After a great finish to the home and away series, Hawthorn landed a double chance to stake a claim at making yet another grand final appearance. After a loss in the wet to reigning premiers, Richmond, Hawthorn were up against a Melbourne outfit brimming with confidence after their thumping win against Geelong. With Ben Stratton already a confirmed omission with injury, the Hawks were dealt a severe blow when star midfielder, Jaeger O’Meara, was declared injured and unavailable to play.
With the odds stacked against them, the Hawks came out with determination and played some good footy in the first half of the game. Unfortunately, they couldn’t convert their chances despite dominating the Inside 50s. When the tide turned, Melbourne cashed in on their chances and kicked away in the third quarter to seemingly break the Hawks’ back. In typical Hawthorn fashion, there was a comeback in the fourth quarter which would’ve made Dees supporters a bit nervous. However, skill errors and poor decision-making cost them the game, as Hawthorn ended up on the wrong side of the ledger, losing the game by 33 points.
There were some encouraging performances from our more experienced players, and positive signs from our youngsters. Despite being tagged and harassed all night, Tom Mitchell ended up with 24 disposals at 92% efficiency. Given O’Meara’s absence, it was imperative he fired, and his efforts kept the Hawks in the game early on. Despite battling a shoulder complaint, Mitchell collected 13 contested possessions, 8 clearances and had 10 tackles.
Liam Shiels played a good support role to Mitchell, gathering 22 possessions, 13 of them contested. On the downside, his skill errors cost the Hawks a couple of goals at crucial stages in the game. Jarryd Roughead tried his best to lift his team with 2 goals and 15 possessions.
Ricky Henderson stood out for me with 21 disposals at 81%, with 9 marks and 5 inside 50s to boot. He was crucial in creating opportunities, especially when the Hawks looked stagnant in the third quarter. David Mirra did well considering it was his first ever AFL final. Jack Gunston could’ve easily been the hero the Hawks needed but failed to convert his chances. Despite that, he was one of Hawthorn’s better players on the night with 3 goals, 16 disposals and 7 marks.
On the downside, some of our more experienced hands had a quiet game and have had a quiet finals series. Rarely do you see Shaun Burgoyne have two quiet games in a row, but this shows pressure can sometimes get to even the best of them. He is a quality player, and this would only make him more determined for 2019. Likewise, Luke Breust was kept quiet in this game, and failed to capitalise on his form from the home and away series.
Youngsters like Impey, Morrison, Worpel and Nash tried their heart out, but were definitely dazzled by the moment and made basic skill errors that you would not normally see from them in a regular game. This is exactly why 2016 will still be a success in my book, as we have gotten two important finals games into our youngsters while still rebuilding.
The game exposed some gaps in our system. We are a quality midfielder short on depth and need a readymade player to do the grunt work in the middle with Mitchell and O’Meara while the kids are still learning. We also need a marking tall with sticky hands in our forward line. I keep arguing that Roughead is not that player, and Schoenmakers, while crucial to our current structure, is only a temporary fix. Whether we achieve this through trade, or through switching player positions is another question. Our game is based on precision and kicking efficiency.
When the ball is lobbed aimlessly into the forward line where our talls don’t mark and our smalls don’t crumb, it becomes hard to repel the counter attack. When this happens repeatedly, you end up trying to build into attack from your defence rather than through your attacking half; a process which is exhausting and unsustainable. Given Hawthorn rely on moving the ball with precision, this also leads to stagnation and repeated kicks backwards while searching for options, which is exactly how we came undone on Friday night.
Exiting the finals series in straight sets is crushing, but I still believe 2018 is a success for the Hawks. Given where we were in 2017 and the personnel we have lost, I think we went above and beyond expectations in finishing fourth. I will cover more on this in our season review next week. A prelim would have been an unexpected bonus, but it was not to be. Given Clarkson’s upfront statements on what is missing from the side, we can expect some activity over the trade period, and will also make room through delistings. In any case, 2019 will be an exciting year for the Hawks as they continue to rebuild their way to the top. Go Hawks!
FIRST SEMI FINAL
HAWTHORN 3.1 3.7 6.9 10.11 (71)
MELBOURNE 3.1 6.2 12.5 16.8 (104)
Hawthorn: Gunston 3, Schoenmakers 2, Roughead 2, Worpel, Puopolo, Smith
Melbourne: T. McDonald 4, Weideman 2, Brayshaw 2, Melksham 2, Spargo 2, Petracca, Gawn, Neal-Bullen, Hannan
Hawthorn: Gunston, Mirra, Howe, Shiels, Mitchell, Henderson
Melbourne: Viney, T.McDonald, Petracca, Jetta, Hibberd, Oliver
Hawthorn: Mitchell (AC joint), Puopolo (hamstring)
Umpires: Rosebury, Stevic, Nicholls
Official crowd: 90,152 at the MCG