Hawthorn vs Essendon always evokes some strong emotions and visuals, the latest being the from the incident in 2009 where Matthew Lloyd flattened Brad Sewell. Every time I watch Essendon play us, that is the image that comes back to mind, and I still fume. Safe to say that a win against them is more than premiership points; it is for pride and passion.
Given the context, Saturday afternoon was somewhat of a fizzler to begin with. This Essendon side was tipped for great things given their recruitment and list, but they have sunk to the bottom end of the ladder, and seem bereft of confidence. Despite that, they were the ones who landed the punches early, running away to a 21-point lead late into the first quarter. It seems to me that the Hawks take some time to click into gear, and this game was no exception. It was a classic case of the opposition running away to a reasonable lead, and Hawthorn clawing their way back slowly but surely.
If you intend to show someone why AFL is such a highly skilled sport, then the first half of this game is not the one to be showing them. Both sides were scrappy early, and what resulted was numerous clangers and simple skill errors. As the game progressed, Hawthorn found a way to pull themselves out of the rut, while Essendon found a way to keep sinking into the quagmire they had created for themselves. Essendon’s build up into attack is quite puzzling, and relies heavily on a chain of handballs. When your execution is as poor as theirs currently is, it is a recipe for disaster.
Last year, Hawthorn were the worst team in third quarters. They seem to have handed the mantle over to Essendon this year, and I am glad they have. With much being made of how close a game it was, Hawthorn came out in the third quarter to kick six goals to one, and extinguishing any hope that the Bombers had. The fourth quarter was won by Essendon who scored five goals to three, but it was a bit too late, and Hawthorn ran out 23-point winners.
The Hawks had two late changes in Brendan Whitecross and James Cousins, and both players impressed by playing a specific role on short notice. It was good to see Cousins limit Zach Merrett to 17 disposals, denying Essendon the services of one of their best ball-winners. While Cousins did not get much of the footy himself, he kept his opponent accountable at all times. Likewise, Whitecross was good in providing a body in the contest and evening numbers up in attack. With Ricky Henderson and Will Langford likely to be available for selection, it will be interesting to see the combination we go with for Friday’s game.
The star of the show was James Sicily. He has become vital to this Hawthorn defence with his footy smarts and intercept marking skills. He took Joe Daniher to the cleaners while collecting 29 disposals and 14 marks himself. Sicily also kicked a monster goal from outside 50 to add icing to the cake. If he can maintain his form and his temper, he should be headed for All Australian selection at the end of the season.
Jarryd Roughead was impressive as well, and served a timely reminder to his detractors as to why he is the captain of this side. ‘Roughy’ stood up at crucial moments, took some strong contested marks and kicked 3 important goals, including a brilliant dribble from the boundary line. Luke Breust and Jack Gunston were serviceable, while Isaac Smith and Tom Mitchell overcame quiet starts to provide valuable contributions. Blake Hardwick often goes unnoticed, but he played an important role in negating the Essendon small forwards.
Overall, it was a game of halves. The first was ugly and scrappy, and the second showed the difference in class between the sides. In saying that, Hawthorn are playing nowhere near their best, and still have a few players to come back into the side. What I like about this side is the pressure they bring. I enjoyed watching the Essendon backline under constant siege in the third quarter, as our forwards and midfielders relentlessly attacked the footy. The results were tangible, and gave us 6 goals and valuable momentum.
If we can convert this into a four-quarter effort, our best will be good enough to beat some of the more fancied sides. The caveat is not to take the foot off the pedal. I have noticed our tendency to switch off for some periods in a game, and we cannot afford to against better sides. This side has a mixture of youth and experience, and it is up to the experienced players to lead from the front and keep the youngsters accountable. With some tough games coming up in the next 6 rounds, it is important to keep in touch with the top teams and chip away at a place in the finals. Bring on Sydney!
ESSENDON 4.2 5.5 5.6 10.7 (67)
HAWTHORN 2.4 4.4 10.7 13.12 (90)
Essendon: Baguley, Stewart, Ambrose, Parish, Mutch, Daniher, Bellchambers, Heppell, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Hooker
Hawthorn: Roughead 3, Smith 2, O’Meara, Whitecross, Gunston, Breust, Sicily, Mitchell, Impey, Shiels
Essendon: Bellchambers, Hooker, Hurley, Stewart
Hawthorn: Sicily, Roughead, O’Meara, Smith, Mitchell
Hawthorn: Henderson out (illness) replaced in selected side by Cousins, Langford out (back spasms) replaced in selected side by Whitecross
Umpires: Dalgleish, Mollison, Wallace
Official crowd: 53,018 at the MCG