrating one riddled with errors. The conditions played their part, and our players seemed to be trying too hard to create plays that weren’t there, rather than looking for the most obvious options. There was also the issue of goal kicking efficiency, and both sides seemed to suffer from the yips. Had the Hawks kicked accurately, they could have sealed the deal earlier in the piece. However, it was good to see us willing to scrap it out and wait to land the final blow. In a potentially tight season, a 4-2 start and 4th place on the ladder aren’t bad outcomes considering we were written off by many leading into the season. Hawthorn had their colours lowered in last season’s corresponding fixture, but this win, and a few more like this will go a long way in rebuilding the fortress that is Launceston.
HAWTHORN 3.7 4.9 7.9 13.11 (89)
ST KILDA 0.4 3.7 5.10 7.12 (54)
Hawthorn: Smith 4, Breust, Gunston 3, Howe, Impey, Morrison
St Kilda: Billings, Hickey, Long, McCartin, Membrey, Sinclair, Steele
Hawthorn: Smith, Mitchell, McEvoy, Morrison, Howe, Gunston, Breust
St Kilda: Steven, Webster, Savage, Carlisle
St Kilda: Nil
Umpires: Donlon, Haussen, Meredith
Official crowd: 15,741 at the University of Tasmania Stadium.